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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 PompeoBiden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report 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 ShaheenTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday's elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19 Biden wins New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungShelton's Fed nomination on knife's edge amid coronavirus-fueled absences Grassley quarantining after exposure to coronavirus Rick Scott to quarantine after contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' 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 MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper 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 TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden 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.”