“Secretary Blinken was keen to undertake a swift review of Ansarallah’s names as it will have a profound impact on the people of Yemen, which is experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” a State Department official said in a statement in which he used another name for the Houthis.
“After a thorough review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the expulsion of the Foreign Terrorist Organization and the Special Designated Global Terrorist of Ansarallah. We have officially informed Congress of the Secretary’s intention to withdraw these appointments and will provide further details in the coming days. ”
Humanitarian leaders had warned that the terror label made it very difficult for them to provide relief work in Yemen in a year-long war between Saudi Arabia-led forces and Iran-backed Houthis. Aiders say the country risks sliding into widespread famine.
With the Houthis controlling a considerable amount of territory, aid groups often have to team up with the rebels to facilitate the transfer of food, medicine and other essentials to civilians in need. If the Houthis are identified as terrorists, aid workers risk breaking US law and criminal penalties by dealing with them.
Martin Griffiths, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen, announced this to the United States Security Council last month he was worried that the label would be Make it harder for him to bring the parties together for talks to end the conflict.
In acquiring Foggy Bottom, Blinken made it clear that reviewing the label was one of its top priorities.
“Even amid this crisis, it is vital that we do everything we can to provide humanitarian aid to the people in Yemen who are in dire need of help,” he said on January 27, his first full day at work. “And we want to make sure that whatever steps we take don’t get in the way of providing that support.”
On Thursday, Biden announced that the US would end military support for offensive operations by the Saudi Arabia-led side in the Yemen conflict. He also appointed a seasoned US diplomat, Tim Lenderking, as the US special envoy on the conflict and promised to double diplomacy to end the war.
The US military will continue exchanges of information related to the defense of Saudi Arabia and support the fight against Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday. However, it will end information sharing related to offensive operations and training activities to reduce civilian casualties, he said.
The conflict in Yemen is in many ways a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia, a US partner, and Iran, a US opponent. The Houthis expelled the Yemeni government from 2014.
The Saudis, seeing the takeover as essentially rival Iran on their doorstep, formed a coalition to fight back. But what many were hoping would be a relatively short war that dragged on and seriously injured the civilian population thanks to violent acts on both sides.
The State Department official stressed that the revocation of the nomination in no way reflected US views of the Houthis “and their reprehensible behavior, including attacks on civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens.”
“We are determined to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory against further attacks of this kind,” said the official. “Our action is solely due to the humanitarian consequences of this short-term appointment by the previous government.”
Among those who welcomed the revocation was Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who was a major critic of Saudi Arabia.
“The reversal of the title is an important life-saving decision that, along with the appointment of a special envoy, gives hope that President Biden is determined to end the war,” said Murphy.
Blinken’s decision on Friday could provide fodder for Hawk Republicans – including Pompeo, who has his eye on future political office – to criticize the new administration. At the same time, some leading Republicans are aware of humanitarian concerns.
After Pompeo announced the expulsion of terrorism in January, leading Republicans on the House and Senate foreign affairs committees urged that it be combined with sufficient measures to mitigate the impact on suffering civilians.
“This designation will have a devastating effect on Yemen’s food supplies and other critical imports unless the executive now grants the necessary licenses, waivers and guidance prior to designation,” said Texas Rep. Mike McCaul and Senator Jim Risch Idaho said in a statement. “Good intentions cannot be dwarfed by significant unintended consequences.”
The Trump administration saw Iran as a major threat to US interests in the Middle East and beyond, and Pompeo was particularly keen to punish the Islamist regime in Tehran. In his last weeks as the US chief diplomat, Pompeo imposed new sanctions on Iran. The Houthi designation was seen as part of this effort.
Pompeo promised that the US would work with humanitarian organizations to find ways to grant them exemptions and special licenses to continue their work. This did not reassure aid groups who said the terrorism label was clearly rash and that the rules were clear.
The designation went into effect on January 19, the day before Biden was inaugurated.
Lara Seligman contributed to this report.