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Yemenis say Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia shows he doesn't care about their plight

More than 377,000 people have died as a result of direct fighting, hunger and disease since the war erupted
Air strikes hit Sanaa
People flee as air strikes hit the Yemeni capital Sanaa on 10 May 2015 (Reuters)

Yemeni anti-war campaigners have condemned US President Joe Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, saying the president has betrayed his values by meeting with Saudi Arabian officials who have been accused of rights abuses including murder, torture, and the killing of civilians in the Yemen war.

Biden landed in the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Friday in his first trip to the country as president, where he fist-bumped Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the nation's de-facto ruler.

The US president, who came to office last year after vowing to turn the world's biggest oil exporter into a "pariah" over the 2018 killing of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi, said he decided to make the trip to advance US interests and try to curb soaring gas prices, which have hurt him politically ahead of mid-term elections.

'Biden doesn't give a hoot about the Yemeni people's suffering and the bloodshed'

Anees Mansoor, Hona Aden Center for Strategic Studies

Writing in The Washington Post earlier this week, Biden said his administration had reversed the "blank-cheque" policy of former US President Donald Trump. 

He cited his administration's release of an intelligence report on Khashoggi's murder and his decision to impose sanctions on some of those involved in the killing. 

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While he stated that his administration had made great strides in trying to bring peace to war-ravaged Yemen, activists and analysts told MEE that it seemed the White House was less concerned with the plight of Yemenis and was more focused during this visit on developing a new regional front against Iran and expanding normalisation agreements between Israel and further Arab states. 

"Yemenis know for sure that Biden and US administrations are only serving their own interests," Adel al-Hasani, a Yemeni political activist based in Sanaa, told MEE.

'Yemenis not expecting much'

For more than seven years, the US has supported the Saudi-led coalition at war with Yemen's Houthi rebels, selling a vast array of weapons to the kingdom and providing the coalition with intelligence, military advice and logistical support.

The Houthis, who seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2014, maintain that their efforts were necessary to defend the Shia Zaidi community against the Yemeni government's marginalisation, as well as foreign aggression.

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Saudi Arabia and its allies, notably the United Arab Emirates, began their involvement in Yemen in March 2015, when they launched a massive aerial campaign to roll back gains made by the Houthis a year earlier.

The UN estimates that over the past seven years, direct fighting, hunger and disease have led to the deaths of more than 377,000 people.

While clashes still continue, a truce has largely held since April, with no new Saudi air attacks reported by local or international media.

Hasani said Biden's visit to the region had little to do with extending the truce and was more closely aligned with securing Gulf countries' oil and gas supplies amid rising global demand following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Yemenis don't expect much from his visit," Hasani said.

'Doesn't give a hoot'

Until recently, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two swing producers within Opec, rejected calls from the US to break their production agreement with Moscow, frustrating Washington's attempts to isolate Russia on the global stage.

Earlier this month, Biden told reporters that he would not directly ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil output when in the kingdom, and that he had instead made the case that all Gulf countries should increase production.

Brent crude, an international benchmark, was trading at $95.5 per barrel on Thursday, and the average price per gallon for gasoline in the US was $4.63, down from the record $5.02 that Americans were paying last month.

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The Houthis have repeatedly been blamed for causing a spike in global oil prices over their sporadic drone and missile attacks against the kingdom's oil facilities.
After an attack on oil facilities in Jeddah earlier this year, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the rebel group's leader, placed the blame for the country's seven-year war on the US, saying that Saudi Arabia was merely acting as an "executor".

Anees Mansoor, a Yemeni activist and head of the Hona Aden Center for Strategic Studies, said the protracted conflict could be blamed squarely on Biden and several other senior US officials who played a key role in facilitating the war when they served in the administration of President Barack Obama.

"Biden doesn't give a hoot about the Yemeni people's suffering and the bloodshed," he said. 

"His visit could likely result in the US reinstating the previous military support of anti-air defence systems, the refuelling of Saudi fighter jets, and also further intelligence support. There's no end in sight to the war."

'Cement mistrust against the US'

Efforts to end the conflict have gained momentum in Washington, with US Senator Bernie Sanders launching an effort on Thursday to push for a vote on the Yemen War Powers resolution, a years-long effort in Congress to put an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Aisha Jumaan, the president of Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, said Biden's visit to the kingdom amid a land, air and naval blockade of Yemen could be seen as an approval of the economic war tactics that aim to subdue the Yemeni people into surrender. 

"This visit will cement that belief and widen the mistrust that Yemenis feel towards the American government. People in Yemen don't consider the US an honest broker for negotiating peace, and this will harden their position," she said.

"This will complicate the peace negotiations because this mistrust will impact UN peace negotiations since Yemenis view the UN as another arm of the US government."

While the continuation of the war has made many Yemenis pessimistic about Biden's attempts at bringing peace, Muhammad al-Makaleh, a Yemeni politician and writer, said the US president's visit could consolidate the current truce.

The main obstacle, Makaleh said, would be "Ansar Allah's intransigence," referring to the Houthi group by their political name. 

"Biden's visit won't increase public outrage against the US, for Yemenis know very well that the war on them is Saudi-led, not American, unlike what Ansar Allah thinks."

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