US lawmakers urge UK to help end Yemen war

US lawmakers urge UK to help end Yemen war
The lawmakers' comments indicate that the US could pressure the UK to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
12 February, 2021
The UK faces growing domestic pressure to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
US lawmakers have called on the UK to live up to its “moral responsibility” and help end both countries’ “complicity” in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The officials’ comments indicate that Washington may in future press the UK to join the Biden administration and end weapons sales to the Riyadh-led coalition.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the US Senate Finance Committee and a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia, told The Guardian that he believed Washington should not “be in the business of selling weapons to governments with a track record of using them to commit atrocities”.

“American allies like the UK and France should follow suit immediately and stop enabling the Saudi regime,” he said.

Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, a leading campaigner to end US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, also told The Guardian he knew many in the UK “share our concerns about weapons sales fuelling the war in Yemen”.

“The respective economic benefits of these sales do not outweigh our national security and moral responsibility to end complicity in this ongoing nightmare," said Murphy.

"The United States and the United Kingdom acting in concert is more powerful than either of us acting alone, and I hope that our governments can work together to prioritise a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yemen.” 

The UK is the second largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia, after the United States, having sold over £15 billion (US$19 billion) worth of weapons to Riyadh since March 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen against Houthi rebels.

London’s military support has been criticised as fuelling the war, while ignoring its responsibilities as UN Security Council pen-holder for Yemen, which means that it could draft a resolution to end the conflict at any time.

Biden’s announcement last week to end “relevant” arms sales to Saudi Arabia raised hopes among Yemeni Americans that this could set an international precent, after Italy on January 29 also revoked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Growing pressure

Former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday posted a video tweet and petition calling for Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to end weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition.

The UK has so far refused to suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly on Monday said he had noted the US review but claimed arms transactions to Saudi Arabia are done with "great care" to ensure they did not lead to any breaches of humanitarian law.

UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced a continuation of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia last July, despite a UK Court of Appeal ruling in 2019 calling British arms transactions to Riyadh “unlawful.” Truss claimed allegations of civilian deaths from Saudi-led airstrikes were “isolated incidents.” The UK sold a further £1.4bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia between July and September last year.

Amid pressure from civil rights groups, Australia’s defence department said on Wednesday it will not impose a blanket ban on weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but will weigh up “emerging risks” when considering export applications.

The EU Parliament on Thursday called for member states to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE, adding that there can be no military solution to the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” MEPs also welcomed Biden’s recent decision to stop supporting the Saudi campaign.

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