The State Department has informed Congress of its intent to reverse the Trump administration’s eleventh-hour decision to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, a State Department official said Friday.
“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 official said, using another name 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.”
“Secretary (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,” the official said, adding that the “decision 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 official said. “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.”
Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration’s decision less than two weeks before leaving office, with the designation going into effect just a day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Humanitarian organizations, diplomats and lawmakers warned that the designation could destabilize the situation on the ground and severely hamper efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn nation.
Blinken told reporters last week that he was “particularly focused” on the review of the designation.
“It’s vitally important, even in the midst of this crisis, that we do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen who are in desperate need. And what we want to make sure is that any steps we are taking do not get in the way of providing that assistance,” Blinken said.
Yemen has been embroiled in a years-long civil war that has pitted a coalition backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a Shia political and military organization from the north of Yemen. The conflict has cost thousands of civilian lives and plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis.
The move to rescind the foreign terrorist organization designation comes on the heels of an announcement by Biden that the US will end its support for Saudi-backed offensive operations in the war in Yemen.
In a speech at the State Department on Thursday, Biden declared that “we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales,” and said he will appoint an envoy to focus on the long-standing conflict. He said the conflict is “a war that has created humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” but he also emphasized the US will “continue to help and support Saudi Arabia.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a longtime critic of the Saudi campaign in Yemen, praised the administration’s move to rescind the designation.
“The Biden administration’s decision to reverse the Houthi FTO designation is another signal of their commitment to end the war in Yemen,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement Friday.
“The designation did not impact the Houthis in any practical way, but it stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation,” he added. “Reversing the designation is an important decision that will save lives and, combined with the appointment of a Special Envoy, offers hope that President Biden is committed to bringing the war to an end.”