Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen

Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen
© Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday questioned the Trump administration on its certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to protect civilians in the Yemeni civil war and are complying with U.S. laws on arms sales.

“While we appreciate your timely submission, after reviewing the unclassified and classified components and receiving updates from our staffs regarding the administration’s September 20 briefing, we find it difficult to reconcile known facts with at least two of your certifications,” the senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoKim Jong Un seeks to continue bolstering North Korea's nuclear capabilities, state media says China reports no new COVID-19 cases for first time since outbreak Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

The letter was organized by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPass the Primary Care Enhancement Act The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump spotted wearing a face mask MORE (D-N.H.) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSave wildlife, save ourselves Bipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Hurd says China engaged in global disinformation campaign; US unemployment highest since Great Depression MORE (R-Ind.). It was co-signed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December Republicans push for help for renewable energy, fossil fuel industries Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (R-Maine), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCongress must fill the leadership void Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Trump declines to say if he's 'standing by' nominee under investigation MORE (D-Del.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranPass the Primary Care Enhancement Act Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns On The Money: Mnuchin sees 'strong likelihood' of needing another COVID-19 relief bill | 2.4 million more Americans file new jobless claims | Top bank regulator abruptly announces resignation MORE (R-Kan.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day Congress eyes changes to small business pandemic aid Top Democrat to introduce bill to limit Trump's ability to fire IGs MORE (D-Conn.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOregon GOP Senate nominee contradicts own campaign by saying she stands with QAnon Oregon GOP Senate nominee posts video in support of QAnon conspiracy theory We need just recovery for the coronavirus and climate crises MORE (D-Ore.).

Shaheen and Young authored the provision of the annual defense policy bill that required Pompeo to make the certification on Saudi and Emirati behavior in Yemen's civil war.

If Pompeo did not make the certification, U.S. refueling of Saudi-led coalition aircraft would have had to stop.

U.S. lawmakers have increasingly expressed concern about the Yemeni civil war, which has been raging since 2015 and has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. Those deaths have been largely blamed on airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition.

While lawmaker concern has been boiling over for months, the most recent letter comes as anger at the Saudis is reaching a fever pitch after the disappearance of a journalist and prominent Saudi critic.

Last month, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act, Pompeo certified that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to end the war, alleviate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.

In their letter, the senators took issue with Pompeo’s certification that the Saudi and Emirati governments are taking “demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations” in Yemen.

They specifically highlighted that Pompeo’s memo to Congress says the administration continues “to press the need for additional actions to reduce civilian casualty incidents.”

“In short, we are skeptical a certification that the two governments have undertaken demonstrable actions to reduce the harm to civilians is warranted when the Saudi coalition has failed to adopt some U.S. recommendations while civilian deaths and casualties due to coalition airstrikes have increased dramatically in recent months,” they wrote.

The senators also raised concerns about the fact that Pompeo’s memo says the Saudis and Emirates are complying with U.S. laws on arms sales “with rare exception.”

“We do not understand a certification that the Saudi and Emirati governments are complying with applicable agreements and laws regulating defense articles when the [memo] explicitly states that, in certain instances, they have not done so,” they wrote.

The senators specifically asked for answers by the end of October on what percentage increase in civilian casualties and deaths from November to August is because of coalition airstrikes; how administration can credibly certify that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are working to reduce civilian harm when the death toll is rising; what the exceptions are to the Saudis and Emirates complying with U.S. laws on arms sales; and how the administration credibly certify that those countries are complying with U.S. law given those exceptions.

“We know you share our goals of ending the civil war, alleviating the humanitarian crisis, and protecting civilians,” the senators concluded. “We also agree that the continuing civil war, worsening humanitarian crisis, and ongoing killing of civilians by the Saudi coalition only serves the interests of Iran and emboldens extremists who seek to harm Americans and our partners.

“Those are some of the reasons we are concerned that your initial certification, despite several troubling facts, leaves the Saudi-led coalition with the fundamental misunderstanding that the American people and their representatives in Congress are willing to accept the status quo in Yemen.”