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House lawmakers urge Blinken to press Saudi Arabia to lift Yemen blockade

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A group of House Foreign Affairs Committee lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to “urgently push” Saudi Arabia to lift restrictions on imports to Yemen, where the United Nations says nearly 50,000 people are already starving to death.

“Since 2015, the restrictions imposed by the coalition have critically exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” they wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tuesday.

The letter, led by Reps. Ted Deutch and Joe Wilson — the Democratic chair and Republican ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Counterterrorism — and Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, comes shortly after a group of more than 70 congressional Democrats urged President Joe Biden to encourage the Saudi government to end the blockade.

In Tuesday’s letter, the lawmakers wrote that “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,” they added, referencing the Shia political and military organization with whom the Saudi-led coalition has been at war.

A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that “there is no blockade” of the key rebel-controlled Hudaydah port, claiming that it “remains open and commercial imports of food and other commodities are moving through the port at normal or above average rates, along with goods imported for humanitarian assistance purposes.” The spokesperson said that the US “does not support restrictions on the importation of essential goods into Yemen, including through Hudaydah port, by any party.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud also denied the existence of a blockade in an interview with CNN last week.

Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, who is traveling in the Gulf region this week, said that the US “understands the urgent need for fuel to get into Hudaydah port,” calling it “a constant priority in our conversations with the Republic of Yemen Government and Saudi Arabia.”

The State Department spokesperson noted that “the recent slowdown in fuel imports is a serious issue, but Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is the result of six and a half years of conflict and the resulting widespread consequences on social services and economic activity.”

“We cannot reverse that humanitarian crisis until we make progress in resolving the conflict,” they said.

A CNN investigation last month found that Saudi warships were preventing oil tankers from docking at the port of Hudaydah, including 14 vessels that had gained approval from a United Nations clearance mechanism to berth.

Four of those tankers were given permission to dock at the port by Yemen’s internationally recognized government — which is backed by Saudi Arabia and its military — in a move that was praised by the US State Department. However, humanitarian agencies in Yemen have told CNN the fuel is nowhere near enough to deliver aid to millions of people in the country’s north.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in early March that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, and more than 16 million people were expected to go hungry in 2021. According to the UN’s World Food Programme, more than two million children under five were suffering from moderate acute malnutrition; more than 395,000 under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. The CNN report showed the brutal reality on the ground which the Saudi blockade helped to cause.

Tuesday’s letter, which was also signed by Democratic House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks and Rep. David Cicilline, Rep. Gerry Connolly, Rep. William Keating, Rep. Juan Vargas, Rep. Brad Schneider, Rep. Colin Allred, Rep. Tom Malinowski, and Rep. Kathy Manning, said the lawmakers “appreciate the Biden administration’s commitment to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and resolve the underlying conflict that drives it.”

“The administration has taken responsible steps that will position the US to help to broker a political settlement to the conflict despite the Houthis’ continued rejection of dialogue and lack of concessions toward peace,” the letter said.

“We acknowledge the Saudi and Yemeni governments’ decision on March 25 to let four fuel ships dock at Hodeidah, which indicates that the administration’s engagement is bearing fruit. The Saudi government’s recent pledge to send fuel products to the Yemeni government is another positive development,” it said.

The lawmakers noted that none of the recent actions “(excuse) the Saudi-led coalition’s continued obstruction of commercial and humanitarian imports to Yemen, which serves no legitimate humanitarian, political, or security purpose.”

“Ending this practice will boost Yemen’s economy, de-escalate the conflict, and prevent this humanitarian catastrophe from worsening – all important U.S. objectives,” they wrote. “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.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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