GOP Senator Presses Trump Administration Over Deadly Saudi Blockade in Yemen

GOP Senator Presses Trump Administration Over Deadly Saudi Blockade in Yemen
Tue Dec 5, 2017 09:03:31

Sen. Todd Young is holding up a key State Department confirmation until the White House helps ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.

One Republican lawmaker is waging a quiet battle to persuade the Donald Trump administration to pressure Saudi Arabia to end its stranglehold on aid to Yemen, which is facing a spiraling humanitarian crisis with millions of lives threatened by disease and hunger. A Saudi-imposed blockade on fuel and other supplies is the main cause of the man-made catastrophe, aid agencies say, as Riyadh pursues its war against Houthi forces in Yemen.

Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, is holding up the confirmation of the State Department’s nominee for legal advisor, former George W. Bush official Jennifer Newstead, until the Trump administration takes steps to force its Saudi ally to ease the blockade and allow more humanitarian aid into Yemen.

“The senator has been pretty clear about what he’d like to see in order to support her nomination,” a congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Foreign Policy. “The senator is not ready to support a vote on her nomination on the floor.”

The two-and-half-year-old conflict in Yemen is mostly overlooked in Washington, even though the United States aids the Saudi war effort by supplying bombs and refueling fighter jets. But with Newstead’s confirmation in limbo, Young’s focus on the plight of Yemeni civilians has gotten the administration’s attention.

International aid officials said the senator’s lobbying last month helped nudge the White House into persuading the Saudis to partially lift a blockade on United Nations and other humanitarian flights and shipments to Yemen. The conflict and blockade have pushed nearly 7 million in Yemen to the brink of starvation and sparked the largest and fastest-spreading cholera epidemic in history. The deliveries had been cut off on Nov. 6 after a Houthi missile attack on Riyadh airport.

“We’re grateful for the recent steps the administration has taken to press the Saudis to eliminate impediments to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Yemen,” said the congressional aide. “Thousands if not millions of lives have been saved as a result of initial steps to end the blockade.”

But lawmakers and aid groups are pleading with the administration to renew pressure on the Saudi-led coalition to open up ports to commercial imports to ensure millions of Yemenis don’t lose access to running water, food, and medicine.

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