MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Middle East and around the world for this on-the-record press briefing with U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking and USAID Assistant Administrator for Humanitarian Assistance Sarah Charles. Special Envoy Lenderking and Assistant Administrator Charles will discuss diplomatic efforts to mitigate the humanitarian crisis and advance a resolution to the conflict in Yemen and take questions from participating journalists.
We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation for this briefing in Arabic, and we request everyone to keep that in mind and speak slowly.
I’ll now turn it over to Special Envoy Lenderking and Assistant Administrator Charles for their opening remarks. Special Envoy Lenderking, we’ll start with you.
MR. LENDERKING: Good morning. Thank you, Geraldine, and hello to everybody. Thank you for joining us. It really is a pleasure to be with you all again. I wanted to talk to you today to update you on our diplomatic efforts and to make an important announcement about our humanitarian assistance efforts along with my colleague, Sarah Charles. You will recall that when President Biden appointed me, he charged me with a dual mandate; that is to say that he asked that I work on advancing a durable solution to the Yemen conflict, sometimes what we refer to as a political track, and then also take immediate action to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crisis facing the country.
The dual mandate, I think, reflects the U.S. commitment to addressing the terrible humanitarian crisis facing Yemenis as well as our understanding of the interconnected nature between the humanitarian crisis and the war. It’s my view that as long as the war continues, we know the humanitarian crisis will continue to get worse. On the other hand, the humanitarian and economic crisis is also fueling further conflict.
I’ve heard some people suggest that it does not make sense to continue to provide humanitarian assistance absent progress on the peace process. We reject this. The United States rejects this notion. Yemen continues to face the threat of mass famine, and humanitarian assistance is
critical to preventing this. We also believe that taking immediate steps to mitigate the humanitarian crisis and save lives can contribute to progress on the peace process. So that’s why the U.S. is announcing today $165 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Yemen, which you will hear more about from Sarah in a few moments. This assistance demonstrates the U.S. commitment to improving the lives of Yemenis.
The United States remains the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance for the Yemeni people, providing more than $3.6 billion since the crisis began to alleviate suffering of the Yemeni people. Obviously, the U.S. can’t do this alone so other donors, particularly regional donors, must step up their contributions. The UN humanitarian appeal remains dangerously underfunded. So we look forward to discussing this issue during the UN General Assembly in September and hope to see additional funding commitments then. Yemen cannot wait.
The humanitarian crisis is closely linked to the economic crisis and many Yemenis rely on humanitarian assistance because normal economic activity has broken down. We have to ensure economic issues are a central priority in the peace effort going forward because economic grievances have driven the conflict from the beginning. If we ignore these issues, we will not find a durable solution to the conflict. But until economic stability is restored, Yemenis will need additional humanitarian assistance to prevent a further deterioration in living conditions that will only make it harder to resolve the conflict.
I want to say a word or two about the situation at Hodeida Port since this gets frequent attention. The U.S. believes that restrictions on fuel imports through Hodeida Port must be lifted immediately. I cannot state that more clearly.
I also want to make several points clearly in addition to that. First, the current fuel crisis in northern Yemen is driven not just by decreased imports but also by the Houthi – but also by Houthi price manipulation and stockpiling. Further, the Houthis continue to violate the terms of the Stockholm Agreement 2018, using port revenues to fund their war effort rather than to pay civilian salaries. As you know, the food situation in Yemen is generally not an issue of availability. It’s a problem of people having money to purchase the food that is available. So a durable solution that addresses these – that addresses these issues is urgently needed. The UN humanitarian coordinator is working on this, and we are asking all parties to engage seriously with his efforts.
Second, there should be no preconditions to dialogue on peace. Such preconditions only prolong war and suffering and obstruct the kind of durable peace agreement that will bring true relief to Yemenis.
The Houthis’ single-minded focus on the offensive in Marib has undermined UN efforts to reach a comprehensive ceasefire. This offensive is putting millions of people at risk and poses a grave threat to the humanitarian situation. Moreover, the Houthis are not winning in Marib. The situation is stalemated and many are questioning why the Houthis should continue an offensive that is just leading to pointless death and destruction.
