Pompeo defends US support for Saudis in Yemen as 'in America's best interest'

Pompeo defends US support for Saudis in Yemen as 'in America's best interest'
© Kevin Dietsch for The Hill

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial GOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling Russian diplomat says election meddling wasn't discussed at White House, contradicting Trump MORE on Monday defended U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war as the Senate prepares to take a vote on President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE’s veto of a resolution to end that support.

“Airplanes flying through King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh are at risk, and the United States has an obligation to protect our citizens,” Pompeo said at The Hill’s Newsmaker Series event, referencing rebel missile attacks that have hit the airport.

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“So the support we’re providing to the Saudis as they attempt to engage these dangerous missiles systems is in America’s best interest.”

The U.S. military is providing logistics, intelligence sharing and arms sales to the Saudi coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Congress recently passed a war powers resolution that would have required Trump to withdraw U.S. military forces supporting the Saudi coalition, but Trump vetoed the measure.

The Senate is expected to “process” the veto message this week, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January MORE’s (R-Ky.) office. It did not specify what type of vote would be taken, and there are several procedural votes McConnell could choose to take rather than a straight override vote that would effectively pigeonhole the veto message.

The resolution passed neither the Senate nor the House with the two-thirds majority that would be required to override a presidential veto.

Lawmakers have been concerned for years about a civilian death toll in the thousands in Yemen largely blamed on Saudi airstrikes.

But the war powers resolution was propelled to passage in large part on lawmakers’ anger at the Saudis over their killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

On Monday at The Hill’s event, sponsored by the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, Pompeo sidestepped questions about Khashoggi, reiterating that the Trump administration’s investigation into his death is ongoing.

Asked whether Khashoggi’s body will ever be recovered, Pompeo said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

On the Yemen civil war, Pompeo placed blame solely on Iran, saying the war is “Iranian led” and that Tehran has “chosen to direct” the Houthis not to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah as agreed to last year.

Iran is known to provide weapons to the Houthis, but experts debate the extent of control it has over the rebels.

“The people who were happiest when that resolution passed were Qasem Soleimani and the ayatollah,” Pompeo said, referring to the commander of Iran’s Quds Force. “There’s no doubt about that. When they see the United States shrink away from this challenge that puts United States citizens at risk, they think they’ve achieved a victory.”