With Saudi Blockade Threatening Famine in Yemen, U.S. Points Finger at Iran

The White House is pressing to declassify intelligence allegedly linking Iran to short-range ballistic missile attacks by Yemeni insurgents against Saudi Arabia, part of a public relations blitz aimed at persuading America’s U.N. counterparts that Tehran is helping to fuel the country’s conflict.

The effort to cast blame on Iran comes at a time when the U.S.-backed Saudi military coalition in Yemen is facing mounting international condemnation for enforcing a blockade on vital ports that threatens to plunge the country into a massive famine.

The declassification push is part of a broader U.S. bid to isolate Tehran in the U.N. Security Council, and potentially to provide a justification for enforcing sanctions or imposing new penalties against Tehran. It marks a surprising recognition by President Donald Trump — who dismissed the United Nations as a feckless talk shop during his presidential campaign — that the world body is critical for rallying international support.

The U.S. campaign to highlight Tehran’s violation of U.N. sanctions suffered a setback earlier this month,when a U.N. panel of experts disclosed it has received no proof that Iran furnished Yemen’s Shiite Houthi insurgents with the missile it fired on Nov. 4 at an airport near the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

The attack was cited earlier this month by Saudi Arabia as a justification for imposing a blockade on Houthi-controlled ports and the airport in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, a move condemned by aid agencies as paving the way to a humanitarian catastrophe. Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that it would reopen the port in Hodeida and the airport in Sanaa to humanitarian aid deliveries. But the move was criticized by the International Rescue Committee as a half measure which will continue to block the import of vital commercial goods and fuel.

Critics said the White House campaign to release more information about suspected Iranian arms deliveries appears calculated to deflect attention from international — and congressional — outrage directed at Riyadh over the blockade.

“They desperately want to change the conversation away from starving children to Iranian bad guys,” said Bruce Riedel, a retired CIA officer who advised four presidents on the Middle East. “But I’m skeptical it’s going to work. Because the imagery of kids that you see on the BBC or 60 Minutes is a lot more powerful than the imagery of a declassified document.”

But Trump administration officials came to Saudi Arabia’s defense, saying Riyadh had cause to be concerned about arms smuggling: “How would countries react if a ballistic missile hit your capital?” said one senior U.S. official, who asked that their name not be used.

In Washington, U.S. national security officials on Monday sought to persuade U.N. diplomats and members of the expert panel that Iran is arming Yemen’s Shiite Houthis. Meanwhile, a U.N. team traveled to Riyadh this week for a briefing and to see missile debris.

The United Nations had demanded Saudi Arabia provide more access to technical information and other evidence from the missile attacks. But the Saudi government, worried about admitting vulnerabilities in its missile defenses and accustomed to secrecy, was initially reluctant to release more information on the attacks, according to U.S. officials.


Source    foreignpolicy.com

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