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 PompeoSchumer slams Trump's Rose Garden briefing on China as 'pathetic' Britain mulls pathway to citizenship for more than 3M inhabitants of Hong Kong Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in 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 TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' 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 McConnellSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus 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.”