Secretary of State Antony Blinken is removing Yemen’s Houthi rebels from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations as of next Tuesday, February 16, he announced in a statement Friday.
CNN reported last week that the State Department had informed Congress of its intent to do so.
The move reverses an eleventh hour decision by the Trump administration that faced backlash from bipartisan politicians and humanitarian organizations. The latter group warned that the designation could imperil their ability to deliver crucial assistance to the people of Yemen, approximately 80% of whom depend on it.
Blinken said in his statement that the decision to remove the group’s FTO designation as well as its Specially Designated Global Terrorist Designation was driven by those concerns, calling it “a recognition of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”
“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 said Friday. “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. By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”
Blinken’s announcement comes after the Houthis mounted a number of attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, which were condemned by the State Department this week.
The top US diplomat noted in his statement that Houthi leaders Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim remain under sanction.
“The United States 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,” he said, using another name for the Houthis.
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.
President Joe Biden announced last week that the US will end its support for Saudi-backed offensive operations in the war in Yemen, but made clear that it would continue to support the Kingdom. Blinken echoed this sentiment in his statement Friday. The Biden administration’s special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, was in Riyadh this week for meetings with Saudi and Yemeni officials as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.
“The United States will redouble its efforts, alongside the United Nations and others, to end the war itself. We reaffirm our strong belief that there is no military solution to this conflict,” Blinken said Friday. “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.”