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If you 'truly care' about Yemenis, support Saudi Arabia, Pompeo says

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejects effort to end Washington's aid to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
Pompeo tied US aid to Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to efforts to curb Iran's influence (Reuters/File photo)

Mike Pompeo has rejected efforts in the US Congress to end Washington's support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen, saying that if US lawmakers "truly care about Yemeni lives" they would back Saudi Arabia in its war effort.

In comments to the media on Friday, the secretary of state forcefully rejected a recent Senate resolution that calls on Donald Trump's administration to end its aid to the Saudi-led coalition.

"We all want this conflict to end. We all want to improve the dire humanitarian situation. But the Trump administration fundamentally disagrees that curbing our assistance to the Saudi-led coalition is the way to achieve these goals," Pompeo said.

The Senate passed a motion to end Washington's involvement in the Yemen war on Wednesday, invoking the War Powers Act of 1973, which prohibits American military action not previously approved by Congress.

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The US provides intelligence sharing, logistics support and other training to the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates. It also previously helped with mid-air refuelling for coalition warplanes, but that assistance ended late last year.

The Senate resolution, which has bipartisan support and is expected to pass in the Democrat-led House of Representatives, is the latest attempt to end US support for Riyadh's war effort.

Saudi Arabia launched a large-scale bombing campaign in Yemen in 2015 to root out the country's Houthi rebels and restore Yemen's Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to power.

The decision to get involved in Yemen has been widely credited to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the country's de facto leader, who has strong ties to Pompeo, Trump and other key advisers to the White House.

On Friday, Pompeo tied US assistance to the coalition to the Trump administration's efforts to curb Iran's influence in the region.

"If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you'd support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran," he told reporters in Washington.

"If we truly care about Saudi lives, you'd want to stop Iran-backed Houthis from launching missiles into Riyadh. If you truly care about Arab lives in the region, you'd support allied efforts to prevent Iran from extending its authoritarian rule from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea and on down to Yemen."

Millions on brink of famine

The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and plunged the country into what has been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions on the brink of famine and diseases including cholera widespread.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of blocking critical aid shipments into Yemen, as well as bombing civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and school buses.

United Nations experts have accused the Saudi-led coalition, as well as the Houthi rebels, of committing war crimes in Yemen.

US lawmakers pushing for an end to Washington's involvement in the war have pointed to the devastating toll the conflict has had on Yemenis as ample reason for the Trump administration to stop its aid to the Saudis.

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"The bottom line is that the United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime with a dangerous and irresponsible foreign policy," said Bernie Sanders, one of the sponsors of the Senate resolution that passed earlier this week.

"We have been providing the bombs that the Saudi-led coalition is using. We have been refuelling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we have been assisting with intelligence. In too many cases, our weapons are being used to kill civilians," Sanders said before the vote on Wednesday.

The US president has vowed to veto any attempt to block US aid to the Saudi-led coalition.

Trump's office reiterated that position on Wednesday, saying the president "has directed United States forces to support the Saudi-led coalition under his constitutional powers".

"The joint resolution would raise serious constitutional concerns to the extent that it seeks to override the president's determination as commander in chief," his office said in a statement.

If the Senate bill passes in the House, and Trump then blocks it, the legislation would need two-thirds support in the Senate to overcome the president's veto.

The resolution passed in a 54-46 vote in the Senate on Wednesday - far from a two-thirds majority.