Washington, D.C. – This evening the House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation (H. Res. 599) regarding United States policy towards Yemen.  Specifically, the legislation notes the urgent need for a political solution in Yemen; calls for sanctions on Iranian activities in Yemen; and seeks to improve access for humanitarian organizations, medical relief personnel, and journalists.

On the House floor prior to the vote, Chairman Royce delivered the following remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle – including the gentleman from California, Mr. Khanna – for working in good faith toward achieving a resolution that productively addresses a complex and serious issue: namely, the strategic and humanitarian implications of the ongoing conflict in Yemen.  I should also recognize the good work of Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel.  This resolution will send a strong and needed message to all involved in this conflict that is causing so much human suffering. According to the U.N., more than 20 million people in Yemen – 76% of its population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 2 million people are affected by either moderate or severe malnutrition. 

Mr. Speaker, House Resolution 599 is a responsible, bipartisan alternative to H.Con.Res. 81. 

This initial proposal claimed procedural privileges by invoking section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, which applies only when U.S. forces are engaged in hostilities abroad without authorization.  Though we provide military support – including logistics – to our Saudi partners in the region, United States forces are not conducting hostilities against Houthi forces in Yemen.

The initial resolution also neglected a key facet of the Yemen crisis, Iran, which has been providing nefarious and increasing support to the Houthi rebels.  We must not forget that in April 2015, the UN Security Council – acting under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter – condemned the violent Houthi government overthrow “in the strongest terms,” and obligated all UN Member States to comply with and enforce an embargo on arms and military assistance “of all types” to the Houthi forces. This makes Iran’s acts to fuel this deadly conflict a gross violation of international law. 

I am glad that the new House Resolution 599 addresses those shortcomings, and I rise to support it today.

Even before this latest conflict, Yemen was the poorest country in the region, wracked by violence and unrest.  For years, the countries of North and South Yemen were in conflict, before becoming a single state in 1990.  After an uprising in 2011, Yemen embarked on a path of attempted national dialogue, unification, and constitutional reform.  But hopes for stability and progress were dashed in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, in alliance with former Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, forcibly deposed the internationally recognized Government of President Hadi.

In response, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2216, which sanctioned individuals involved in destabilizing Yemen, and demanded that the Houthis unconditionally end their use of violence, withdraw their forces, relinquish their seized weapons, and refrain from threats to neighboring states.  Unfortunately, the Houthi-Saleh rejection of this UN Security Council Resolution, with Iran’s backing, has sabotaged the prospects for peace.

Mr. Speaker, the United States has longstanding, critical national security interests in this region.

Members will recall that the deadly bombing of the USS Cole occurred in Yemen.  Other terrorist plots against Americans also originated in Yemen, including the unsuccessful 2009 “underwear bomber” attack on a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit.  We and our partners continue to conduct operations against Al Qaeda inside Yemen pursuant to the 2001 AUMF, with the permission of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen.  Although Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may not grab a lot of international headlines, it continues to threaten Western nations, and maintains a significant network in southern Yemen, which we are working to disrupt.

Making matters worse, Yemen has become another front in Iran’s quest for regional dominance, which has accelerated in the wake of the previous administration’s nuclear deal. 

Consider that:

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has transferred increasingly sophisticated weapons systems to the Houthis, and specialists to train and advise their units. 
  • Iran’s top terror proxy, Hezbollah, is helping the Houthis, who have launched numerous missiles and raids into Saudi Arabia, killing innocent civilians.  Just last week, a ballistic missile was intercepted over the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

This Iranian meddling in Yemen thwarts peace by empowering the Houthis to resist a return to political negotiations.  The Iranian regime could not care less about the human suffering it’s responsible for.

Of course, beyond our national security, the region is also vital to the U.S. and global economy.  The southwest coast of Yemen constitutes one side of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a narrow, strategic chokepoint in the flow of international goods headed to and from Europe, Asia and the United States.  At times, Iranian-supported Houthis have attacked international shipping, including an American vessel.  Disruptions to shipping along this waterway mean disruptions to employment and wages. 

So it is no wonder that, in response to these threats, a Saudi-led coalition of ten nations began military operations against Houthi-Saleh forces in March of 2015.  Its mission was to reinstate the internationally recognized government.  Two and a half years later, however, military progress remains elusive and battle lines are hardened.  The Saudi-led coalition controls the port city of Aden and the lowland areas in the South, while the Houthis continue to hold the capital and the highlands of northern Yemen.  Civilian casualties have been distressingly high, including from Saudi airstrikes in the early months of the campaign.

Today, Yemen is in shambles.  It is simultaneously experiencing the world’s largest food insecurity crisis and largest cholera outbreak, with more than 900,000 suspected cases.  And last week’s moves by the Saudis to further close ground, air and sea ports only threatens to make things worse.

The United States remains committed to providing much needed relief to innocent men, women and children affected by this crisis.  In fact, we remain the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Yemen, by far.  USAID and UN aid agencies report that all parties to the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, have been responsible for bureaucratic impediments and disruptions to humanitarian operations, complicating our ability to effectively deliver lifesaving assistance.  Our resolution says this must stop, by all sides.

Mr. Speaker, this all provides for a very complex policy challenge.

Some say the United States should distance itself from longstanding military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf Cooperation Council partners.  But this would only strengthen Iran’s malign influence in the region, and would not solve the humanitarian crisis.  Indeed, it would likely worsen it.

At the same time, others say our only focus should be neutralizing Iran and terrorist threats.  But we cannot ignore the moral and strategic costs of civilian casualties and deteriorating humanitarian conditions. 

To this end, I believe that House Resolution 599 appropriately balances the shared, bipartisan concerns of this body:

  • The urgent need for a political solution in Yemen consistent with Security Council Resolution 2216;
  • A call for all parties to prevent civilian casualties;
  • Support for the Saudi-led coalition’s commitments to improve targeting and abide by their no-strike list;
  • Condemnation and sanctions for Iran’s destabilizing activities in Yemen in violation of Security Council Resolution 2216.  Here we should note that this body has taken strong, bipartisan action in recent months to challenge Iran’s aggression, including by sanctioning its ICBM program and its support for the terrorist group Hezbollah; And make no mistake about it: Iran is an avowed enemy and our biggest security threat in the region – on the other hand, the Saudis are our partners.
  • The resolution calls for all parties to allow unobstructed access for humanitarian organizations, human rights investigators, medical personnel, and journalists;
  • And in general, it brings attention to a Yemeni conflict that deserves more international notice.  As we debate this measure, I suspect we may hear different views of War Powers and authorizations for the use of military force as they relate to Yemen.  As I said, I don’t believe our security cooperation with the Saudis triggers War Powers – this is the type of support we provide to many other governments.  But just because it does not arise under that particular statute does not make it immune from our scrutiny.  I share Members’ concerns that Congress must be as attentive as possible to the roles and missions of our armed forces overseas, and monitor the ways in which our security assistance is being used.  In this sense, Yemen does warrant closer watching.  That is what I believe this resolution does.

I again want to thank the gentleman from California, Mr. Khanna, the Majority Leader and Minority Whip of the House, and my good friend and Ranking Member, Eliot Engel, for the good work that went into this text, which I support.

I reserve the balance of my time.”