US plans to revoke terrorist designation for Houthi rebels

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The State Department plans to revoke the Trump administration’s decision to label the Houthi movement in Yemen a terrorist organization in an attempt to ease the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

A State Department spokesperson confirmed the reversal of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s eleventh-hour move, which critics warned could block aid from being delivered to areas under Houthi control as starvation and shortages of medicine ravage Yemen. 

“[Secretary of State Antony] Blinken has been clear about undertaking an expeditious review of the designations of Ansarallah given the profound implications for the people of Yemen, home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. After a comprehensive review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist designations of Ansarallah,” the spokesperson said, using another term for the Houthis. 

“We have formally notified Congress of the Secretary’s intent to revoke these designations and will share more details in the coming days,” the spokesperson added. “Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Pompeo had slapped the terrorist designation on the Houthis on Jan. 19, the last full day of the Trump administration, waving aside warnings that the move could restrict movement of humanitarian aid to key parts of Yemen.

The United Nations has said the civil war in Yemen between the Houthis and a Gulf coalition spearheaded by Saudi Arabia has produced the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving 80 percent of Yemenis in need. Yemen’s Houthis have ties to Iran, while the U.S. has supported its ally Riyadh in the war.

President Biden said Thursday that the U.S. will end support for offensive operations in the conflict. Saudi airstrikes are blamed for widespread civilian casualties.

The State Department spokesperson said the move “has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens.”

“We are committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory against further such attacks,” the person said.

Biden also maintained this week that the U.S. would continue defending Saudi Arabia against attacks.

“Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, [drone] strikes and other threats from Iranian supplied forces in multiple countries,” he said. “We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and its people.”

Blinken had opened a review into the designation in late January after the new administration faced a pressure campaign to reverse Pompeo’s move.

“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 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,” Nunn added.

Tags Antony Blinken Houthi movement Mike Pompeo Yemeni Civil War Yemeni Crisis
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