House leaders demand that Biden press to release U.S. embassy staff in Yemen

Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee want the Biden administration to do more to free U.S. embassy staff from detention in Yemen.

Democratic. Representative Gregory Meeks from New York and Republican Representative Michael McCaul from Texas wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressing the issue yesterday.

“If the Houthis do not comply, we urge you to use all available pressure tactics to secure the release of the detained LES and ensure the well-being of our LES in the future, including through relocation, if necessary.” , they wrote, using an acronym for “locally employed staff”. Meeks chairs the committee and McCaul is its top Republican.

Dozens of Yemeni citizens working for the United States Embassy and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and two United Nations employees were detained in the Yemeni capital Sana’a earlier this month by the Houthi rebels. The US government and the UN have demanded that Iranian-backed rebels release the detained individuals. The US Treasury Department also sanctioned a Houthi leader last week for the matter. Some of the U.S. government employees have since been released, but a number are still being held by the Houthis, State Department officials say.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war between the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi forces since 2014. Houthi forces receive support from Iran. In 2015, a Saudi-led military coalition intervened on behalf of the Hadi government. Hadi is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis control Sana’a and much of western Yemen. Most of the rest of the country is in the hands of the government and its nominal ally, the Southern Transition Council, which supports the autonomy of the south.

More recently, the Houthis have led a major offensive to take the city of Marib.

US President Joe Biden has made ending the war in Yemen a priority for his administration.

Some members of Congress criticize Saudi conduct in the war and oppose US arms sales to the Kingdom. Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota introduced a resolution earlier this month to block a US arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Omar is also a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

The influence of the United States on the Houthi forces is unclear. The rebels did not agree to a ceasefire proposed by the Saudis earlier this year, despite American pressure. Meeks and McCaul urged the Defense Ministry to work on “the interception of weapons smuggled from Iran to the Houthis.” They also thanked Oman for helping to secure the release of some of the US government employees.