At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy grills Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield about the war in Yemen, where the U.S. is supplying a Saudi Arabian proxy war against Iran.
VICE News witnessed hundreds of migrants starting their long walk from the shores of Bi’r Ali in south-east Yemen to the Saudi border.
Satterfield explained: "It is the Saudi position that military force needs to be continued to apply. Our response to the Saudis at the highest levels has been that application of force has not been and is not predictably likely to be successful in achieving that political goal."
"And we have been unsuccessful in changing their mind for five years and we expect things to change?" Murphy said.
"The Saudis have made it pretty clear to everyone that's asked them that they are not going to come to the table until the military battle lines on the ground inside Yemen change and that until they get the Houthis back on their heels militarily they aren't going to come to the negotiating table," Murphy also said. "And yet you're telling us that you think that they are going to -- the Saudis are going to engage even if after five years of trying to get the battle lines to be different they have no success."
"So, why are the Saudis going to come to the table today if for five years they've been trying to move the battle lines without success?"
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: America's biggest foreign policy mistakes come when we make a decision for military engagement and then we don't allow for facts on the ground to educate us about a mistake that we have made.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different set of results. And I feel like that's where we are five years into a conflict in which nothing has changed except for the worse.
The Houthis control effectively the same amount of the country that they did. At the outset, the humanitarian nightmare has gotten even worse and yet we are still sitting here today talking about a peace process blossoming out of a reality on the ground that looks very different -- that does not look very different than it did a year or two years ago.
And so, Mr. Satterfield, let me pose this theory of the case to you. I have great respect for you but I really do think that this impression that you're giving the Committee that the Iranians don't want to come to the table and the Saudis and the Emiratis do, is spin.
Because the reason that we are asking you questions about reports of an assault on Hodeidah is that the Saudis have made it pretty clear to everyone that's asked them that they are not going to come to the table until the military battle lines on the ground inside Yemen change and that until they get the Houthis back on their heels militarily they aren't going to come to the negotiating table.
And yet you're telling us that you think that they are going to -- the Saudis are going to engage even if after five years of trying to get the battle lines to be different they have no success.
So, why are the Saudis going to come to the table today if for five years they've been trying to move the battle lines without success? The reason we're asking you these questions about Hodeidah is that they've communicated to us that they are planning an assault on Hodeidah as a means of trying to change the dynamics in anticipation of a negotiation.
SATTERFIELD: Senator, the last three years that this conflict has endured have not just shown a status quo. It's been a worsening of the situation with respect to the military picture. The posture of the Houthis is strengthened today in comparison to what it was three years ago.
The presence of opposing non-Houthi forces Ali Abdullah Saleh, the General People's Congress is significantly more diminished or fragmented. The presence of other elements, Islah, other actors, Ali Mohsen in this conflict, have less influence to bring to bear.
Now, that may appear to be more of a chaotic mix and thus more difficult to bring to a resolution. Perhaps, out of some sense of optimism, I choose to see it differently.
It is a situation in which the hope that somehow military force alone could compel the Houthis as a unique party to come to the table on reduced terms is illusory. And we use exactly those terms with the Saudi and Emirati ...
MURPHY: But that has been the Saudi -- but that has been the Saudi position for the last five years that military pressure, continued military pressure, an average of 15 airstrikes a day for three years consecutive is going to bring the Houthis to the table. That has been the theory of the case from the Saudis coalition's perspective, correct?
SATTERFIELD: And we have been -- it is the Saudi position that military force needs to be continued to apply. Our response to the Saudis at the highest levels has been that application of force has not been and is not predictably likely to be successful in achieving that political goal (inaudible).
MURPHY: And we have been unsuccessful in changing their mind for five years and we expect things to change.
Mr. Jenkins, we are comparing the current state of humanitarian relief to a moment in time last fall when virtually no relief was getting through. That is not the proper comparison or at least a useful comparison.
So, let me just quote from a recent U.N. report that suggests that today, half as many vessels are getting into Hodeidah and Salif as before the blockade. And that on average, the Saudi inspection process is adding 100 days to relief supplies getting into these ports despite the fact that we have a U.N. verification process is taking a look at these ships as well.
Why do the Saudis need to continue to look at every single ship that comes in chilling the interest in humanitarian supplies adding additional time when we have a U.N.? process that so far has shown no evidence of not actually being able to conduct these inspections?
JENKINS: So Senator, it's true that throughput at the Port of Hodeidah has not yet gotten back to the level we saw before the October-November enclosure. And there has been a very chilling effect on shippers particularly shippers that using containerized vessels who don't want to take the risk of going to Hodeidah and also because they don't know how long it will go through clearance.
However, we've been working very carefully, State Department, USAID, other donors with the coalition to reduce the times that the EHOC process that's the coalition's Evacuation Humanitarian Assistance Operation Cell.
In the month of April 3rd we got that down to about three to four days, so it's not a 100 days. There's been a lot of work done getting the communication between that process and the U.N. verification and inspection mechanism process together.
The U.N. system on them gets back within 48 hours on the determination of whether or not a vessel actually needs to be searched or not and then it goes through the EHOC process.
We are -- we have seen, particularly in the last six weeks significant progress on that and we're looking forward to reducing those times even more. What we do need is we need shippers in the region to know how long it will take and how long or and that will hopefully get more shipping back into Hodeidah port particularly compartmentalized cargo.
MURPHY: Thank you.