Saudi Arabia has skipped over the main thrust of President Joe Biden's promise to end U.S. support for the disastrous war in Yemen, instead focusing on the commander-in-chief's commitment to defending the kingdom from missile attacks and his call for a diplomatic solution.
Biden has long pledged to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which Riyadh has been fighting on behalf of the deposed Yemeni government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015. The war has created a severe humanitarian crisis, with more than 16 million people enduring food insecurity.
The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led campaign, especially its punitive bombing campaign against military and civilian targets. American companies also provide huge amounts of weapons to the Saudis, a relationship lauded and expanded by former President Donald Trump.
But the suffering of the Yemeni people plus the domestic and foreign human rights abuses of the Saudi royal family—particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS—have buoyed the movement in Congress to re-evaluate American ties with the authoritarian kingdom.
On the campaign trail, Biden said he would treat the country like the "pariah" it had become. On Thursday, the president gave his first foreign policy speech at the State Department and said of the conflict in Yemen: "This war has to end."
"And to underscore our commitment, we're ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales."
The president said the U.S. would continue to provide defensive support to the Saudis to guard against Houthi missile and drone attacks, which have targeted oil infrastructure, major cities, airports and shipping. The U.S. will also continue operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has exploited the war to seize more territory in Yemen.
Video: Biden ends U.S. support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen (Reuters)
Riyadh is facing a period of frosty ties with the U.S., a major departure from the Trump administration's glowing support for the royal family despite its well documented human rights abuses.
MBS in particular has drawn the ire of American lawmakers and Biden for his reported role in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his direction of the war in Yemen and his brutal suppression of human rights activists and political rivals.
Saudi officials seized on Biden's defense commitments, sidestepping the president's clear rebuke of the kingdom's military campaign in Yemen.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the kingdom's foreign minister, said it "welcomes the United States' commitment, expressed in President Biden's speech today, to cooperate with the Kingdom in defending its security and territory," Arab News reported.
Biden appointed Tim Lenderking as the U.S. special envoy to Yemen this week, tasking him with pushing for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Farhan added: "We look forward to working with Tim Lenderking to achieve our joint goal of a comprehensive political resolution in Yemen as part of our shared vision for a peaceful and prosperous region."
The Saudi deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, also focused on the American push for peace rather than the fact that Biden will cut U.S. support for the Saudi campaign. The minister said the kingdom looked forward to working with Biden to "alleviate the humanitarian situation and find a solution to the Yemen crisis, and ensure peace and stability."
The Saudi Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the kingdom "affirmed its steadfast position in supporting a comprehensive political solution to the Yemen crisis, and welcomed the US' emphasis on the importance of supporting diplomatic efforts to solve the Yemeni crisis."
The statement added: "The kingdom will continue its remarkable efforts to alleviate the human suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people, and has provided more than $17 billion over the past few years."
The ministry also said it would work closely with the U.S. "to deal with challenges in the region."
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