Hours after defying worldwide warnings against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Donald Trump turned his attention to a country he’s had little to say about thus far: Yemen.
In an unexpected statement directed at his cozy Middle East ally Wednesday, Trump called on Saudi Arabia to lift its crippling blockade on Yemen, where millions of people are mired in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“I have directed officials in my administration to call the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to request that they completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people who desperately need it,” Trump said in a statement. “This must be done for humanitarian reasons immediately.”
Saudi Arabia instituted the blockade last month after Houthi rebels launched a rocket toward Riyadh. The blockade, which prevented food, water, and medical aid from entering the country, was immediately condemned by by the UN and aid organizations who said it unnecessarily exacerbated a food shortage on the cusp of becoming a full-blown famine.
The move, though considered long overdue by most analysts, came as somewhat of a surprise, considering the cozy relationship and persistent praise King Salman and his powerful son, Mohammad Bin Salman, have enjoyed since Trump came to power. Other analysts saw Wednesday’s statement as part of a broader tit-for-tat game in the region, after Saudi Arabia condemned Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy of Israel to Jerusalem.
Scott Paul, Humanitarian Policy Lead at Oxfam America, called Trump’s statement “long overdue but hugely important.” Paul also urged the U.S. to take a more active role in Yemen’s deeply fractured civil war, such as demanding a ceasefire and stop its weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in the nearly three-year war.
“We should not overlook the fact that US support has helped create Yemen’s horrific crisis,” Paul said. “The US should also insist on an immediate ceasefire and an inclusive political settlement. If the parties refuse, the US should discontinue the supply of weapons and military assistance it is providing to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.”
More than 5,000 civilians have been killed since the war began in March 2015. Hundreds of thousands more have fallen victim to a massive cholera epidemic, and millions more face the threat of famine.