Washington DC – When the Biden administration revoked the “terrorist” group label of Yemen’s Houthi rebels last February, it cited the potentially “devastating” effect the designation would have on Yemeni civilians’ access to life-saving humanitarian aid.
But less than a year later, President Joe Biden said the group’s reappointment is “under considerationa move that proponents and rights groups say is not only disappointing, but dangerous.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Biden administration is considering this position when they know very well what humanitarian impact it will have,” Scott Paul, senior manager of humanitarian policy at Oxfam America, told Al Jazeera.
“A year ago, the administration heeded our warnings – and nothing has changed since then to improve the prospects for what these designations would mean.”
The United Arab Emirates has openly requested that the US blacklist the Houthis after the rebels carried out missile and drone strikes on January 17 against Abu Dhabi, who killed three people.
Days later, during a news conference on Jan. 19 to mark his presidency’s one-year mark, Biden said the reinstatement of the designation was “under consideration,” but added “it will be very difficult” to end the conflict in Yemen.
Emirati Embassy in Washington, DC, welcomed Pray for their promise.
Risk of famine
But for activists calling for an end to the years-long war in Yemen, the US president’s remark is a betrayal of his election promise. work to finish the conflict – and breaks with the policies of his predecessor Donald Trump, who provided uncritical support to the Saudi-led coalition.
That US-backed coalition, which included the UAE, intervened in Yemen in 2015 to repel the Houthis, who had taken over most of the country, including the capital Sanaa, and to overthrow the Yemeni president’s Gulf-backed government Abd-Rabbu to restore Mansour Hadi.
The war has put Yemen on the brink of starvation, which the United Nations has said will worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
“The name [of the Houthis] millions of Yemenis would starve and he [Biden] know it, ”said Iman Saleh, general coordinator of the Yemeni Liberation Movement, an anti-war advocacy group in the United States. “An appointment will not make him any different from Trump.
Saleh, who went on a hunger strike near the White House last year to demand an end to the Saudi-led coalition’s aid as well as the removal of a sea and air blockade on Yemen, also criticized the US administration’s position of blaming the Houthis solely for the extension of the war. “It’s time for Biden to stop these games and keep his campaign promise: end the war in Yemen,” she told Al Jazeera.
Amid Democratic Party lawmakers’ anger over Trump’s close ties with Riyadh, almost all of the party’s presidential candidates, including Biden, promised during the 2020 election campaign to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition.
Last February, just weeks after his presidency, Biden an end announced to US assistance to Saudi Arabia’s “offensive operations” in Yemen, as well as “relevant arms sales”.
But he reaffirmed his commitment to the kingdom’s security, and last year, Biden’s administration turned green. a sale of $ 650 million from air-to-air missiles to Riyadh, as well as a $ 500 million helicopter maintenance deal, which provoked reprimands from some rights activists.
On Thursday, it appears that Brett McGurk, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, is squarely blaming the ongoing violence in Yemen on the Houthis.
“There were a number of ceasefire initiatives on the table; the Houthis refused to get involved, ”McGurk said during a virtual speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank in Washington, DC.
The Houthis rejected a US backing last year Saudi proposal for a ceasefire, insists that the lifting of the blockade, including the reopening of Sanaa Airport, is a prerequisite for ending the war.
Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative director for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee for National Legislative Advocacy Group, said the US administration’s position ignored “devastating impact of the Saudi blockade” on Yemen.
El-Tayyab also warned that the reappointment of the Houthis would make it more difficult to end the conflict.
“While the Houthis share much of the blame, along with the Saudi-led coalition for human rights violations in Yemen, a foreign terrorist designation will do nothing to address these concerns,” he told Al Jazeera. “However, it will prevent the delivery of critical humanitarian aid to millions of innocent people and greatly jeopardize the prospects for a negotiated settlement.”
‘Will cost lives’
The Houthi are the de-facto authorities in much of northern Yemen, where they control local government and basic state functions. Humanitarian aid groups said the rebels’ blacklist will increase the risk that they could face US sanctions if they provide aid and much-needed essential commodities to aid-dependent Yemenis living in the area.
“After years of conflict, many Yemenis are already living on the brink and can not afford to pay even higher prices for food, fuel, medicine and other necessities,” Paul, of Oxfam America, said in an email to Al Jazeera said. “Imports would be disrupted and the flow of aid would decrease. The decision to list the Houthis will absolutely cost lives in Yemen. “
Still, the UAE and foreign policy hawks in Washington continue to insist for a designation.
“Now UAE-US cooperation has helped repel another round of Houthi terrorist attacks in the UAE this morning,” Emirati Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba said on Monday via his embassy’s Twitter account. “The next step is to shut down financial and arms flows from their supporters. “The US must now move to put the Houthis back on the terrorist list.”
Ambassador Al Otaiba: “Close co-operation between the UAE and the USA has helped to repel another round of Houthi terrorist attacks in the UAE this morning.
The next step is to shut down financial and arms flows from their supporters. “The US must now move to put the Houthis back on the terrorist list.”
– UAE Embassy USA (@UAEEmbassyUS) 24 January 2022
Several Republican U.S. senators also introduced an account to point out the Houthis again this week, with Ted Cruz accusing Biden of appeasing Iran, accusing the Saudi-led coalition of standing behind the Houthis – a charge that both Yemeni rebels and Tehran deny.
“US policy in Yemen currently amounts to nothing more than the documentation of Houthi violence, which has increased since Mr Biden was appointed,” said Hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracy think tank officials. wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 25th.
“In addition, the administration’s actions undermined the basis of the US terrorism sanctions regime. Ansar Allah [the Houthi group] is the textbook definition of a terrorist group. If it can lift its sanctions without changing its behavior, why can other terrorist organizations not do the same? ”
While Congress can pass legislation to force the president to blacklist a foreign organization as a “terrorist” group, the issue – like most foreign policy matters – is largely under the competence of the executive. The US President’s top assistants – namely the Secretary of State – have the legal authority to designate groups as “terrorists” and to withdraw such designation.
To classify a group as a FTO, according to the State Department, must meet three standards – the organization must be foreign; it must engage in “terrorist” activities as defined by U.S. law, and it must pose a threat to Americans or U.S. national security.
Such designations have a profound effect on an organization’s finances and international relations, making it illegal for U.S. citizens to provide “material support or resources” to the blacklist group, including financial assistance and “expert advice or assistance.”
A blacklist also makes the targeted group’s assets subject to seizure by the US government while its members and subsidiaries are open to sanctions from the US Treasury Department.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price acknowledge the risks that the Houthi blacklist poses to the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
Still, El-Tayyab said with commercial dispatchers already reluctant to trade with Yemen, Biden’s statement that he was considering renaming the Houthis could have detrimental humanitarian consequences – even if it does not materialize. “Say you are considering it [it] many of these critical humanitarian aid endangers, ”he said.