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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Senate agrees to debate US Role in Yemen war 

Bill to advance debate on the War Powers Authorization Act passed by 63-37 votes

Mike Pompeo (centre) and James Mattis briefed the Senate in a closed session and urged them to reject the bid. EPA
Mike Pompeo (centre) and James Mattis briefed the Senate in a closed session and urged them to reject the bid. EPA

The US Senate delivered a symbolic rebuff to the Trump administration on Wednesday, voting to advance the debate on the War Powers Authorization Act that could block the US role in the Yemen war in a later vote.

In a 63 to 37 vote, senators agreed to support an open debate on the Yemen war and US role.

The procedural vote received more Republican support than had been expected after the resolution, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, fell six votes short of passage earlier this year.

The outcome showed a significant number of Republicans were willing to break with President Donald Trump to express their deep dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia and with the US response to Khashoggi's brutal killing in Turkey last month.

The vote came just a few hours after Secretaries of State and Defense, Mike Pompeo and James Mattis, briefed the Senate in a closed session and urged them to reject the bid.

While Wednesday’s vote does not block the administration’s role in Yemen, it sets up a debate about it and would require another vote to sanction it.

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The bill gained 19 more supporters since it was last introduced in March. All 49 Democrats voted to advance the debate while 14 Republicans agreed.

“The suffering in Yemen grieves me, but if the United States of America was not involved in Yemen, it would be a hell of a lot worse. What would happen if the US withdrew from the Yemen effort? Guess what: the war wouldn’t end," Mr Pompeo told the Senate. US involvement in Yemen, he added, is central to the Trump administration's broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

US defense chief Mr Mattis said: “Tragedies occur in war, we assess restraint and improved tactical judgment by Arab coalition pilots has reduced the risk of civilian casualties”.

Mr Mattis was also to make the case against a vote on a measure to invoke the War Powers Resolution, an act that could end US involvement in Yemen, since Washington's role in the war is not operational. The US stopped the refueling of Arab Coalition planes last month.

Now the Senate will have to take another vote on the bill, which is expected to happen during the lame-duck session and before the end of the year.