Effort to revive landmark pact blocking Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in return for lifting US sanctions.
The United States Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned members of a smuggling network that US officials assert helps fund Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in Yemen.
Treasury officials said the network, allegedly led by Iran-based Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal, directs funds from the sale of Iranian petroleum through a complex web of intermediaries and exchange houses in multiple countries to the Houthis in Yemen.
“This network’s financial support enables the Houthis’ deplorable attacks threatening civilian and critical infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Andrea Gacki, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
“These attacks undermine efforts to bring the conflict to an end and, most tragically, starve tens of millions of innocent civilians,” Gacki said.
The war, sparked in 2014 when Houthi fighters drove the Saudi-backed government from the capital Sanaa, has made Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 20 million people are in need of assistance, and four million have been uprooted from their homes, according to the United Nations. Tens of thousands of people have died.
US President Joe Biden has called for an end to the proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran and directed US officials to seek diplomatic resolutions to the conflict.
“The United States is working to help resolve the conflict in Yemen and bring lasting humanitarian relief to the Yemeni people,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Friday.
“It is time for the Houthis to accept a ceasefire and for all parties to resume political talks,” Blinken said.
In February, the US announced it would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales” though Biden said he would continue to “help Saudi Arabia to defend its sovereignty”.
Last week, a Houthi missile attack killed 17, including a five-year-old girl, in the besieged Yemeni city of Marib.
The new US sanctions seek to deny access to the global financial system for al-Jamal and key business partners in Turkey, Greece and the UAE, the US Treasury said on its website.
At the same time, the Biden administration officials lifted sanctions on three Iranian government officials and two companies previously involved in trading Iranian oil products.
Oil prices briefly fell on Thursday on the news, but a US official told the Reuters news agency that the lifting of sanctions was “routine” and a State Department spokesman said the move was not related to multilateral talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
A sixth round of negotiations between Iran and world powers on how to revive the 2015 nuclear accord is set to resume during the coming weekend, just days in advance of a June 18 Iranian presidential election that is expected to bring new leadership to power in Tehran.
On Tuesday, Blinken said that even if Iran were to return to compliance with the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “hundreds of sanctions will remain in place”.
West Texas Intermediate crude rose to more than $70 per barrel on Thursday, the highest level in more than two years, on optimism for strong economic demand in the US, Reuters reported.
Among those identified as targets of the newly announced US sanctions on Thursday were Abdi Nasir Ali Mahamud, a Houthi supporter based in Turkey who allegedly coordinated the smuggling of petrochemicals for the network and related Aldoon General Trading companies.
Manoj Sabharwal, a maritime shipping manager in the UAE, Hani Abd-al-Majid Muhammad As’ad, an accountant in Turkey, Jami Ali Muhammad, a Somali businessman, were also named for sanctions.
Two Syrian men, Tlaib Ali Husayn Al-Ahmad al-Rawi based in Turkey, and Abdul Jalil Mallah, based in Greece, allegedly facilitated transfers to an exchange house in Yemen affiliated with the Houthis.