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Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war

Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war
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A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Trump administration to adhere to a recently signed law requiring certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are meeting certain humanitarian criteria or else cut off some U.S. military assistance.

The letter is in response to the ongoing civil war in Yemen, which the senators say has led to a “humanitarian crisis” that will threaten U.S. interests as it continues.

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“As you know, Yemen is suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoWarren wants probe into whether former U.S. soldiers worked as assassins for UAE Slain Saudi columnist upends 'Davos in the Desert' Koreas, UN Command pulling weapons, guard posts inside DMZ MORE.

“The ongoing civil war has caused or exacerbated these horrific humanitarian conditions. Iran and other nefarious actors have capitalized on the instability resulting from the civil war to threaten the U.S., our partners, and our interests. We believe this humanitarian crisis and the threats to our interests will only worsen the longer the civil war continues.”

The letter was organized by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungMnuchin pulls out of Saudi conference On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference Mnuchin to decide by Thursday whether to attend Saudi conference MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsManchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Conservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP lawmaker demands ‘immediate recall’ of acting US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is 'enamored' with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedLawmakers press Trump to keep Mattis Overnight Defense: Trump asks Turkey for evidence on missing journalist | Key Dem calls for international probe | Five things to know about 'MBS' | Air Force struggles to determine cost of hurricane damage to F-22 jets Trump administration doesn't have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAmerica’s ball cap industry is in trouble Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOn The Money: Trump to seek new round of tax cuts after midterms | Mnuchin meets with Saudi crown prince | Trump threatens to cut foreign aid over caravan Booker bill would create federally funded savings account for every child Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches MORE (D-N.J.).

At issue is a provision in the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires the administration to certify within 30 days that Saudi and UAE behavior in Yemen’s civil war is helping to end the war, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition in Yemen’s civil war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels that began in 2015. The United States supports the coalition with intelligence sharing, logistics such as air refueling and billions of dollars in arms sales.

Under the NDAA, if the administration cannot make the certification, it must stop refueling coalition aircraft.

U.S. lawmakers’ patience with the Saudi coalition has been wearing increasingly thin as the civilian death toll mounts. The deaths have largely been blamed on coalition airstrikes.

Earlier this month, the coalition struck a school bus, killing 40 children.

A United Nations report this week said all parties in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

After the bus bombing and the U.N. report, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon insists Mattis, Trump 'completely aligned' on leaving arms treaty | Trump 'not satisfied' with Saudi explanation on Khashoggi | Kushner says US still 'fact-finding' A solid budget requires tradeoffs Pentagon: Trump, Mattis 'completely aligned' on Russia arms treaty withdrawal MORE told reporters he is “constantly reviewing” support to the coalition, but did not indicate it will stop any time soon.

“The reality is that that battlefield is a humanitarian field, and we recognize the tragedy there,” Mattis said at a Pentagon briefing this week. “But we did review the support for the Arab coalition when we came into office. As you know, it was started before we arrived here. We reviewed it, we determined that it was the right thing to do to support them in the defense of their own countries, but also to restore the rightful government there.”

The certification requirement in the NDAA was one of several provisions President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE objected to in a signing statement after it became law, making it unclear whether the administration plans to follow the provision.

In their letter, the senators highlighted the several steps of bipartisan approval the provision went through before it became law.

“It is worth noting that both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee approved versions of our legislation,” they wrote in the letter dated Wednesday. “Subsequently, NDAA conferees from both chambers decided to include the provision in the final NDAA, which was then approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by the president."

The provision allows for a national security waiver to continue refueling coalition aircraft if the certification can’t be made. But the administration has to submit an unclassified justification to Congress if it grants that waiver.

“If you utilize this waiver, we look forward to reviewing the report as required,” the senators wrote. “In accordance with the law, we look forward to reviewing your written, detailed, and unclassified certification no later than September 12, 2018.”