Washington, Mar 14 (AP/UNB) — The Senate voted Wednesday to end U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-led coalition's war in Yemen, bringing Congress one step closer to a unprecedented rebuke of President Donald Trump's foreign policy.
Lawmakers have never before invoked the decades-old War Powers Resolution to stop a foreign conflict, but they are poised to do just that in the bid to cut off U.S. support for a war that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
The vote puts Congress on a collision course with Trump, who has already threatened to veto the resolution, which the White House says raises "serious constitutional concerns."
The measure was co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Mike Lee, R- Utah. Next, it will move to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to pass.
The resolution passed by a vote of 54 to 46, with seven Republicans breaking with Trump to back the resolution: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Todd Young of Indiana.
"The bottom line is that the United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic regime with an irresponsible foreign policy," Sanders said on Wednesday from the Senate floor. He said a vote in favor of the measure would "begin the process of reclaiming our constitutional authority by ending United States involvement in a war that has not been authorized by Congress and is unconstitutional."
In its statement threatening a veto, the White House argued the premise of the resolution is flawed and that it would undermine the fight against extremism. U.S. support for the Saudis does not constitute engaging in "hostilities," the statement said, and the Yemen resolution "seeks to override the president's determination as commander in chief."
"By defining 'hostilities' to include defense cooperation such as aerial refueling," the White House statement said, the Yemen resolution could also "establish bad precedent for future legislation."
Trump's support for Saudi Arabia has been a point of tension with Congress since the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia strongly enough for the killing.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addressed those tensions when he urged his colleagues to oppose the measure.
"We should not use this specific vote on a specific policy decision as some proxy for all the Senate's broad feelings about foreign affairs. Concerns about Saudi human rights issues should be directly addressed with the administration and with Saudi officials," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
McConnell argued the Yemen resolution "will not enhance America's diplomatic leverage" and will make it more difficult for the U.S. to help end the conflict in Yemen and minimize civilian casualties.
Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition helps facilitate peace talks and withdrawing from the conflict would delay an eventual political settlement.
"We need to stay engaged (in Yemen) with the limited engagement we've had," Risch said.
A similar resolution to end support for the Yemen war passed the Senate in December, but it was not taken up by the then Republican-controlled House.
Approaching its fifth year, the war in Yemen has killed thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation, creating what the United Nations called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said before the vote that the resolution "will be seen as a message to the Saudis that they need to clean up their act."
"We are made weaker in the eyes of the world when we willingly participate in war crimes, when we allow our partners to engage in the slaughter of innocents," Murphy said.
Jerusalem, Mar 6 (AP/UNB) — The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has rejected an Israeli court order to close a religious hall that has ignited tension between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police in recent weeks.
Sheikh Abdelazeem Salhab, chairman of the Waqf Council appointed by neighboring Jordan, said Tuesday that the structure, called Mercy Gate, would "remain open for Muslims to pray," despite Israel's ultimatum to close the site by next Monday.
Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate the building and revoke orders banning dozens of Waqf officials, guards and worshippers from the sacred compound.
Israel sealed off the structure in 2003, claiming it was home to a group with ties to Islamic militants. The Waqf has recently challenged the closure, convening and staging prayer-protests in the area.
Dubai, Mar 1 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia announced Friday it had revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, the son of the late al-Qaida leader who has become an increasingly prominent figure in the terror network.
Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship via a royal decree in November, a notice published Friday by the kingdom's official gazette said.
There was no explanation why the order was only becoming public now. However, the announcement comes after the U.S. government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture as part of its "Rewards for Justice" program.
Bin Laden's son has emerged as a leader of the al-Qaida terrorist group. His father was killed in a U.S. military raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
Hamza bin Laden was named a "specially designated global terrorist" in January 2017. He has released audio and video messages calling for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
Al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and a host of other assaults against Western interests.
Tehran, Feb 26 (AP/UNB) — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resigned without warning late Monday, offering an "apology" to the nation as the nuclear deal he negotiated with world powers is on the verge of collapse after the U.S. withdrawal from the accord.
Zarif's resignation, if accepted by Iran's relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, would leave the cleric without one of his main allies in pushing the Islamic Republic toward further negotiations with the West.
It remains unclear why Zarif chose to leave his post now and what effect it will have on the atomic accord, which Iran has been complying with. He likely briefed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before offering his resignation. Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, previously backed the American-educated envoy through the nuclear negotiations.
"We'll see if it sticks," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about Zarif's resignation. "Our policy is unchanged — the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people."
The veteran diplomat first hinted at his resignation with a vague Instagram post in which he offered an "apology" for his "inability to continue to his service." The post included a drawing honoring Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, as Iranians commemorate her birth Tuesday.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, confirmed to the state-run IRNA news agency minutes later that Zarif had resigned but gave no reason for his departure.
