WASHINGTON – The United States said on Friday it intends to revoke the terrorist designation for Yemen’s Houthi movement in response to the country’s humanitarian crisis, reversing one of the most criticised last-minute decisions of the Trump administration.
The reversal, confirmed by a State Department official, comes a day after President Joe Biden declared a halt to U.S. support for the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“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,” the official said.
The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need.
“We welcome the stated intention by the U.S. administration to revoke the designation as it will provide profound relief to millions of Yemenis who rely on humanitarian assistance and commercial imports to meet their basic survival needs,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blacklisted the Houthis on Jan. 19 – a day before Biden took office.
The Trump administration exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices from its designation. But U.N. officials and relief groups said the carve-outs were not enough and called for the designation to be revoked.
The State Department official stressed that the action did not reflect the U.S. view of the Houthis and their “reprehensible conduct.”
The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks as the country also faces an economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy welcomed the decision. “The designation … stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation,” he said in a statement.