US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will remove the designation of the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, effective February 16, the State Department announced on Friday.
The move reverses the Trump administration policy of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who designated the the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen (better known as the Houthis) as a foreign terrorist organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity before leaving office just under a month ago.
“This decision is a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Blinken said in a statement.
“We have listened to warnings from the United Nations, humanitarian groups, and bipartisan members of Congress, among others, that the designations could have a devastating impact on Yemenis’ access to basic commodities like food and fuel,” he added.
The Biden administration, other governments, the United Nations and aid organizations shared fears that the sanctions imposed on the Houthis under the designations could strangle food deliveries just as the threat of major famine is rising.
“The revocations are intended to ensure that relevant US policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Blinken’s statement read. “By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”
Some of the Houthi leaders, such as Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim will remain sanctioned in relations to “acts that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Yemen.”
Blinken said in the statement that the United States would continue to “closely monitor” Houthi activities and is “actively identifying” new sanctions targets, especially those responsible for attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, as well as drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.
The statement says that while the designation will be revoked, the US signaled its limits with the Yemeni leaders and said that it remains “clear-eyed about Ansarallah’s malign actions, and aggression, including taking control of large areas of Yemen by force, attacking US partners in the Gulf, kidnapping and torturing citizens of the United States and many of our allies, diverting humanitarian aid, brutally repressing Yemenis in areas they control, and the deadly attack on December 30, 2020 in Aden against the cabinet of the legitimate government of Yemen.”
The war pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement against Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which has been backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Blinken concluded that the US stands committed to helping its Gulf allies defend themselves against the threats arising from Yemen, “many of which are carried out with the support of Iran.”
However, in line with the policy shift by the Biden administration, aimed at easing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and intensifying diplomacy to end Yemen’s grueling civil war, the US reaffirmed its “strong belief that there is no military solution to this conflict,” the statement said.
“We urge all parties to work towards a lasting political solution, which is the only means to durably end the humanitarian crisis afflicting the people of Yemen,” the State Department concluded.
As part of his policy shift on Yemen, US President Joe 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 the goal of bolstering U.N.-led diplomatic efforts to negotiate an end the war.
Lenderking on Thursday met Yemen’s internationally-recognized president and his foreign minister in Riyadh.
The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need.
Reuters contributed to this report.