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Tags: Josh Earnest | foreign policy | airstrikes | yemen

Josh Earnest Defends Obama Policy On Yemen Despite Instability

By    |   Thursday, 26 March 2015 10:06 AM EDT

The White House Thursday continued to defend its strategy on Yemen, even though it is on the brink of civil war, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying U.S. policy "should not be graded against the success or the stability of the Yemeni government."

"The goal of U.S. policy toward Yemen has never been to try to build a Jeffersonian democracy," Earnest said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "The goal is to make sure Yemen cannot be a safe haven that extremists can use to attack the West and to attack the United States."

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That strategy involves trying to build up the capacity of the Yemeni government to help strengthen that fight, Earnest said, noting that the Middle Eastern country "has for years been a chaotic situation."

While the Obama administration has in the past referred to Yemen as a "success story" in the fight against terrorism, Earnest said Thursday that it is a country that "continues to be very dangerous."

"They do not have the same kind of government structures in place that allow for a country to function," said Earnest. "What we know and this has happened in the past and we know it's happening now, there are certain extremist groups that have designs on attacking the West, that try to take advantage of this chaos, that try to assert themselves in the chaos."

Overnight Thursday, Saudi Arabia, joined by other Gulf states, launched airstrikes against Houthi militant forces to defend the Yemeni government, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The attacks began hours after Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled by boat as the militants, backed by Iran, were closing in. Almost a week ago, the United States pulled its remaining Special Forces from Yemen.

"There is no doubt that we would prefer a situation where there is a stable government, where there is a place where U.S. personnel could operate inside of Yemen, coordinate directly with Yemeni security forces to take the fight to these extremists," Earnest told MSNBC Thursday.

"But the fact is that even though U.S. personnel are no longer in Yemen, the United States continues to have the capacity and resources and reach to be able to take strikes when necessary."

The United States is still involved to a certain degree with counterterrorism strategy in Yemen, but the effort would be more successful if that nation's government were secure, Earnest said.

"But we still continue to have ties that are important to our security," he said. "The United States continues to have resources in the broader region that we can use to strike terrorists if necessary, and the president has indicated a commitment to use the resources to keep the American people safe."

And when it comes to the Saudi attacks, that kingdom acted on its own, not in response to a push from the United States, Earnest insisted.

"Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a long border," said Earnest. "Saudi Arabia understandably is concerned about the chaos that they're seeing along their southern border, so they decided to take military action to protect that border."

President Barack Obama has agreed to a Saudi request for intelligence support, Earnest said, but the Saudis are in the lead in the action in hopes of protecting its interest in the border.

Meanwhile, Earnest said that there is no doubt that it's in the best interest of the United States and its allies in Israel and partners such as Saudi Arabia to find a diplomatic resolution to the concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program.

"If we're able to reach an agreement in Switzerland, we can present the terms of that agreement to the Congress, to our allies in Israel, and to our partners throughout the region to make the case that this is the most effective way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," said Earnest.

Earnest said the U.S. talks are progressing with Iran continuing to be "participating constructively" in them, despite a letter from Republicans warning that an agreement may not hold up after Obama is out of office.

"The biggest concern that we had about the letter that was signed by 47 Republican senators is that it eroded confidence not necessarily in the Iranians," said Earnest. "I think it raised some questions in the minds of our allies about whether or not the country of the United States was united behind an effort to look out for [their] interests."

Earnest went on to comment on the ongoing divisions between Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that the president this week said he's spent as much time talking to Netanyahu as to other world leaders since he's taken office.

"There is a tendency in the coverage and I think it's understandable to essentially turn it into an international version of 'Dr. Phil'...What's the relationship between these two people, can they stop arguing and bridge their differences?"

The psychology may be interesting, said Earnest, but the relationship between the two countries is far more important and the president has demonstrated that United States and Israel are strong allies.

"But we're going to have our differences," he said. "But we also should acknowledge that there is some things that we'll endure and at least one of those things is the enduring unprecedented security cooperation between our two countries that has emerged under the leadership of President Obama."

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The White House Thursday continued to defend its strategy on Yemen, even though it is on the brink of civil war, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying U.S. policy "should not be graded against the success or the stability of the Yemeni government."
Josh Earnest, foreign policy, airstrikes, yemen
Thursday, 26 March 2015 10:06 AM
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