WASHINGTON – The Biden government has suspended some of the terrorism sanctions former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put on the Houthi rebels in Yemen in his dwindling days.
The Treasury Department said Monday it would exempt certain transactions involving the Houthis from sanctions resulting from Pompeo’s expulsion of the group as a “foreign terrorist organization” on Jan. 10.
The exemption expires on Feb.26, according to a statement from the Treasury Department for Foreign Property Control announcing a general license for transactions involving companies owned by the Iran-backed Houthis.
The sanctions imposed by Pompeo came into force on January 19, just a day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and were heavily criticized by the United Nations and aid agencies. Critics said the sanctions would exacerbate what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by excluding aid shipments to civilians in the war-torn nation.
The Treasury Department license does not override Pompeo designations and does not apply to certain members of the Houthi group who have otherwise been sanctioned.
The Trump administration’s appointment had created confusion among aid agencies and warnings from the United States and senior Republicans that it could wreak havoc on a conflict-ridden nation at risk of famine.
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Several aid groups had asked Biden to immediately reverse the name. Scott Paul, Oxfam America’s humanitarian director, said, “Life is in balance.”
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels are ruling the capital and north of Yemen, where the majority of the population lives, and forcing international aid groups to work with them. Agencies rely on the Houthis to provide assistance, and they pay Houthis salaries for it.
The suspension of the Biden government was announced on the same day that tens of thousands of Yemenis marched into the Yemeni capital Sanaa. They followed a call by the Houthis to condemn the US for calling it a terrorist organization and for supporting the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition that is fighting it.
Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition and the Houthi rebels were disastrous for Yemen. killed more than 112,000 people and reducing infrastructure from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks to ruins.
It began with the Houthi taking over the north in 2014, which sparked a destructive aerial campaign by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to restore the internationally recognized government.
Most of the 30 million people in Yemen depend on international aid to survive. According to the United States of America, 13.5 million Yemenis are already facing acute food insecurity, which could rise to 16 million by June.
The move to designate the US was part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to isolate and cripple Iran. It also showed support for a close US ally, Saudi Arabia, which is leading the anti-Houthi coalition at war.
Saudi Arabia has endorsed the terror term in the hopes that it would put pressure on the rebels to reach a peace deal. Earlier rounds of peace talks and ceasefire agreements have stalled.
Reuters contributed to this report.