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Lawmakers want Biden to pressure Saudi Arabia to end Yemen blockade

A family in Yemen
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Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House are calling for the Biden administration to tell Saudi Arabia to lift its sea blockade of Yemen, saying the embargo on key ports of entry is a direct cause of the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, lawmakers said Riyadh’s embargo on ports controlled by Houthi separatists in the north of Yemen is doing little to block delivery of Iranian weapons but is having a catastrophic impact on civilians.

“Since 2015, the restrictions imposed by the coalition have critically exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to the Saudi-led coalition that supports the internationally-recognized government of Yemen in the country’s south.

“The interference, delay, and outright blocking of commercial goods and humanitarian assistance shipped to Yemen’s ports is a principal cause of price inflation, food insecurity, economic collapse, and the failure of public services in Yemen. These measures do not interrupt the supply of Iranian and other weapons to the Houthis, especially given the establishment of the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) in 2016.”

In particular, the lawmakers call for the blockade to be lifted from the Hodeidah port in the north of Yemen.

Saudi Arabia allowed at least four commercial fuel ships to enter Hodeidah last month, a move welcomed at the time by the State Department, which called it “a step in the right direction.”

Lawmakers said this showed the administration’s diplomatic efforts are “bearing fruit” and said that such allowances be extended to commercial and humanitarian imports.  

“We understand that the conflict in Yemen is complex and affects broader political and security interests, but we nonetheless ask that you stress the need to remove import restrictions immediately on humanitarian grounds.”

The letter was sent by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Joe Wilson (S.C.). 

It was supported by the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and eight Democratic members of the panel.

The letter comes as President Biden’s special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, is heading to the Gulf on April 14 for his fifth visit to the region since February, in an effort to push forward negotiations on a political solution to Yemen’s six-year civil war. 

Biden has made resolving the conflict in Yemen a key priority for his administration, but is caught in a quagmire between working to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis in the country — considered by the United Nations to be the worst in the world — and support Saudi Arabia’s defense in the face of Houthi attacks.

The president in February reversed a terrorist designation for the Houthis imposed by the former Trump administration, under pressure that such a designation would end critical imports to the country and snuff out economic activity that could directly lead to famine and mass starvation. 

And while the administration has also announced the end of U.S. support for Saudi-offensive operations in Yemen, it has reiterated its commitment to helping Riyadh defend its territory in the face of increasing missile and drone attacks from the Houthis.

Yet Democrats, celebrities and activists are pushing the administration to do more. At least 73 House Democrats signed a letter to Biden on April 6 calling for the president to “publicly pressure Saudi Arabia to lift this blockade immediately, unilaterally, and comprehensively.” 

A companion letter was organized by at least 20 actors, including Amy Schumer, Mark Ruffalo and Joaquin Phoenix, along with more than 70 progressive organizations calling for an end to the blockade.

In Washington, D.C., two sisters are on a hunger strike that started on March 29 to pressure the president to end U.S. financial and military support to the Saudi-led blockade on Yemen. 

Iman Saleh, 26, and her sister Muna, 23, are members of the Yemeni Liberation Movement, which as part of its awareness campaign is seeking to gather 5,000 signatures on a petition to call on the Biden administration to pressure Riyadh to end the blockade.

Tags Amy Schumer Antony Blinken Blockade of Yemen Gregory Meeks Joe Biden Joe Wilson Ted Deutch Ted Lieu

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