Earlier Monday, Zarif met with members of the activist group Code Pink in Tehran, smiling as he posed for a photograph with them. However, he was not seen in images later in the day showing Syrian President Bashar Assad meeting with Khamenei and Rouhani. Iran has been one of Assad's main supporters during the years-long war in Syria.
On Sunday, Zarif criticized Iranian hard-liners in a speech in Tehran, saying: "We cannot hide behind imperialism's plot and blame them for our own incapability."
"Independence does not mean isolation from the world," he said.
Analysts say Rouhani faces growing political pressure from hard-liners within the government as the nuclear deal unravels. Iranian presidents typically see their popularity erode during their second four-year term, but analysts say Rouhani is particularly vulnerable because of the economic crisis assailing the country's rial currency, which has hurt ordinary Iranians and emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.
Reaction to Zarif's resignation was swift. A prominent reformist lawmaker, Mostafa Kavakebian, wrote on Twitter that Rouhani should reject Zarif's resignation as his departure would only "make enemies of Iran's dignity happy."
Hassan Mohammadi, a Tehran-based political analyst close to Rouhani, said he understood it was Zarif's third time submitting his resignation in the last year.
"It is part of plan for changing the track in foreign policy in Iran. A negotiation-seeking foreign minister is not a favored person anymore," Mohammadi told The Associated Press. "Iran needs a tough foreign minister from now on. Someone who does not offer smile towards the West."
The son of a wealthy family, Zarif overcame hardline objections and Western suspicions to strike the accord with world powers that saw Iran promise to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
But the deal was later challenged by the administration of President Donald Trump, which pulled America out of the accord. In doing so, Trump also fueled doubts of Iranians still wary of U.S. interests decades after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Zarif himself faced withering criticism at home after he shook hands with President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, officials in the Trump administration have also been pressuring Iran through social media, with one State Department official tweeting an unflattering GIF of Zarif saying: "How do you know @JZarif is lying? His lips are moving."
Zarif, 59, served as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, first under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and then under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad wanted him replaced, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened to keep him in the position for another two years as Iran soon found itself an international pariah over its nuclear program. Iran insisted its atomic program was for peaceful purposes only, while the West feared it could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Secret backchannel talks between the United States and Iran in Oman became full-fledged negotiations over its nuclear program. During the talks, Zarif met with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry more than 50 times — something that would have been unimaginable only a few years earlier.
Kerry and Zarif's rapport extended beyond just the nuclear negotiations. Kerry directly reached out to his counterpart in January 2016 to help secure the release within 24 hours of 10 U.S. Navy sailors seized by Iran after they mistakenly entered Iranian territorial waters.
Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group and a longtime Iran watcher, described Zarif's resignation as a "bolt from the blue" from a diplomat who had served as "the face of Iran" for years. He said that while it was still too early to determine what prompted Zarif's resignation, it didn't necessarily signal a major shift away from the nuclear deal.
"I think Zarif can charm the fangs off a snake and has done so many, many times," Kupchan told AP. "Whether it's dealing with Bashar Assad or (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, he's their ambassador to a very tough neighborhood."
"The Iranians are pretty good at making their life even harder than it has to be and this would be another step in that direction if he was forced out," Kupchan said.
New Delhi, Feb 20 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday said his visit to India will improve centuries-old ties, which he said are "in our DNA."
In brief remarks at the president's palace where he was given a ceremonial welcome, the crown prince did not make any reference to rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
He arrived in India on Tuesday night after visiting Pakistan, which New Delhi blames for a suicide bombing last week that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir.
Prince Mohammed is due to hold talks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the two sides are expected to sign agreements for promoting investment, tourism, housing and communications.
The countries' two-way trade totaled $27.5 billion last year.
Modi is under heavy pressure from his supporters to punish Pakistan for the suicide attack. India placed the blame for the bombing squarely on neighboring Pakistan, which it accuses of supporting rebels in Kashmir, a charge that Islamabad denies.
The crown prince said on Wednesday that "since we remember ourselves, we know Indian people as friends, and they are part of building Saudi Arabia in the past 70 years."
These relations would improve for the sake of both countries, he told reporters.
His trip to India comes five months after he came under intense pressure following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
In keeping with a long-standing policy of not commenting on countries' internal affairs, India declined to take a position on the Washington Post columnist's killing by suspected Saudi agents at the consulate.
India describes Saudi Arabia as a "key pillar" of its energy security. It provides about 17 percent of India's crude oil and about a third of its liquefied natural gas.
The relationship is likely to become more significant as a deadline nears for India to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran, one of India's main oil providers.
Ties between India and Saudi Arabia, where millions of Indians are employed as migrant workers, have strengthened since Modi visited Riyadh in 2016 for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing.
Prince Mohammed will return home later Wednesday, according to India's External Affairs Ministry.