The international consensus on resolving the conflict also continues to grow. Regional actors like Oman are taking greater steps than ever before to help bring this conflict to an end. And Saudi Arabia has announced its support for an immediate comprehensive nationwide ceasefire.
This stronger, more united regional push for peace is making a difference. The United States also welcomes the appointment of Hans Grundberg as the new UN envoy for Yemen. Hans brings valuable expertise on the ground. We’re looking forward to working with him to bring new momentum to a more inclusive UN-led process that empowers Yemenis to choose a brighter future for their country.
With that, I’d like to turn to Sarah Charles to talk more about our humanitarian response and new assistance. Thank you.
MS. CHARLES: Hello, everyone, and thank you to Special Envoy Lenderking. It’s been a great pleasure to work closely with the Special Envoy to bring relief to the Yemeni people. My name is Sarah Charles, and I’m USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator with the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance. I first traveled to work in Yemen 11 years ago, and this beautiful country and its people are very near and dear to my heart. But as many of you know, the situation in Yemen is dire. It’s one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Two-thirds of the country needs humanitarian assistance. That’s more than 20 million Yemenis who struggle every day to survive without basic necessities including more than 2 million young children facing deadly malnutrition this year alone.
Over the last seven years as contact lines have shifted, we’ve seen families uprooted over and over again, becoming more vulnerable each time they are forced to flee. We’re seeing this most acutely right now in Marib, where the Houthis’ latest offensive is killing civilians and threatens to displace hundreds of thousands of people.
Today, I’m pleased to share that the United States through USAID is providing 165 million in additional humanitarian assistance for people affected by this ongoing conflict. This funding will allow the UN World Food Program to continue to provide emergency food assistance to Yemenis, reaching 11.5 million people every month with food provided by the American people and grown by American farmers. It includes 90 million in assistance through their – through the American Rescue Plan, a U.S. Federal Government stimulus and COVID-19 recovery plan to provide food to communities affected by devastating food insecurity compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. This new funding is in addition to the humanitarian assistance we have already been providing, including emergency food aid, treatment, and prevention for malnutrition, basic necessities such as hygiene and shelter supplies for displaced families, rehabilitation of water tanks and pipes so that communities have safe water, and helping parents earn an income and rebuild their livelihoods.
We’re supporting efforts to prevent famine, which has again become a very real threat, and combat the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks. The U.S. is proud to be the largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Yemen, providing more than 3.6 billion to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. We urge other donors to join us in stepping up their contributions to help deliver critical assistance to the people of Yemen, who have already endured so much.
However, we know that aid alone cannot meet the vast and growing humanitarian needs. While international assistance has so far prevented people from slipping into famine, the recent escalation of violence in Marib is only increasing humanitarian needs and placing further strain on an already stretched humanitarian response. Yemen remains extremely dangerous and
logistically difficult for aid workers. The Houthis’ indiscriminate attacks on the civilian populations, particularly around Marib, puts our partners’ brave staff on the ground, who are all – almost all Yemeni, in constant danger.
Unfortunately, these challenges are not confined to Houthi-held areas. Throughout Yemen, access to populations in need continues to hinder the international community’s humanitarian operation. Insecurity and deliberate obstruction by authorities prevent us from delivering aid at the scale needed to address growing needs. All parties to the conflict must work to bring an end to fighting and ensure that needs do not continue to worsen. In addition, Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni Government, and the Houthis must do their part to ensure that fuel is flowing into and throughout Yemen at prices Yemenis can afford so that they can access basic services and aid.
The Republic of Yemen Government restrictions on fuel ships have slowed the amount of fuel going through Red Sea ports, and action must be taken to lift these restrictions. Fuel prices also remain extremely high due to Houthi stockpiling and price manipulation, and this behavior must also stop or Yemenis will continue to suffer. We very much appreciate Special Envoy Lenderking’s continued pressure to raise these issues and help us find a solution, including, as he mentioned, to the broader economic crisis.
