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 PompeoUS, Sudan to exchange ambassadors for first time in decades Iran expert: Trump's foreign policy approach aimed at instigating 'unrest' Fox's Napolitano says obstruction 'easiest' impeachment offense for Democrats 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 ShaheenBiden reveals four women he could pick as his running mate Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters Progressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says he is fighting testimony to protect presidency The Hill's Morning Report — Dems and Trump score separate court wins GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate MORE (R-Ind.) and co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Collins opposes Trump's district court pick MORE (R-Maine), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Trump administration releases 5M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters MORE (D-Conn.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Secure Act makes critical reforms to our retirement system — let's pass it this year Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters MORE (D-Md.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (D-R.I.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system MORE (D-Del.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine'Granite Express' flight to take staffers, journalists to NH after Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Senate panel approves Trump FDA pick | Biden downplays Dem enthusiasm around 'Medicare for All' | Trump officials unveil program for free HIV prevention drugs for uninsured Trump's FDA nominee approved by Senate panel MORE (D-Va.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerLGBTQ advocates slam Buttigieg for past history with Salvation Army Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates 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 MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court 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 TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: 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.”