A Republican senator is pressing the Trump administration to use its leverage over Saudi Arabia to compel the government to allow humanitarian access into Yemen as famine looms over the country.
Sen. Todd Young (R., Ind.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Saudi regime has blocked aid groups from delivering cranes into Yemen used to offload desperately needed food and medical supplies. The Saudis have also defaulted on pledged financial assistance to help mitigate the crisis, according to several aid workers.
The humanitarian crisis is the result of a two-year civil war between a Saudi-led military coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels that has devastated the country's health system and hindered aid to 12 million civilians, including 1.4 million children, facing famine in Yemen.
A cholera outbreak has exacerbated the situation, with more than 300,000 Yemenis infected by the disease. International aid groups suffering substantial funding shortages have begun diverting resources intended to combat malnutrition to help contain cholera, according to the United Nations.
The United States contributed over $3 million to purchase new cranes to facilitate the entry of food and medicine into Yemen after Saudi aircraft destroyed an earlier fleet, but Saudi forces have stalled the efforts, citing security risks. The American government intends to install the replacement cranes in the port of Hodeida, where 80 percent of Yemen's imports are delivered. The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly bombed the port.
Young said the Saudis may have violated an international humanitarian law of the Geneva Convention that requires countries to allow the free passage of all food and medical provisions to civilians.
"They've inhibited the delivery of humanitarian supplies to people who are starving and succumbing to horrible diseases like cholera in what is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world on their border," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "We have extensive leverage over the Saudi government to bring them into line with the norms of acceptable and legal international behavior."
Young said the United States, which is the largest oil producer in the world, could "complicate" finances for the Saudi regime given its dependence on foreign oil sales. He also said the Trump administration could threaten to pull military support from the Saudis, who receive backing from the United States in Yemen.
"This is not just a grave humanitarian crisis—this is every bit as much a national security crisis," he said, citing the longstanding presence of terrorist groups in the region like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He warned that Yemeni civilians who have suffered Saudi violence could radicalize and become sympathetic to jihadists.
President Donald Trump has not yet commented publicly on the crisis in Yemen. Trump met with Saudi President King Salman in May, but it is unclear whether the two discussed the situation in Yemen.