Thank you so much. I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you to you both. We’ll now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those on the English line asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. Questions submitted in advance have been incorporated into the queue.
Our first question is pre-submitted, and it will go to Ahmed Al-Ghamdi from Asharq News, and the question is: “Despite the Saudi initiatives and the many calls on the Houthis to agree to a ceasefire and engage in the peace process, we are still witnessing an escalation on the ground by the Houthis on all fronts, especially in Marib. What would make the Houthis accept a ceasefire?”
MR. LENDERKING: Thank you for the question, Ahmed. I certainly agree with the statement that is represented there. It’s very important and it has been a priority of ours to focus on a ceasefire. We see so many other issues being held up and urgent priorities being held up because there is continued fighting. You can’t look at rebuilding infrastructure, you can’t get people back to their homes, you can’t resolve the internally displaced persons situation in Marib if there is continued fighting. And of course, Marib is the focus right now of Houthi efforts. And it’s particularly difficult because of the constant recruitment of young people and the attacks that have killed civilians inside Marib.
So this is why we push so hard and why we continue to call attention to the Houthi offensive in Marib. That’s because the Houthis are isolated in the entire world community by continuing to fight when there are credible offers for a ceasefire that are on the table and that are being pushed by the United Nations and by regional actors as well.
So the continued pressure on the Houthis is necessary. I think the realization should be upon all Yemenis that the Houthis are not winning in Marib despite the emphasis that they’re placing on
this particular conflict. And when that reality dawns on people and dawns on the Houthis, I think it will force them to realize that the continued isolation and the fact that the conflict in Marib is stalemated will pull them back, and I hope bring them to the negotiating table in a more constructive way because the benefits of peace for all will be evident.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question, we’ll go to the live queue, and it is from Shawgi Mustafa from Lusail newspaper in Qatar. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for the opportunity. I’m Shawgi Mustafa from Lusail newspaper. My first question is for ambassador Lenderking. Do you expect any mediation [inaudible] that’ll help to resolve the crisis in Yemen? And what is the result of your last meeting with Qatari officials, whether here in Doha or your meeting with Qatari [inaudible] and Foreign Minister Mohammed in Washington?
My second question is to Ms. Charles. How do you see a Qatari humanitarian offer in Yemen? For example, Qatar’s donation, about 100 million of what was supposed to come in Yemen last month. Thank you.
MR. LENDERKING: Well, thank you very much. I’ll start before turning it over to Sarah. You mentioned the Qatar foreign minister’s visit to Washington. Of course, I did have a chance to meet with him, as I have in Doha as well, to talk about Yemen, thank them for the contribution of $100 million which they had just announced the previous day with the World Food Program. As Sarah and I both said at the outset, we do need more funding and that funding is put to good use and will have a very positive impact on the situation on the ground. So we invite others also to come forward in that same vein.
What we see happening is a very strong international effort to pressure the parties to bring the conflict to an end. I think we have an international consensus that is unprecedented in the last six years, and I’m sure that the new UN envoy will be taking up this as his priority role. And it’s very important for regional actors such as Qatar, such as Kuwait, that have influence in one way or the other – and I mentioned Oman earlier, of course Saudi Arabia, the UAE – the more that we can keep these regional actors on the same page and rowing with the UN process, that will be to the benefit of a political solution.
MS. CHARLES: This is Sarah Charles, and yes, we very much welcome the announcement by Qatar last month of an additional $100 million in support to the World Food Program. This assistance is much needed to avert famine and address the deepening food insecurity in Yemen, and so we’re very grateful for that announcement and encourage all of the donors, particularly those in the region, for increased support and to fulfill their pledges of assistance quickly as this assistance really is urgently needed on the ground in Yemen. And we’ll continue to work with our regional partners, with the special envoy to increase assistance for Yemen.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was pre-submitted by Holly Aguirre from The National News in UAE. And the question is, “How will the U.S. support refugees wishing to leave Yemen?” Over.
