Nearly 80 House Democrats on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to exert public pressure on Saudi Arabia to immediately lift its blockade that has been strangling Yemen for years, depriving the nation of food and medicine and exacerbating the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Led by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), the letter (pdf) cites a recent CNN investigation documenting the horrific impact the Saudi blockade has had on Yemeni civilians, particularly children.
"The Saudi blockade has long been a leading driver of Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe, triggering recent fuel shortages, inflation, and greatly reducing access to food, water, electricity, and transportation."
"We urge you to use all available U.S. leverage with the Saudi regime to demand an immediate and unconditional end to its blockade, which threatens 16 million malnourished Yemenis living on the brink of famine," the lawmakers write. "The Saudi blockade has long been a leading driver of Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe, triggering recent fuel shortages, inflation, and greatly reducing access to food, water, electricity, and transportation."
While Biden pledged in February to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition's "offensive operations" in Yemen, the administration has not taken a public stand on the blockade—a failure that has sparked frustration among progressives who are pushing the White House to end its complicity in the kingdom's rampant human rights abuses. Experts have argued that the blockade clearly should be categorized as an "offensive operation."
"I don't think that they have been sufficiently attuned to the fundamental shift that members of Congress of both parties want in the U.S.-Saudi relationship," Khanna told the New York Times. "They're still stuck in an old paradigm where they're not willing to take the corrective, effective steps."
In their letter on Tuesday, the group of Democratic lawmakers argues that ending the blockade is a necessary step to ensure that "food, fuel and medicine, and other essential goods can reach millions of people in desperate need."
"Every day that we wait for these issues to be resolved in negotiations is another day that pushes more children to the brink of death," the letter reads.
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The lawmakers demand came as outside advocacy groups also ramped up pressure on the Biden administration to do everything in its power to bring about an end to the Saudi air, land, and sea blockade, which has been maintained with U.S. backing.
Last week, Yemeni-American organizers led by the grassroots group Yemeni Liberation Movement (YLM) launched a hunger strike to call attention to the Saudi blockade and pressure the White House to end all U.S. support for the restrictions.
A child is dying every 75 seconds in Yemen.
Please help uplift these activists who have been on a hunger strike for the past 9 days to demand an end to the inhumane U.S. backed Saudi blockade in Yemen.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 6, 2021
William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, argued in an op-ed for Responsible Statecraft on Wednesday that "the Biden administration has multiple avenues of leverage over Riyadh that can be used to press for an unconditional lifting of the blockade."
"There are billions of U.S. weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia in the pipeline, and the Saudi Air Force could not function for long without U.S.-supplied maintenance and spare parts," Hartung noted. "The time to use this leverage is now, not as part of a protracted peace process that could leave hundreds of thousands of Yemenis at risk of starvation and death from preventable causes."