The Trump administration will inform Congress of its intent to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Sunday night.
The planned designation of the Houthis, formally known as Ansarallah, “are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“The designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors,” he said in a statement.
Pompeo said that in addition to the group itself he would seek the terror-black listings of three of its leaders: Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al-Hakim.
The Trump administration is making the move despite concerns it could further hamper Yemen’s humanitarian situation.
The Houthis are the de facto authorities across a wide swath of the badly-impoverished and food scarce nation, and concerns have mounted that designating the group as a terror organization could hinder the distribution of badly-needed aid in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Pompeo acknowledged the fact, saying the outgoing administration is “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.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the main groups facilitating aid in Yemen, challenged the top diplomat’s assertion that the effects on humanitarian groups would be marginal, maintaining that the blacklisting will “hamstring the ability of aid agencies to respond” to the crisis.
“We call on President-Elect Joe Biden to act upon taking office to ensure Yemeni civilians can still receive life-saving aid,” Mohamed Abdi, the council’s Yemen director, said in a statement.
“We are calling on the US government to provide unambiguous safeguards and guarantees so that humanitarian aid can still be delivered without delays and across conflict territories regardless of who is in control, and protect aid workers from being criminalized,” he added.
The designations are slated to take effect one day before US President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office Jan. 20, and are certain to be yet another thorn in Biden’s side as he seeks to return the US to the landmark 2015 nuclear accord world powers struck with Iran. It is incredibly difficult to remove a group from the terrorist list after it has been added.
The incoming president already faced an uphill battle with Iran after Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the pact in 2018, and went on to subsequently reimpose biting sanctions the US lifted as part of the deal while instituting new economic penalties with the intent of bringing bring Iran back to the negotiating table.
The actions, as well as Trump’s assassination of a formerly pivotal Iranian general in January 2020, have brought relations between the rivals to some of their most tense points since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.