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Biden pressed to clarify policy on Saudi aggression against Yemen

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (L) and Joe Biden (file photo)

Dozens of Democratic Congress members press US President Joe Biden to further clarify his position on Saudi Arabia’s now-six-year-old war of aggression against Yemen.

Forty-one lawmakers made the demand from Biden in a letter released on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Biden said he would end the US’s support for the war. He, however, left much room for question after he added that Washington would still "continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity."

Under the same pretext of helping out Saudi Arabia -- Washington’s most treasured regional ally after the Israeli regime -- Biden's predecessor Donald Trump used to pour out advanced and precision arms and munition into the kingdom that Riyadh would, in turn, rain down on Yemen without any qualms.

The support included a $110-million arms deal with Riyadh, to which Trump travelled in his maiden foreign trip at the height of the war. Washington would also lend ample logistical support, including bombing coordinates, and political patronage for the kingdom and its allies’ bloodshed against the impoverished country.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have died and entire Yemen turned into the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in the course of the war. The kingdom and its allies launched the military campaign in 2015 to return power to Yemen’s former pro-Riyadh officials.

Congress members asked Biden in the letter, "You have said that the United States will 'continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity…. What activities does this policy entail, and under what legal authority is the Administration authorized to engage in such activities?"

Last month, the Biden administration issued a temporary freeze on some Trump-era weapons sales to Saudi Arabia as it started a review of arms deals with Riyadh.

The prospect of further breakaway from the former administration’s no-holds-barred support for Saudi Arabia comes as the US was also to publicize a damning report on the 2018 murder of a Saudi dissident journalist that could likewise endanger the premium quality of the two sides’ relations.

The declassified intelligence summary, which is based largely on work by the US Central Intelligence Agency, would come out later in the day, with the US media saying it is to implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the foul play that targeted Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was slain and dismembered in October that year after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Shortly after Khashoggi's murder, the CIA assessed with high confidence that bin Salman had personally ordered the murder.

Trump, though, would keep protecting the kingdom against any accountability as seen by his bragging in 2019 that he prevented bin Salman from congressional scrutiny.

"I saved his ass," Trump said in recorded interviews with journalist Bob Woodward. "I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop," the former chief executive said.

CNN, though, cited Dennis Ross, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying that the release of the report was “the administration's way of saying to Saudi Arabia, 'We're not going to shield you from the consequences of bad behavior, and so it's best to avoid those behaviors.'"

"I think the Biden administration wants to demonstrate clearly that it is a new day after the Trump administration ... also just to send a message to the Saudis that the relationship is going to be re-calibrated," Ross added.

The pending publication of the summary was made possible after Biden spoke with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on the phone.

During the call -- the first conversation between Biden as US president and the Saudi king -- Biden "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law," a White House readout of the call claimed.

Biden and King Salman also "discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen," the White House statement said.

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