Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A Saudi-imposed blockade in Yemen, in the midst of a civil war has left civilians without medicine, food, and clean water, exacerbating famine and widespread suffering as the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the nation continues to be considered the location of the world's most dire humanitarian crisis. (Photo: @nfcinereporter/Twitter)

A Saudi-imposed blockade in Yemen, in the midst of a civil war has left civilians without medicine, food, and clean water, exacerbating famine and widespread suffering as the Covid-19 pandemic continues and the nation continues to be considered the location of the world's most dire humanitarian crisis. (Photo: @nfcinereporter/Twitter)

No, Biden Is Not Pushing the Saudis Hard Enough to End Yemen Blockade

The Biden administration has multiple avenues of leverage over Riyadh that can be used to press for an unconditional lifting of the blockade. It must use them.

Amidst growing reports of the devastation caused by the Saudi blockade of Yemen, a letter from a coalition of over 70 groups* representing tens of millions of people is calling on the Biden administration to do everything in its power to press Riyadh to bring that blockade to an end and open the way to distribution of fuel, food, and medical supplies to all parts of the country.

The coalition is stressing that the time to end the blockade is now, not as part of peace talks which may drag on for an uncertain period of time. As Aisha Jumaan, the director of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, has noted “It is unethical to use food, medicine, and fuel as bargaining chips. Yemeni civilians should not be held hostages to the lengthy and rocky negotiations between warring parties.”

The stakes could not be higher. According to the United Nations, 400,000 children under the age of five could die this year without urgent action on multiple fronts. The consequences of the blockade are underscored in heartbreaking detail in the Oscar-nominated documentary Hunger Ward, which displays the conditions that prevail in a Yemeni hospital that has been deprived of basic supplies by the blockade. The co-creators of the film are signatories of the letter to the Biden administration, along with celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman.

"It is unethical to use food, medicine, and fuel as bargaining chips. Yemeni civilians should not be held hostages to the lengthy and rocky negotiations between warring parties."
—Aisha Jumaan, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation

A March 10 investigative report by Nima Elbagir of CNN provided conclusive, filmed evidence of the impacts of the Saudi blockade— long lines of fuel trucks stalled at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah and dozens of ships waiting in vain to dock and unload their cargo. According to the UN World Food Program, over a dozen ships carrying 350,000 tons of commercial fuel have been prevented from entering Yemen for over two months. Despite this reality, no U.S. official has publicly acknowledged the devastating implications of the six-year long Saudi-imposed blockade. In response to a question from CNN reporter Elbagir, U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking described the situation as “complex” and claimed that port access could be addressed in short order as part of peace negotiations. After hearing Lenderking’s answer, Elbagir concluded: “How is (peace) possible when you are not acknowledging the full impact of that U.S.-backed Saudi embargo on the people of Yemen?”

The coalition that sent the letter to the Biden administration acknowledged that it has taken some “critical first steps toward peace and food security in Yemen,” including announcing an end to U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen and relevant arms sales and revoking President Trump’s terrorist designations against the Houthi rebels, designations which threatened to block the provision of humanitarian aid to large parts of the country and provoke a hunger crisis the country. But unless those steps are followed up with strong pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the blockade, there could be an unprecedented crisis in a country already reeling from the impacts of six years of war.

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel has described the ongoing Saudi blockade as “an offensive military operation that kills civilians,” a situation that belies administration claims that the Saudi regime is “committed and eager to find a solution to the conflict.” 

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. 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. As the coalition that is pressing the Biden administration over the Saudi blockade has noted, the ultimate goal should be “a comprehensive political settlement that addresses the conflict’s myriad issues, including a nationwide ceasefire, currency stabilization, and payment of government salaries.”  But while efforts are being made on those fronts, the blockade must be lifted, immediately. Yemen can’t wait.

*Responsible Statecraft Editor's Note: The Quincy Institute is a signatory to the letter.


© 2021 Responsible Statecraft

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo