Washington: President Joe Biden on Thursday ended US support for Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen and dramatically increased the welcome to refugees, ushering in a major reset in American foreign policy.
In his first major speech on foreign affairs as president, Biden also froze former president Donald Trump’s plans to redeploy troops from Germany and vowed a tough approach against what he described as a rising authoritarian threat from China and Russia.
Two weeks into their term, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled together to the State Department in a symbol of a renewed focus on diplomacy after Trump’s tumultuous four years.
“America is back. Diplomacy is back,” Biden told a socially distanced auditorium of diplomats.
In a speech shortly afterward in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room, Biden said the United States would end all support including connected arms sales for ally Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which he said “has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
He appointed a US special envoy for Yemen, veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking, who Biden said would support UN efforts to reach a ceasefire and revive peace talks between the government and Huthi rebels who control much of the country including the capital Sanaa.
The United States will work “to ensure that humanitarian aid is reaching the Yemeni people who are suffering unendurable devastation.”
“This war has to end,” Biden said.
Activists have been pushing to end US support for the war in Yemen, where 80 percent of the population is surviving on aid in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Trump offered US logistical assistance and sales including of precision-guided bombs, arguing that Saudi Arabia was creating US defense jobs.
Trump also viewed the war as a way to hit back at the Huthis’ ally Iran, a fixation for the last administration which saw the Shiite clerical regime as an arch-enemy.
Biden backs a return of diplomacy and a nuclear accord with Iran but, strikingly, he only indirectly mentioned Tehran in what was billed as a broad-brush speech on his international priorities.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he will quickly revisit Trump’s last-minute designation of the Huthis as a terrorist group — a move that aid groups say effectively criminalizes vital humanitarian work.
In Yemen, senior political official Hamid Assem voiced hope that Biden’s plan will mark the end of a six-year war that has left tens of thousands dead.
“The Biden administration saw that the war in Yemen carries a heavy cost and that America’s reputation has been tarnished by the killing of the people of Yemen,” he told AFP.
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