Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday again defended U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia on national security grounds after the Senate voted to end support to the kingdom’s war in Yemen.
In a rare rebuke of President Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate voted on Thursday to end U.S. backing for the Saudi-led coalition whose campaign in Yemen has contributed to what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“We certainly have great respect for what the legislative branch does and we’re in constant contact with members on Capitol Hill so we understand their concerns,” Pompeo told reporters. He said the administration was trying “our level best to articulate why our policies are what they are and how we can ensure the right policy for the United States of America and to keep our country safe.” He said there was a “real risk to the United States of America” from Iran, which is allied with Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s capital Sanaa.
The Senate voted to invoke the Vietnam War-era War Powers Act, which reasserts the power of Congress rather than the White House to enter armed conflict. But the House of Representatives has not yet voted and the margin in the Senate vote was not high enough to override a potential veto by Trump.
The Senate separately denounced Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S.-based Saudi dissident writer who was dismembered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, joining Pompeo in the joint news conference with their Canadian counterparts, noted that the Senate vote came amid progress in Yemen peace talks.
Mattis said the U.S.—which has called on but not forced the Saudis to halt their air campaign—contributed to the diplomatic effort in “ending that war that has gone on too long.”
Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign has hit hospitals and a school bus, while a blockade has contributed to widespread starvation, with the United Nations saying that one child is dying every minute from preventable causes.