MR. LENDERKING: I’m happy to start and then turn it to Sarah. I think many people have seen the increased support of the Biden administration for refugees in general. What we’re really
focused on right now in Yemen is the internally displaced people. There are, of course, Yemenis who have left the country toward Saudi Arabia and that’s almost a consistent labor flow. Many Yemenis reside inside Saudi Arabia and work and the remittances that they send back to Yemen are very important for the Yemenis who are living there.
Our main concern right now is with the internally displaced, as I mentioned. Very large population of IDPs in and around Marib. They’re in extremely vulnerable circumstances, and the Houthi persistence with the offensive there makes their situation even more precarious.
MS. CHARLES: Yes, as the special envoy mentioned, we’re very focused on the very large IDP population. This is a very vulnerable population made more vulnerable by multiple displacements; the latest, as the special envoy mentioned by fighting in Marib. I do know my colleagues from the State Department with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration are supporting IRM, the International Organization for Migration, to repatriate Ethiopian migrants to Addis Ababa. The latest voluntary humanitarian return flight was just last week, repatriating about 80 Ethiopian migrants to Ethiopia’s capital; this is the first of these flights from Sana’a since 2019. It’s one of the reasons why the special envoy and the entire U.S. Government continue to push for Sana’a airport to be opened and operational.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much. Our next question comes from the live queue, and it’s from Essa Nahari from Independent Arabia. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Good morning. I have a question for Special Envoy Lenderking. While the U.S. seems on the same page with the Saudis and the legitimate government in Yemen, it’s saying Houthis are not engaging positively in this peace process. So the question is: At some point, what do you have to pressure Houthis to engage in negotiations, and what if those efforts fail?
MR. LENDERKING: Thank you. I mentioned that the Houthis are isolated in the international community as choosing to pursue a military option right now. And with the entire rest of the world, with the possible exception of Iran, wants to see a political solution. Nobody wants to see that more than the people who are affected by this, which is the Yemeni people. And I think as the Yemeni people begin to see the prospect of a negotiation that we will increasingly be able to hear their voices to bring the conflict to an end, because as I’ve mentioned, I think there is unprecedented international pressure. There needs to be pressure inside Yemen as well – pressure from the ground up.
And I think as we work with the UN and regional actors to create more opportunity, then the Yemenis will feel more confident that a negotiated settlement is on the horizon, and that’s really our priority right now.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was pre-submitted by Mobarak Al-Atty from The Saudi Broadcasting Authority. And the question is, “Saudi Arabia agrees with the United States on Iran’s subversive role in Yemen. How can this be stopped and what is the Biden administration’s plan for creating a mechanism that forces the Houthis to end its offensive?” Over.
MR. LENDERKING: Thank you. Those are really two separate questions. I mean, the first one, there is of course a relationship between Iran and the Houthis and it’s not helpful to the
Yemen conflict. But in terms of Iran, so far being in this job for six months, I haven’t seen any indication on the ground. I hear some sweet words coming out of Tehran from people who talk to the Iranian leadership, but I haven’t seen anything on the ground that leads me to believe that the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role. We, of course, would welcome that. We want to see that.
And we don’t want – those of us who work on Yemen and see the intense suffering there, we do not want to see the Yemen process held up by the Iranians or by the negotiations that have been taking place on the JCPOA. The Yemen situation is urgent. People’s livelihoods are threatened on a daily basis.
So once again, we would call on Iran to play a constructive role, stop fueling the war effort through the provision of equipment, know-how, and training that only – is only perpetuating the conflict. The same time, if the Houthis understand the world current, I think they would do well to lessen their relationship on Iran and turn toward others I think who are willing to support their presence inside Yemen and ensure that their voice is also heard in the political process.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Nadia Bilbassy from Al-Arabiya. Operator, please open the line.
OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please check your mute button.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Tim and Sarah, for doing this. Since you mentioned the donor fatigue, apart from appealing to the international community, how can you get them actively to donate more money besides what the United States is giving? And can you give us an idea in terms of this aid going through the Houthi-controlled territory, how it is being distributed, what the main obstacles that you are facing? And my third question, quickly, is about the political process. As you mentioned, and just adding to all the questions asked before, if there is no willing from the Houthis or the Iranians to get involved in the political process, so can we consider that this is really dead on arrival and it’s nothing that you can do apart from just improving the humanitarian aid for people in Yemen? Thank you so much.
MR. LENDERKING: Thank you, Nadia. I’ll take one and three. I think the issue of aid and moving aid through into Houthi areas would be best answered by Sarah. I mean, I do think there is a certain amount of donor fatigue, but you can see by our announcement today that we are anything but fatigued. We are energized, we are committed, and the United States is undaunted I think by the challenges. We want to push ahead and we want to see this conflict resolved. I’m not just talking about a ceasefire; I’m helping – I’m talking about helping Yemen turn the corner into a legitimate political process that ensures a better future and so Yemen does not slide back into civil war and the kind of economic decline that we have seen.
One thing we do, we try to lead by the power of example. The announcement today I hope will generate further announcements. I mentioned the UN General Assembly as an opportunity; whether it’s virtual or in-person, it’s an opportunity for Yemen to get some attention and for donors to again be generous and think about the Yemen conflict, which has regional implications for all of the countries in the area. And I know having visited all of the countries, how keen their desire is to see the conflict ended. So I think we’ll continue to push forward and I’m hopeful on this front.
With the political process, I would say in no way is it dead on arrival. What I have seen is – as I’ve mentioned, is growing international consensus. I think that’s very important. I’ve also seen, I have to say, some constructive engagement from all the parties at various times. And I think that constructive engagement – you look at the Omanis traveling to Sana’a for a week to spend time with the Houthis. I hope there will be more of that kind of engagement, and I think that over time and as the military situation remains stalemated, that the Houthis will be more willing to negotiate on and look at the specific terms that the UN – the new UN envoy brings forward.
MS. CHARLES: And I can take that second question. I think first it’s important to understand that all of our assistance in Yemen, including in Houthi-controlled areas, is programmed through very experienced UN and non-governmental partners. In March of 2020, we did partially suspend about 3 percent of our programs in Houthi-controlled areas due to Houthi interference in our partners’ operation, but in March of this year we were able to resume support for these programs by implementing new operational parameters to ensure that our partners could deliver assistance without interference.
We also added new monitoring requirements to track interference and to give us the flexibility to adjust or terminate funding as necessary. We continue to face some level of obstruction and work closely with our partners to ensure that assistance is getting to those that need it most – the Yemeni people – and work to continue to press with Special Envoy Lenderking and others for an end to aid obstruction not just in Houthi-controlled areas, but really throughout Yemen.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is also about aid obstruction. It comes from Mohamed Abdallah from Nile News TV in Egypt. And the question is, “How does the United States deal decisively with those who obstruct humanitarian aid in Yemen?” Over.
MS. CHARLES: And so I can take that one. And as I mentioned, again, we’re not afraid. It’s always a very difficult decision, but we’re not afraid and we’ve demonstrated our willingness to suspend aid in certain areas when we’re not able to deliver without undue obstruction, and we had to do that last year in March of 2020. We’re glad that in 2020 of this – sorry, in March of this year we were able to lift that suspension by working closely with our partners on a united front, on a unified approach to work and ensure that we had the kind of monitoring and controls in place to work around any obstruction that might be in place.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Bandar Luarthan [ph] from Al Ayam [ph] newspaper in Saudi Arabia. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Hello, thanks for doing this. Yes, my question is: I would love to hear more from your perspective, sir, when it comes to the collaboration with Saudi Arabia for the peace plan in Yemen and also for bringing stability to the region. Thank you.
MR. LENDERKING: Well, thank you. Obviously, it’s very important for the Saudis to be fully engaged and constructive, and it’s one reason why I’m in Saudi Arabia very often talking to the leadership. They are a major actor here. They’re a major donor through King Salman Humanitarian Center. We appreciate the donations, the funding that the Saudis have provided. At the same time, we need to – we’re going to need to see more, as I’ve stressed.
