Senate votes to end US role in Yemen war

But resolution opponents fear end of support for Saudi-led coalition would empower Iran

WASHINGTON • The Republican-led US Senate approved a resolution seeking to end US support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, in a rebuke to US President Donald Trump's policy towards the kingdom.

The vote on Wednesday was 54-46, more than the 51 needed to pass in the 100-member Senate, as seven Republicans joined Democrats in backing the measure.

The War Powers Resolution seeks to end any US military involvement in the conflict, including providing targeting support for Saudi air strikes, without authorisation from Congress.

The four-year-long civil war in Yemen, which pits the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels backed by Iran, has killed tens of thousands of people and spawned what the United Nations calls the world's most dire humanitarian crisis, with the country on the brink of famine.

Backers of the resolution, including a handful of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, argued that US involvement in Yemen violates the constitutional requirement that Congress, not the president, should determine when the country goes to war.

"We're helping a foreign power bomb its adversaries in what is undoubtedly, irrefutably, a war," said Republican Senator Mike Lee, who sponsored the resolution, urging a "yes" vote.

The Yemen resolution must still be approved by the House of Representatives to be sent to the White House, which said earlier on Wednesday that Mr Trump plans a veto. It would be the first of his two-year-long presidency.

Overcoming a veto would require two-thirds majorities in both the Senate and House.

Democrats and Republicans reintroduced the resolution two weeks ago to send a strong message to Riyadh - and to Mr Trump - about the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

Many lawmakers also want to push Mr Trump to demand a stronger response from the Saudi government to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last October.

Mr Trump has held back from criticising Saudi Arabia, calling it an important strategic ally and counterbalance to Iran in the region.

He has also touted Saudi purchases of US defence equipment as a generator of American jobs.

Resolution opponents argued that support for the Saudi-led coalition is not an appropriate use of the War Powers Act, which limits the President's ability to send troops into action, because US forces are not actively engaged in fighting.

Some also contended that stopping US support would help Iran, and potentially prolong the conflict by ending Washington's ability to influence Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - a partner in the conflict - to pursue a sustainable political settlement.

"We need to stay engaged with the limited engagement that we have," said Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He said the resolution "sets a bad precedent" because the US is not directly involved in Yemen.

The vote could be only the first of two major setbacks for Mr Trump this week.

Senators were also due to vote yesterday on a resolution disapproving his use of his emergency powers to pay for a wall on the border with Mexico, even though Congress has not approved it.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2019, with the headline 'Senate votes to end US role in Yemen war'. Print Edition | Subscribe