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US Reviewing Support for Saudis After Brutal Massacre, But Will Arms Sales Stop?

The US has resisted previous attempts to hold its ally—or itself—accountable for the civilian slaughter in Yemen

Yemen funeral hall bombing October 8

An apparent Saudi-led air attack on a funeral hall in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, killed at least 140 people on Saturday. (Photo: Reuters)

The United States, which is supplying arms and other assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen, has "initiated an immediate review" of its support for the kingdom in the wake of airstrikes on Saturday that reportedly killed at least 140 people and wounded hundreds more. 

"U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check," National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Saturday night, reiterating previous remarks that have had little effect on the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Describing the U.S. as "deeply disturbed" by reports of the bombing, which could be the deadliest attack yet in a war that has already claimed thousands of civilian lives, Price added: "In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led Coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen's tragic conflict."

The statement, according to Reuters, "sets up an awkward test of a Saudi-U.S. partnership already strained by differences over wars in other Arab lands."

And the Guardian reported:

The issue is embarrassing for the U.S. since it has decried the Russian failure to be more open about its role in the air attack on a U.N. convoy in Syria a fortnight ago, and it will face allegations of double standards if it allows the Saudis to delay an inquiry.

For its part, the Saudi coalition—while still denying direct responsibility for the attack—said in a statement Sunday that it would "immediately investigate this case along with...experts from the United States who participated in previous investigations."

But it is unclear whether the pending investigations will result in meaningful change or an end to the seemingly indiscriminate assault. 

The U.S. has resisted previous attempts to hold its ally—or itself—accountable for the civilian slaughter in Yemen. Indeed, just last month the U.S. Senate rejected an attempt to block a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, leading to charges that the U.S. is "indifferent to Yemen's misery."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for United States Central Command, which oversees American operations in the Middle East including support for the coalition, told journalist Samuel Oakford in August that despite this summer's attacks on a hospital, a school, and a snack food factory, the U.S. was "not conducting a single investigation into civilian casualties in Yemen."


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Furthermore, as Oakford noted Sunday on Twitter, not only has the White House "used this 'not a black check' language for months," but Price's statement indicates "no deadline for support review," while U.S. refueling of Saudi warplanes continues.

Indeed, many said Saturday's attack demanded more than words from both the U.S. and the U.K., which is also arming Saudi Arabia. 

As Huffington Post foreign affairs reporter Akbar Shahid Ahmed wrote on Saturday, "ending U.S. cooperation with the Saudis' misadventure in Yemen could help on three big fronts: by reducing the scale of the violence; by reducing the risk that U.S. complicity in the killing will spur greater anti-Americanism in the region; and by moving the situation toward what Saudi expert Greg Gause of Texas A&M University has suggested ― using American 'influence over Saudi Arabia to help it find an exit ramp' out of an unpopular war."

"But that all depends on whether the president wants to stop the slaughter," Ahmed wrote. "Right now, it certainly seems like he doesn't."

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