US sees ‘room for improvement’ in conduct of war in Yemen

US leading ‘a robust dialogue’ with the Saudi-led coalition on importance of humanitarian lifelines in Yemen.
Tuesday 09/10/2018
A man carries a box containing bottles of cooking oil in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah on September 25, as Yemenis displaced from Hodeidah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme. (AFP)
A man carries a box containing bottles of cooking oil in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah on September 25, as Yemenis displaced from Hodeidah receive humanitarian aid donated by the World Food Programme. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - A US State Department official said Washington is leading “a robust dialogue” with the Saudi-led coalition on the importance of humanitarian lifelines through Hodeidah during the group’s battle against Iran-aligned rebels fighting the Yemeni government.

The statement by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Timothy Lenderking added a note of caution to the certification US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided recently that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were doing enough to protect civilians and infrastructure in Yemen.

Pompeo’s certification, required by the US Congress, enables the US military to continue providing aerial refuelling services to military jets operated by the two countries in Yemen.

Lenderking, however, said the United States was concerned about the number of civilian deaths in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia and the UAE barely earned their certification.

“It’s just above a passing grade,” Lenderking said October 4 at a Middle East Institute forum on Yemen. “We will continue to evaluate the situation and push for improvements. We have assurances from Saudi leadership on this and intend to hold them to that.”

Pompeo’s certification “was in no way meant to imply that this is a perfect grade and that there isn’t a huge amount to be done,” Lenderking added. “There is certainly room for improvement and you won’t see any let up in that as our goal… We have to redouble our efforts to ensure US-supplied weaponry is not hitting Yemeni civilians.”

Lenderking’s comments appeared to respond to human rights advocates and members of Congress who criticised Pompeo for certifying that the Saudi and UAE governments “are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations.”

Another panellist at the forum, Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, criticised the US government for aiding the coalition and allowing the countries to use American-made munitions in attacks in Yemen that have killed civilians. “If we want to see a difference, Washington has to say we’re not selling them arms anymore,” Prasow said.

Yemen’s civil war, pitting the Saudi-led coalition against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels who ousted Yemen’s internationally recognised government, has raged since March 2015. The coalition aims to restore the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power. The United Nations says the conflict has produced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 22 million people in desperate need in the Arab world’s poorest country.

The United States has provided munitions, refuelling and logistical support to the coalition to counter Iran, which has supported and trained Houthi militias and given them munitions that they have at times fired into neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Lenderking denied an Associated Press story that claimed the United Arab Emirates recently resumed its military campaign to capture the vital Yemeni port of Hodeidah because Pompeo’s certification “effectively gave a green light to push ahead.” Hodeidah, on Yemen’s west coast along the Red Sea, is the entry point for 70% of the country’s imported food and aid.

“No, that is not our position. We are not trying to send a signal for the coalition to move on Hodeidah,” Lenderking said. “We’ve had a robust dialogue with the coalition on the importance of humanitarian lifelines going through Hodeidah. A big offensive on Hodeidah, now is not the time to do it.”

Yemeni Ambassador to the United States Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak said a political settlement to the war remains elusive after UN-brokered peace talks collapsed in September when a Houthi delegation failed to arrive in Switzerland.

“Our position since the beginning is the same. We didn’t start this war. Ending this war is in the hand of the Houthis,” bin Mubarak said. He said that UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths “is trying to renew the talks, maybe in November” but needs a signal from the Houthis that they would send a delegation.

“We told him we are ready to support him and support his mission,” bin Mubarak said.