Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using underage fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter.
The decision, which came after a fierce internal debate, could prompt new accusations by human rights advocates and some lawmakers that the Trump administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with Saudi Arabia, a major US ally and arms customer.
Pompeo’s move comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, the Saudis’ bitter regional rival.
State department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that Riyadh has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the US-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said.
The Saudi government, Saudi embassy in Washington and Saudi-led coalition did not respond to requests for comment. The coalition has previously said it was upholding international human rights standards and denied the use of child soldiers.