The White House said Thursday that President Joe Biden will end support for Saudi Arabia’s controversial war in Yemen – his first major foreign policy reversal.
President Barack Obama began support for Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump ramped it up, but Biden will announce during his visit to the State Department that it’s ending.
‘Today he will announce an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen,’ said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House press briefing.
The move would fulfill a campaign pledge by Biden, whose administration plans to pursue diplomacy to end the overall conflict in Yemen.
Sullivan also said Biden will freeze Trump’s planned withdrawal of some U.S. troops stationed in Germany.
Biden also is announcing the choice of Timothy Lenderking as special envoy to Yemen when he speaks to State Department employees. Lenderking has been a deputy assistant secretary of state in the agency’s Middle East section. A career foreign service member, he has served in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries inside and out of the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia began the offensive in 2015 to counter a Yemeni Houthi faction that had seized territory in Yemen and was launching cross-border missiles at Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led air campaign since then has killed numerous civilians, and survivors display fragments showing the bombs to be American-made. The conflict has deepened hunger and poverty in Yemen, and international rights experts say both the Gulf countries and Houthis have committed severe rights abuses.
Biden will use his State Department visit on Thursday to highlight his promise to re-engage with the international community after Donald Trump‘s ‘America First’ policy.
In his remarks to staff, Biden will emphasize traditional American alliances while thanking career government officials for their service. Vice President Kamala Harris will join him on the visit, which is his first to a Cabinet department as president.
By choosing Foggy Bottom as his first Cabinet stop – as opposed to the Pentagon or another department – Biden is making a heavily symbolic gesture to an agency suffering from morale problems in the wake of Trump’s presidency.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during the trip the president will thank staff ‘who are Foreign Service officers, civil servants, who are the heart and soul of that institution and, frankly, our government.’
She said his remarks would not be a complete vision of his foreign policy plans. They will center on ‘restoring America’s place in the world,’ one of Biden’s campaign promises.
‘This will not be a laydown of his vision for every issue and every foreign policy issue. He will have plenty of time to do that,’ Psaki noted at her Wednesday press briefing.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden will end support for Saudi Arabia’s controversial war in Yemen and will freeze Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw some U.S. troops stationed in Germany
In making the State Department his first Cabinet stop as president, Joe Biden is making a heavily symbolic gesture to an agency suffering from morale problems in the wake of Trump’s presidency
Trump took an isolationist view in his foreign policy and didn’t visit the State Department for more than a year into his presidency – to see Mike Pompeo sworn in as secretary after Trump fired Rex Tillerson. It was his first and only visit. Trump also accused officials at Foggy Bottom of being part of the ‘deep state’ out to undermine his presidency.
Biden, who spent years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to be much more engaged in foreign policy during his time in the White House.
He’s already returned the United States to international agreements and organizations that Trump withdrew from – including the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization.
Biden also has endorsed a multilateral approach to issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to China and Iran.
‘We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world,’ he said in his inaugural address.
And the president chose his longtime confidant Antony Blinken to be his secretary of state.
Blinken will introduce Biden to State Department employees on Thursday and has vowed to take politics out of the department.
‘I am determined to put our career folks in positions of responsibility and leadership, and I am absolutely determined that politics are not going to come into this building,’ he told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell in an interview last week.
On his first day at Foggy Bottom, in remarks to staff, Blinken told them: ‘I will have your back.’
‘It starts with rebuilding morale and trust. This is a priority for me because we need a strong department for the United States to be strong in the world,’ he said.
During Thursday’s visit, postponed from Monday because of a snowstorm in Washington D.C., Biden plans to announce that he will increase the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States to more than eight times the level at which Trump’s administration left it.
Then-President Trump reduced the refugee admissions cap to only 15,000 and Biden will raise it to 125,00.
Joe Biden to increase the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to more than eight times the level at which Trump’s administration left it – above Syrian refugees fleeing the Turkish incursion in Northern Syria
Biden will be introduced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s vowed to take politics out of the State Department
On Thursday, Biden will be greeted by employees eager to hear that diplomacy has returned to the top of the presidential agenda and that the expertise of long-serving foreign service officers will be valued.
Although Biden´s first nominations and appointments to senior positions at State have trended heavily toward political appointees, the president and Blinken have pledged to promote career staffers.
The State Department visit comes after Biden moved on Wednesday to extend the last remaining treaty limiting Russian and American stockpiles of nuclear weapons, acting just two days before the pact was set to expire. It also follows days after a coup in Myanmar that has emerged as an early proving ground of Biden’s approach to multilateralism.
On another major foreign policy issue, Biden is weighing whether to cut off U.S. support that flourished under Trump for Saudi Arabia´s war in Yemen. U.S. aid has been condemned by the international community and has helped contribute to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
At the State Department, Biden may also address asylum claims for residents of Hong Kong there, according to one official. He indicated during his campaign that he was interested in providing protection to people persecuted by the Chinese government.
Officials said Biden would not necessarily override the record low refugee cap of 15,000 that Trump set for the current budget year. Instead, the 125,000 figure would be proposed for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. The president is required by law to first consult Congress on his plans before making a determination.
Advocates had said that the backlog of tens of thousands of refugees left by the Trump administration had made it unlikely Biden´s target of resettling 125,000 refugees could be reached this year. It will take time to rebuild the pipeline. More than one-third of U.S. resettlement offices were forced to close over the past four years with the drop in refugee arrivals and hundreds of workers were let go.
Another issue that may be addressed Thursday is a review of vetting procedures for refugees, according to the officials and others. The Trump administration had put in place extreme background checks that had brought the program to a standstill, advocates say.
Donald Trump only visited the State Department once as president – above on May 2, 2018 to see Mike Pompeo sworn in as secretary of state
The Trump administration also narrowed eligibility this year, restricting which refugees are selected for resettlement to certain categories, including people persecuted because of religion and Iraqis whose assistance to the U.S. put them in danger.
Biden is expected to do away with those categories at some point and have the program return to using the long-standing referral system by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that makes selections based on a person´s need to be resettled.