Saudi Lobbyists Pay US Senators to Block Vote to Halt Yemen War
November 30, 2018
The Guardian & Al Jazeera & The Center for Economic and Policy Research
A UN resolution calling for a ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian deliveries in Yemen was stalled by the US and other Security Council members after a lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, five of the US senators who voted against the bill are known to have received major donations from Saudi lobbyists. Missouri's Roy Blunt, who voted against the US's role in the Yemen war, received $19,200 from pro-Saudi lobbyists in 2017.
Yemen Ceasefire Resolution Blocked at UN after Saudi and UAE 'Blackmail'
Julian Borger / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (November 29, 2018) – A United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian deliveries in Yemen has been stalled by the US and other Security Council members after a lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to diplomats at the UN.
The resolution, drafted by Britain, called for a halt to the fighting for control of the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry point for supplies, and for guarantees from the warring sides that food and medicine could be delivered safely to a country at risk of a famine that could threaten the lives of 14 million Yemenis.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had strenuously opposed the resolution when the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, visited Riyadh on 12 November. The UK pressed ahead, limiting the proposed ceasefire to Hodeidah and avoiding any direct criticism of the Saudi-led coalition in the text, which was circulated a week later.
British diplomats thought they had US support. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, had issued a call for a ceasefire at the end of October.
But a UK push last week to have the resolution adopted quickly, ran into opposition led by the US mission. The US, China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia all argued that the resolution should be delayed until the start of planned peace talks between the exile Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in Stockholm, which the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, hopes to broker at some point between 3 and 13 December.
"We look forward to offering more substantive comments to the draft once we have more information on the outcomes of the upcoming consultations," the US mission told other council members in a message cited by Agence France-Presse.
A spokesman for the US mission said on Wednesday: "We remain engaged in the negotiations on the draft resolution. Our primary goal is a resolution to the conflict, and we support special envoy Griffiths's efforts to achieve that goal."
According to diplomatic sources, only Poland, the Netherlands and Peru actively supported quick passage of the resolution. France, Russia and Sweden were among the remaining council members who did not express an opinion. British diplomats had argued that the threat of famine was so catastrophic that there could be no delay, and were taken aback by the lack of support.
Diplomats familiar with the negotiations said Saudi Arabia and UAE intensively lobbied council members over the past week, threatening that the talks in Stockholm might not take place if the resolution passed.
"The Saudis blackmailed a number of missions saying it was possible the [Saudi-backed] government of Yemen won't turn up in Stockholm if this goes through," one diplomat said. "The reason [the Saudis and Emiratis] are so against this resolution is they just don't want the Security Council to constrain their capacity for military action. They believe they can finish off the Houthis."
A previous UK attempt to pass a ceasefire resolution on Yemen failed in similar circumstances in late 2016 after the outgoing secretary of state, John Kerry, persuaded his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, to drop the initiative on the grounds it would interfere with a peace initiative.
The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said on Wednesday: "The thing that we are focused on -- I don't want to say the most right now, but one of our top things that we're focusing on -- is supporting the work that Martin Griffiths is doing right there. He has a process in place."
The UK foreign office issued a statement saying: "Discussions on the resolution are ongoing and we will put it to a vote at the point that best delivers for the people of Yemen."
On Monday, the heads of five major aid agencies warned that the US would share the blame for the worst famine in decades if it did not stop its military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
"If the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, [the Houthi group] Ansar Allah, and other parties to the conflict fail to take these steps, and if the United States does not use all levers of pressure to compel them to do so, responsibility for the deaths of many more Yemeni civilians will lie not only with the parties to the conflict, but with the United States as well," said the statement signed by leaders of the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, Care US, Save the Children USA and the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.
Saudi Lobbyists Have Paid
Five of the Senators Who Shot Down Yemen Bill
Faisal Edroos / Al Jazeera
WASHINGTON (November 29, 2018) -- At least five of the 37 Republican Senators who voted against advancing a resolution limiting the United States's involvement in the war in Yemen have received campaign contributions from pro-Saudi lobbying groups.
Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Richard Burr, Mike Crapo and Tim Scott all received financial contributions from firms representing Saudi interests between 2016 and 2017, according to a recent investigation by the Centre for International Policy (CIP).
All five Republicans voted on Wednesday against advancing the resolution, which, if passed, would force the US to limit its support for the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen.
Blunt, one of the two Senators from Missouri, received at least $19,200 in campaign contributions from firms representing Saudi Arabia in 2017, the CIP said, with Boozman, Burr, Crapo and Scott, representing Arkansas, North Carolina, Idaho and South Carolina respectively, receiving contributions ranging from $1,000-$2,500 between 2016 and 2017.
Last year, the oil-rich kingdom spent at least $24 million to influence US policy and public opinion, according to disclosures to the Department of Justice made available through the Center for Responsive Politics' Foreign Lobby Watch tool.
Around $18 million of that was paid to foreign agents acting on behalf of Saudi interests in 2017 and another $6m in spending has already been reported this year.
According to the CIP, it made Saudi Arabia one of the top 10 countries spending on influence and lobbying in the US.
But on Wednesday, the political donations appeared to have little effect when the US Senate opted to move forward with the resolution in a bipartisan 63-37 vote.
It's Time to Send Saudi Arabia a Message
Delivering a massive blow to the Trump administration, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he flipped sides because of the way the government had handled the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
"I changed my mind because I'm pissed," Graham said following the vote.
