U.S. Ceasing Arms Sales Fueling Saudi-led War in Yemen, Biden Says

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, February, 2021.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, February, 2021.Credit: Evan Vucci,AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the end of American support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, including all relevant arms sales.

Biden, delivering his first significant foreign policy remarks as president at the State Department, said the war which "created humanitarian or strategic catastrophe must end," adding that he asked U.S. officials to support United Nations-led initiatives to address the relevant humanitarian challenges and revive peace talks.  

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Biden also announced he was appointing long-serving diplomat Tim Lenderking as special Yemen envoy, while noting that the U.S. will continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from Iranian-backed missile attacks and drone strikes.

Biden highlighted restoring America's place on the international stage during his remarks, highlighting his calls with " many of our closest friends: Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia." He did not address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his remarks, nor has he yet spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since taking office.

During the presidential campaign, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” broadly promising to confront the Kingdom on its human rights record and end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Blinken echoed that promise in his confirmation hearing, calling Yemen "the worst humanitarian situation in the world." "We have real concerns (about) the policies that our Saudi partners have pursued and, accordingly, the president-elect has said we will review the entirety of the relationship to make sure that, as it stands, it is advancing the interests (and is) respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership," Blinken said then.

The U.S. last month froze the munitions sales to Saudi Arabia and F-35 fighter jet sales to the UAE, previously undertaken by the Trump administration. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken clarified that it was not uncommon "at the start of an administration to review any pending sales to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy."

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the daily White House press briefing earlier Thursday the Biden administration has spoken with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about the frozen arms deals currently under review and it's moves on Yemen as part of a "policy of 'no surprises.'" 

"We have spoken with both senior officials in the UAE and senior officials in Saudi Arabia, we have consulted with them and are pursuing a policy of no surprises when it comes to these types of actions, so they understand that this is happening, and they understand our reasoning and rationale," Sullivan said. 

Sullivan noted that the U.S. is actively engaged with Germany, the United Kingdom and France on diplomacy regarding Iran, saying that "we are actively engaged with the European Union right now, particularly the three members of the P5 + 1. We are talking to them at various levels of our government, and those consultations will produce a unified front when it comes to our strategy towards Iran and towards dealing with diplomacy around the nuclear file."

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