WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on United States policy in the Arabian Peninsula:
“Let me welcome all our members to our first hearing. Let me welcome as well our witnesses, and members of the public and members of the press. We’re here this morning to examine U.S. Policy in the Arabian Peninsula.
“Before I get to my views and recognize our Ranking Member, a bit of housekeeping: without objection, all members may have five days to submit statements, questions, extraneous materials for the record, subject to the length limitation in the rules.
“One of my goals as chairman of this committee will be to underscore the importance of American values as part of our foreign policy. When we’re at our best, we put democracy, human rights, and the rule of order at the center of our conduct all over the world. It’s the right thing to do. It’s a reflection of our country’s character, its compassion, its generosity. It also makes it easier to advance our interests and our security.
“It’s with this idea in mind that I focused our first hearing on our policy in the Arabian Peninsula. This region has posed some of the most vexing problems for our top diplomats, and it is a top priority of this committee to help move our policy in the Gulf toward one that safeguards American interests while honoring American values. Our Gulf policy should not have to sacrifice one for the other.
“Since the start of the current Yemen conflict in 2015, more than 10,000 people have died in airstrikes. 85,000 children have died of malnutrition. Fourteen million Yemenites are on the brink of famine. And more than one million suffer from cholera.
“The UN calls this the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and there’s no shortage of bad news. In just the last week, it was confirmed that silos holding one quarter of Yemen’s wheat stocks had been destroyed, and eight more civilians were killed when a bomb struck a center for internally displaced people. Yemen was already in crisis before the conflict began, but the war has made things far worse.
“I want to be clear: Saudi Arabia and its partners have very real and urgent security challenges. The Houthis in Yemen receive support from Iran. The Houthis are launching missiles into Saudi territory, threatening Saudi civilians as well as American personnel. In 2016, they launched cruise missiles at a U.S. Navy ship in the Red Sea.
“And our country’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, despite some bumps in the road, has been a valuable one. Saudi Arabia plays an important role as a counterbalance to Iran in the region.
“But neither the threats facing the Saudis nor America’s partnership with the kingdom mean that the Saudis should have a blank check. We cannot look the other way when it comes to the recklessness with which the Saudi-led coalition has conducted its operations. In Yemen I’m not just talking about one tragic screw-up, though that would be bad enough. The coalition’s operations have been characterized by strike after strike after strike that has resulted in unnecessary civilian casualties.
“A school bus full of children, a wedding, a funeral. And these mistakes have been compounded by a lack of real accountability. At the same time, both the coalition and the Houthi authorities have prevented humanitarian assistance from getting to where it’s needed most.
“So we need to stay focused on ending the suffering in Yemen and advancing a political solution. In the long term, I am hopeful about the UN peace process, led by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, and where these negotiations can lead.
“The war in Yemen poses significant challenges, but we cannot view the issues in the Arabian Peninsula solely through that lens. Our relationship with the Saudis is very different now than it was even six months ago.
“The heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world, and the Administration seemed content to sweep it under the rug and move on. That’s not acceptable to me.
“In addition, new reporting suggests that the weapons the United States sold the Emiratis are now ending up in the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists, Houthi rebels, and Iranian intelligence officials as well. And of course, the ongoing imprisonment of women activists including Luojain al-Hathloul and Hatoon al-Fassi, and other human-rights abuses cannot be ignored.
“So it can no longer be business as usual. We need to see a real change in Saudi behavior. We need to push for accountability. And we need to understand what has driven our own Administration’s policy in this part of the world.
“I want to assure everyone listening today that today’s hearing and markup presents the beginning of this Committee’s focus on these issues. We will not sweep these questions under the rug. And we will push for changes that are absolutely necessary to get the U.S.-Saudi relationship back on track.
“I’m interested to hear from our witnesses about how to grapple with these challenges."