US senator presses Blinken about response to 2022 Houthi attack on UAE

Secretary of State Antony Blinken concedes he is 'deeply sensitive' to how UAE perceives US delay

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during a hearing of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on March 22. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday faced questions about Washington's “slow” response to the deadly 2022 Houthi attacks on a UAE oil distribution plant in Mussaffah, Abu Dhabi.

Senator Pete Ricketts, who recently returned from a delegation visit to the UAE, told Mr Blinken that Emirati officials said there was unhappiness about President Joe Biden's slow response to the attack, which killed three civilians.

"It was a weak response in the United States," Mr Ricketts said. "You later called and apologised for not having a stronger response. And I can tell you, a year later [the UAE is] still very mad."

Mr Blinken defended Washington's relationship with the UAE, but conceded that he is “deeply sensitive to the way this was perceived by our friends".

He said the expansion of Abraham Accords, increased security co-operation and the I2U2 relationship including India were key areas showing Washington's friendship with the UAE.

“We've made clear that in terms of some of the weapons systems they seek for their security," Mr Blinken said, referring to F-35 fighter jets. "We are fully prepared to move forward."

The UAE suspended 2021 discussions with the US government to acquire F-35 fighter jets over “sovereignty operational restrictions".

The Biden administration delisted the Houthis as a terrorist group just weeks after taking office, saying it was a necessary move to restore US humanitarian aid to war-torn Yemen.

Mr Blinken also used the Senate foreign relations committee hearing to emphasise that Washington relies on the 2001 Authorisation for Use of Military Force, as Congress moves to repeal the 2002 AUMF.

Mr Biden last week indicated he supported a bipartisan Senate bill that would end two of the authorisations — one from the 1991 Gulf War and one passed in 2002 before the Iraq invasion.

Washington enacted the 2001 authorisation after 9/11. It authorises use of force “against those nations, organisations, or persons he determines planned, authorised, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harboured such organisations or persons".

The Biden administration has said repealing the 2002 authorisation would not interfere with current US military operations abroad, but Mr Blinken said Washington was “using the 2001 AUMF” to support its military efforts.

“There shouldn't be any gap between the repeal of the 2001 authorisation and the replacement,” Mr Blinken said.

He said the State Department was “fully prepared” to work with Congress to replace the 2001 AUMF with something that is “focused and properly targeted” should it move to repeal the 2001 authorisation as well.

Mr Blinken is testifying before several Congressional committees this week on behalf of the Biden administration after it introduced its 2004 fiscal year budget for Congressional approval.

The budget hearing was repeatedly interrupted by what appeared to be co-ordinated demonstrators protesting against a range of Washington foreign policy positions.

An elderly woman was the first to stand, calling for the US to engage in peace talks in the Russia-Ukraine war. Another condemned the administration for its support of Israel and called for protection of Palestinians.

They were escorted out by Capitol police.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 9:31 PM