"The way the administration has handled Saudi Arabia is not acceptable."
Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain documents certifying he had divorced his wife so he could remarry.
After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, Riyadh eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind his murder.
In October, Graham had said he felt "completely betrayed" by the Saudis.
Senators on both sides of the political divide, many of whom have historically backed the US-Saudi relationship, have vented their anger over the killing and have pulled their support for the war in Yemen in an attempt to communicate their displeasure.
'Despotic, Dishonest Dictatorship'
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who had also previously opposed the Yemen resolution, said it was "time to send Saudi Arabia a message both on its violation of human rights and the incredible humanitarian catastrophe it's creating".
Yemen has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia launched a massive aerial campaign against the rebels in March 2015, aimed at restoring the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Since then, the US has been helping the Saudi-UAE military alliance with weaponry and logistical support. Until recently, it was also refuelling the alliance's planes which were responsible for the more than 18,000 raids carried out on the war-ravaged country.
More than three-quarters of the population -- some 22 million people -- need humanitarian assistance, while 11 million require dire help in order to survive.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-sponsored the bill, said the time to end the US involvement in the war was now.
"We have already seen 85,000 children starved to death, the UN tells us that millions of people are facing starvation, 10,000 new cholera cases are developing each week because there is no clean drinking water in the country," Sanders said following the briefing.
"All of that was caused by the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen three years ago, led by a despotic, dishonest dictatorship."
Mounting Calls to End the War
The bipartisan bill intends to exploit a powerful but rarely activated provision in a 1973 law -- the War Powers Act -- that gives Congress the authority to overrule the president and withdraw troops if the former believes the conflict is not authorised.
Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni political analyst and assistant professor at Michigan State University, said while it was "shameful" Senators were receiving campaign donations from pro-Saudi groups, anti-war activists were hopeful the resolution had advanced and could help end the war.
"This was just the first hurdle," she said.
"Now that we have permission to debate this issue, we expect a prolonged debate, over ten hours or more, which will be followed by a very long vote.
"Given all the setbacks this bill has faced in the past, we are hopeful that we can finally discuss it and vote upon it."
The Trump administration, however, has threatened to veto the resolution if it passes.
Brett Bruen, a former director of Global Engagement in the White House under President Barack Obama, said it appeared Senators on both sides were not won over by the Trump administrations claims.
"It's a major rebuke of the Trump administration and of Secretary Pompeo in particular, who this morning made his case about why the US support for the Saudi operations in Yemen were so critical," he told Al Jazeera. "Clearly Senators were not convinced.
"What we're seeing are several issue play out. The Trump administration for the first part of the term has been able to ride roughshod over congressional oversight.
"What we're seeing now is both Democrats and Republicans saying: 'We want to look at these issues. We want to look at the direction that you're heading on whether it's on Saudi Arabia, Iran or North Korea'.
Pressure has been mounting for the US to end its support for the conflict. According to a recent YouGov poll, 89 percent of liberals Americans and 54 percent of conservatives expressed an opinion opposing continued arms sales to the Saudi-UAE alliance fighting in Yemen.
Akbar Shahid Ahmed, a foreign affairs reporter with the Huffington Post, called Wednesday's vote "unprecedented."
"What this shows is that President Donald Trump hasn't been able to keep his own party, and his allies like Senator Graham and Senator Corker in line," he told Al Jazeera.
"The Saudis, lobbyists, the Secretary of Defense, none of them have been able to stop this anger which is brewing.
"Over the last three years we've seen the Senate get closer and closer [in pushing for a halt] to the sale of bombs, tanks etc to Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have just continued in Yemen.
"They haven't stopped. They keep saying: Iran, Iran, Iran. But that isn't enough for Capitol Hill anymore."
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Senate Vote to Invoke War Powers Resolution on Yemen
Likely to be Followed by House Passage
Dan Beeton / Co-Derector, Center for Economic and Policy Research
WASHINGTON DC (November 28, 2018) -- The US Senate's floor vote of 63 to 37 to invoke the War Powers Resolution to end the US role in the Saudi and United Arab Emirates war in Yemen is "historic" and will likely be followed by House passage of a companion resolution, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today.
"This is a historic vote reasserting Congress's constitutional authority to decide when and where the US engages in wars," Weisbrot said. "The Senate has never before exercised its powers under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
"While the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, likely ordered and then covered-up by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has angered many in Congress, this vote came close to passing earlier this year, before the assassination, and would have passed even if that had not happened.
"The Saudis' war on Yemen, which has caused what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster, and which has brought 14 million people to the brink of famine, is deeply unpopular."
"Now that the Senate has passed this resolution, the House is likely to follow suit. The companion resolution introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), H.Con.Res. 138, has 93 cosponsors, including all the Democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi and the representatives who will chair the most important committees in the new Congress."
Weisbrot has previously condemned the US military's mid-air refueling, logistics, special operations, and targeting assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to assist their operations in Yemen.
to be clear, this was a vote for discharge, then comes cloture, then amendments (which could be awful), then passage,
and then there's the House
and then there's the veto
and then there's the loophole in the bill
and then there's noncompliance which is what people given immunity from impeachment do
But understanding all that, there's a reason for the veto threat, there's a reason Mattis and Pompeo were sent over to beg today, and the reason is the precedent of Congress voting to end a war, which is a VERY GOOD thing even with all its flaws
So, email and call senators and house members!
-- David Swanson / World BEYOND War