(CNS News) – First Syria, then Libya, now Yemen: The United States has now evacuated its embassies in all three of those countries, but on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said “it’s not a reflection” of U.S. “engagement” or “leadership.”
A reporter asked spokesperson Jen Psaki: “This is the third embassy that you guys have had to, uncharitably perhaps say, abandon in an Arab Spring country since the first one, which was Syria. Is there a broader concern that you’re being – the U.S. is being run out of town in the Arab world?”
“We certainly don’t look at it in that way,” Psaki responded. “I would remind you that we were not the only country that moved our staff out of Yemen last night (so did the U.K. and France), and we have to take precautions to protect the men and women who are serving on our behalf.
“There’s no question that in each of the countries you’ve mentioned there’s a great bit of volatility, but that’s – the fact is that that’s what’s happening on the ground. It’s not a reflection of the United States and our engagement. It’s a reflection of the trouble and challenges happening in these countries.”
Psaki referred to the U.S. embassy evacuation as a decision to “suspend our operations.” She also said embassy staff have been “temporarily relocated out of Sana’a,” until “the situation on the ground improves.”
“You’re referring to it as a suspension?” a reporter asked her.
“Yes, because we hope to return,” she said.
“So what I would say is, there are challenging circumstances in each of these countries. What the United States leadership is reflected in is the fact that we want to return. We want to be engaged. We want to play a role if we can play a role, as do these other countries. But these are difficult challenges that we need to determine how we can best play a role.”
Again, a reporter challenged her, noting that “wanting to play a role and hoping that you can return is not exactly a leadership role.”
“Well, we have our own interests in Yemen and we are continuing to implement those,” she replied.
“Clearly, you have less interests in Yemen than you did yesterday,” the reporter said.
Psaki responded that U.S. interests, such as “counterterrorism work,” is “ongoing” in Yemen.
Psaki also confirmed reports that Houthi rebels seized all U.S. embassy vehicles that were left at the airport when the Americans flew out of Yemen.
“Upon our departure, our vehicles and equipment were seized, reportedly by the Houthis. We are looking into this. Clearly, it is unacceptable and we would reiterate that in order to return to Sana’a, respect for property, respect for our facilities is an essential component of that. So we certainly are requesting they be returned.
In response to a follow-up question, Psaki said, “We expect the Houthis to respect international conventions that apply to our facilities and to expect – and to be – and we expect to be able to return to the Embassy in the same condition. There were reports also, I think, that some had entered the compound. We don’t have anything to confirm those reports at this time.”
Why would the Houthis respect international conventions?
“Well, we certainly hope they would. They’ve made public statements about how they are not – they have no desire to go after our interests, go after our materials. So we expect them to abide by their own statements,” Psaki said.