The White House on Friday praised Saudi Arabia for allowing humanitarian aid to enter Yemen through a port and via air to the nation's capital city, and alleged Iran is exploiting "the grave humanitarian crisis” to “advance its regional ambitions.”
The Trump administration statement did not assign blame to the U.S. government or its ally for mass starvation in the poor South Arabian country, featuring shocking images of emaciated children and a warning from the United Nations' humanitarian leader that "millions" are at risk.
Saudi Arabia, with support from the U.S. and Arab allies, has blockaded large parts of Yemen for more than two years, attempting to reverse the 2015 ouster of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
"The United States welcomes the announcement from Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition that it is reopening Hudaydah port and Sanaa International Airport to allow the urgent flow of humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen," the White House said in a statement.
"Full and immediate implementation of the announced measures is a first step in ensuring that food, medicine, and fuel reach the Yemeni people and that the aid organizations on the frontlines of mitigating this humanitarian crisis are able to do their essential work," it continued. "We look forward to additional steps that will facilitate the unfettered flow of humanitarian and commercial goods from all ports of entry to the points of need. The magnitude of suffering in Yemen requires all parties to this conflict to focus on assistance to those in need."
The White House added it remains on Saudi Arabia's side in the conflict.
"We remain committed to supporting Saudi Arabia and all our Gulf partners against the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aggression and blatant violations of international law. Backed by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Houthi rebels have used destabilizing missile systems to target Saudi Arabia — systems that were not present in Yemen before the conflict,” the statement said.
"The international community must take the necessary steps to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its repeated violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231 as the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exploits the grave humanitarian crisis in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions. Millions of Yemenis are currently enduring severe deprivation; the United States continues to believe that this devastating conflict, and the suffering it causes, must be brought to an end through political negotiations."
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, intervened in Yemen's civil war on behalf of Hadi, who was ousted by Shiite Houthi rebels and elements of the nation's security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh, a longtime U.S.-backed strongman who is Shiite, stepped down after Arab Spring protests. Hadi, a Sunni, won 100 percent of the vote in a single-candidate election in 2012 before himself becoming the target of protests.
The Yemeni civil war is part of a broader series of proxy struggles between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also back opposing sides in Syria's civil war.
The Saudi intervention in Yemen repelled Houthis from the southern port city of Aden, but has failed to dislodge them from much of the territory that they held before the intervention. Amid the fighting, Houthis periodically launch rockets into Saudi Arabia.
Mark Lowcock, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said last week that the scale of starvation in Yemen could be massive.
"I have told the Council that unless those [ blockade] measures are lifted ... there will be a famine in Yemen," Lowcock said.
"It will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year, where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011," he said. "It will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims."
In addition to blockade-caused malnutrition, the Saudi-led coalition has caused many civilian deaths in bombing raids, leading the U.S. Senate to nearly cut off certain weapons in a 53-47 vote in June.