I mean, I do think what’s – what I do sense from the Saudis is a genuine desire to end the conflict. That doesn’t mean that there’s complete alignment on everything, and we need to continue to narrow those gaps where we can. There’s been a lot of constructive engagement from Saudi Arabia and I see that their efforts are continuing. I’ve mentioned the importance of lifting the fuel restrictions in the ports – that’s something that the Saudis can help us with – the Yemeni Government can help us with. It’s very important that that happens and so that we do not face problems with the fuel restrictions. The fuel is vital to everything that Sarah and I are talking about. It goes to power mills that produce food. It goes to hospitals. It goes to the transportation network that Yemenis rely on and that transporters use to get economic goods moved around the country. The humanitarian workers who are bravely out there in Marib need the fuel to power their activities.
So there should be no restrictions whatsoever on the movement of fuel into the ports, and that’s something that I have an ongoing conversation with Saudi Arabi about. At the same time, the fuel, once it arrives into Yemen, must be distributed in a way that no party, including the Houthis, takes advantage of it or stockpiles it, as Sarah and I mentioned, which drives up black-market prices, and that’s a way that people profit from the war in a way that is unconscionable.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one final question, and it will go to the live queue. We’ll take the line of Monalisa Freiha from Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. Operator, please open the line.
QUESTION: Hello. So I have a question for Mr. Lenderking about what you said about Omani efforts in the Yemeni crisis. Can you elaborate more about this effort and if there is any new Omani mediation with Iran?
MR. LENDERKING: Thank you. I mentioned the Omanis because I’ve traveled there many times on my regional visits, have very good engagement there with the Omani leadership, and I’m convinced that the Omanis want to see the conflict ended and that they’re putting more skin in the game. And I say that because I see that the new sultan is engaged in a very helpful way. As you know, he traveled to Saudi Arabia just last month – it was his first international trip – and there were discussions there on Yemen, which I think were very constructive.
So what I see is an Oman that recognizes that a Yemen that disintegrates further is a problem for Oman, as it is a problem for any of the other regional states. That’s why I think the engagement of the Gulf countries is so important to a resolution, and I think we’ll be counting on the Omanis and relying on the Omanis going forward for more of the type of direct engagement that they have demonstrated, and I consider that a major asset to us.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’ll now turn it back over to you, Special Envoy Lenderking and Assistant Administrator Charles, for any closing remarks you have.
MR. LENDERKING: Well, thank you very much for this opportunity. I really just want to stress the U.S. commitment to what we’re talking about. It’s a very clear mandate from the President. He remains engaged, the Secretary remains engaged, and I think the fact that we have a new UN envoy coming on board who’s a known – someone we know and is – and who knows the file, I think it’s going to be extremely helpful to us. I’m very pleased that we’re making this announcement today. I think it shows our commitment. We’re going to need a lot more going
forward on both the humanitarian side and the political side, but I want to assure everybody that the U.S. commitment is 150 percent and I am empowered by U.S. leadership to find solutions to these problems, and I intend to do my best to honor those. Thank you.
MS. CHARLES: And I would just add my thanks for your time and, again, my thanks to Special Envoy Lenderking. We are very happy to announce the 165 million in additional assistance, but I’m even more pleased that we are part of a government that is really working hard to not just address the humanitarian assistance, the needs of the Yemeni people, but to end the suffering of the Yemeni people through the Special Envoy’s efforts to support the peace process and the need to end the conflict and also address the economic hardship that the Yemeni people are facing as well.
MR. LENDERKING: I’d like to thank Sarah and, of course, USAID for the tremendous role that they are playing to partner in these efforts. It’s making a difference.
MODERATOR: Great. That concludes today’s call. We’d like to thank everyone for dialing in today and we thank our speakers, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking and USAID Assistant Administrator for Humanitarian Assistance Sarah Charles, for their time. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Information on how to access the English recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thank you for joining us and have a great day.