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Sen. Todd Young Is Critical Of U.S. Role In The War In Yemen

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a skeptical view this morning of U.S. support for the civil war in Yemen. Americans are backing Saudi Arabia, which has led a coalition of nations which supports the government there. Saudi-led forces have been trying lately to retake the port city of Hodeida.

Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana has questioned this effort, and he's on the line. Senator, good morning.

TODD YOUNG: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What troubles you about U.S. involvement in Yemen?

YOUNG: Well, I'm concerned. Yemen, as you know, is the world's greatest humanitarian crisis. More than 75 percent of Yemen's population requires humanitarian assistance, and 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of starvation. With respect to the difficult situation that creates, we know that food security crises tend to grow terrorists. Yemen has been a terrorist haven for a number of years.

It's the headquarters for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is one of al-Qaida's most dangerous affiliates and creates a great threat to the American people. It's also a staging ground for ISIS. And so it's essential that we pressure all parties, including the Saudis and Emiratis, who are members of the very same coalition we are, to end the war once and for all.

INSKEEP: OK. So you're saying that this war could be counterproductive. The United States thinks it's supporting the Saudis in bringing stability but might actually just breed terrorists because of the chaos and hunger and death in Yemen. Has the administration listened to your concern?

YOUNG: They have. The previous secretary of state, Tillerson, was less receptive, I'd have to say, than the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who really seems to understand the nuances of the situation in a more fulsome way. But the situation remains as it did months ago, which is the main thoroughfare through which Yemen imports a large portion of its food is the port of Hodeida on the Red Sea.

An extended closure of that port due to military conflict, which remains a great threat right now, could push millions of Yemenis into famine, desperation and perhaps turning to terrorist activity. So that's why it's essential that Congress continue to push our partners through the administration to end the civil war, to give some measure of a genuine role in a new government to the Houthi ethnic group, which is in Yemen and allied with the Iranians...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

YOUNG: ...And to ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered through the port of Hodeida and other areas moving forward.

INSKEEP: You know, Senator, listening to you, I can hear the complexity. You're trying to influence the administration to influence the Saudis to affect the situation in Yemen. It's pretty hard. It's one area in which you in Congress are trying to influence or serve as a check on the administration. I noticed in the last couple of days George F. Will, the conservative columnist, actually wrote that Republicans deserve to lose control of Congress because he doesn't think that they have served as an effective check on the administration's actions. Do you think you've served as an effective check on the administration?

YOUNG: I think what I've done is effectively given leverage to this administration diplomatically by indicating that there are a number of us, Republican and Democrat, in Congress who've signed on to bipartisan legislation, which I authored. It's passed out of the United States Senate. It's part of our National Defense Authorization Act. And it threatens to remove all assistance to the Saudis and to the rest of the coalition if the Saudis and the rest of the coalition partners don't do what it takes to alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and to prevent this terrorist haven from threatening American people.

INSKEEP: OK. Senator, thanks very much. Appreciate talking with you.

YOUNG: Yeah. Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Todd Young, Republican, from Carmel, Ind. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.