US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said he will revoke terrorist designations of Yemen’s Houthi movement from February 16, even as he warned that members of the group could be hit with more sanctions.
The Trump administration imposed the specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) and foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) designations on its last full day in office despite warnings by other governments, aid groups and the United Nations that the sanctions they carried could push Yemen into a major famine.
US President Joe Biden has quickly moved to reverse US policy, aiming to ease the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and intensify diplomacy to end Yemen’s gruelling civil war.
“This decision is a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken, however, appeared to signal limits to US tolerance of the Houthi movement. He said three of its leaders – Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim – will remain subject to US sanctions “related to acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen”.
He also warned that Washington is monitoring the movement’s activities and identifying new targets to be hit with sanctions, especially those responsible for attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.
“We will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansar Allah and its leaders and are actively identifying additional targets for designation,” Blinken said, using a term by which the Houthi movement also is known.
The war pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement against Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which has been backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led military coalition.
The Biden administration, other governments, the United Nations and aid organisations shared fears that the sanctions imposed on the Houthis under the US terrorism designations could strangle food deliveries just as the threat of major famine is rising.
“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansar Allah’s malign actions,” Blinken said. “Ansar Allah’s actions and intransigence prolong this conflict and exact serious humanitarian costs.”
As part of his policy shift on Yemen, Biden last week announced an end to US support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition.
He also named veteran US diplomat Timothy Lenderking as a special envoy for Yemen with a US goal of bolstering UN-led diplomatic efforts to negotiate an end to the war.
Lenderking on Thursday met Yemen’s internationally recognised president and his foreign minister in Riyadh.
The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of its people in need.