Administration

State Dept. to review Trump admin's decision to label Houthis a terrorist organization

The State Department said Friday it will review an eleventh-hour decision by the Trump administration to label the Houthi rebels in Yemen a foreign terrorist organization.

The quick decision to launch a review of the last-minute move under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes after critics said the designation could exacerbate a dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen by hindering the distribution of aid in areas the Houthis control.

"Ansarallah, sometimes known as the Houthis, bears significant responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe and insecurity in Yemen. We strongly believe that Ansarallah needs to change its behavior," a State Department spokesperson told The Hill. 

"At the same time, we must also ensure that we are not impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance. As noted by Secretary-Designate Blinken, the State Department has initiated a review of Ansarallah's terrorist designations," the spokesperson added, referring to Antony Blinken, President Biden's pick to helm the State Department.  

Incoming Biden administration officials had sounded the alarm about the designation and indicated that the Trump-era move could be reversed soon after inauguration.

Blinken, who the Biden administration hopes will be confirmed in the coming days, told senators during his confirmation hearing this week that he would push to review the designation "immediately."

He said his "deep concern about the designation that was made is that at least on its surface it seems to achieve nothing particularly practical in advancing the efforts against the Houthis and to bring them back to the negotiating table, while making it even more difficult than it already is to provide humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it."

The State Department spokesperson told The Hill that it will "not publicly discuss or comment on internal deliberations regarding that review; however, with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen we are working as fast as we can to conduct the review and make a determination." 

Yemen's years-long civil war between the Houthis, which have ties to Iran, and the government backed by Saudi Arabia - a key U.S. ally - has plunged the country into one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting, and a famine has spread across all corners of the country.

Pompeo instituted the designation on his way out of office in a signal of the U.S.'s support for the operations against the Houthis. However, health experts warned that the label could impede the delivery of aid to civilians in Houthi-held areas by humanitarian groups who would cut back help to avoid running afoul of the sanctions.

Pompeo said in his announcement that the United States was "planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen."

"We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations, and other international donors to address these implications," he said, though criticism continued.

"This is coming at the absolute most difficult time when over 16 million Yemeni women, children and men are living in severe and worsening food insecurity," Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE USA, an international nongovernmental organization focusing on combating global poverty and world hunger, told The Hill this week.

"This particular designation is tantamount to a cease-and-desist order for the humanitarian response in northern Yemen and its impacts will lead to more despair and lives lost across the whole of the country."

Blinken told senators Tuesday that Biden plans on ending U.S. support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen, chiefly over humanitarian concerns.

"The president-elect has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen," he said.

"But I want [to] make clear, I think we have to be in close contact with Saudi Arabia, with our partner there. We need to be very clear about what we are doing, why we are doing something and talk it through," he added. "But the main point is that for reasons that we have discussed we believe that continuing that support is not the national interest."

Outbrain