Action reverses the order issued by former President Donald Trump just before leaving office on January 20.
The United States has imposed sanctions on two Houthi rebel leaders in Yemen, citing their alleged procurement of weapons from Iran for use in “complex” cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
“Today, the United States is taking action to respond to this behavior”, the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday, using the name “Ansarallah” for the Houthi movement. “The United States has made clear our commitment to promoting accountability for Ansarallah’s malign and aggressive actions, which include exacerbating conflict in Yemen.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned on February 28 a cross-border attack on Saudi Arabia allegedly carried out by the Houthis.
The two sanctioned are the commander of the Houthi air force, Ahmad al-Hamzi, and the commander of Yemen’s naval and coastal defence forces, Mansur al-Saadi, whom the US Treasury claims are “responsible for orchestrating attacks”.
The war in Yemen started in late 2014 when the Houthis seized large swaths of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered the war in 2015, assembling a US-backed military coalition to restore the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been accused of supporting groups that engage in human rights abuses, including contributing to the famine which threatens millions with starvation.
The administration of President Joe Biden has aimed to reset the relationship between Riyadh and Washington, which was warm under previous President Donald Trump.
The move contrasts with the Biden administration’s admonition of Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s war and the stripping of the “terrorist” designation placed on the Houthi rebels by the Trump administration.
Blinken said after the designation was removed in February that Washington is monitoring the Houthi 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 attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“We will continue to closely monitor the activities of Ansarallah and its leaders and are actively identifying additional targets for designation,” Blinken said at the time.
We condemn Ansarallah’s aggressive actions, including attacks threatening civilians in Saudi Arabia and Marib. Today we designate two more militant leaders, Mansur Al-Sa’adi and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, for continued oversight of attacks and procurement of weapons from Iran.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) March 2, 2021
The war in Yemen has picked up in recent months, especially in Hadi’s last northern stronghold of Marib, which the Houthis hope to control.