Says no 'direct' evidence of Saudi prince link to Khashoggi killing
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended America’s increasingly contentious support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war, warning lawmakers the brutal conflict would worsen without US involvement.
Pompeo was due to speak to the Senate alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss US support for the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels, ahead of a possible vote on reducing military backing to the Saudis.
“The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse,” said Pompeo in prepared remarks.
“Abandoning Yemen would do immense damage to US national security interests and those of our Middle Eastern allies and partners.”
Ending US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which includes intelligence and target sharing, would actually lead to more deaths, Pompeo added.
“The Saudi-led coalition would not have the benefit of our advice and training on targeting, so more civilians would die,” Pompeo said.
“Yemen’s terrorist groups would enjoy safer havens.”
And he warned lawmakers that a US drawdown would lead to a stronger Iran while reinvigorating both the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Try defending that outcome back home,” he said.
Pompeo and Mattis were expected to be grilled on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, as well as the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I do believe I’ve read every piece of intelligence coming in the last few hours. I’ve read it all,” Pompeo told reporters after a closed-door meeting with senators on US support for Riyadh in the Yemen war.
“There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi,” he said.
Some US lawmakers have called for a strong US response to Khashoggi’s murder, including blocking arms sales and imposing sanctions beyond those that Washington slapped on 17 Saudis allegedly involved in the killing.
On Twitter, Pompeo announced that the US would be spending an additional $131 million in food assistance and again took a swipe at Iran.
“Iran’s regime has no interest in easing Yemeni suffering; the mullahs don’t even care for ordinary Iranians. Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relieve suffering in #Yemen. Iran has invested zero,” he wrote on Twitter.