U.S. Rush to Declare Houthis Terrorists Threatens to Halt Help to Yemen
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s rush to declare Houthi rebels a terrorist organization in Yemen leaves humanitarian workers and commercial importers vulnerable to criminal penalties, officials said Monday, risking future deliveries of food, medical supplies and other aid for that impoverished land.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the expulsion of the terrorism late Sunday, said officials planned to “take action” to ensure aid continues.
However, this failed to reassure a number of lawmakers, diplomats and aid groups who accused the government of rushing to release the policy before President Trump leaves office next week, saying that clear legal protections linked to the Labeling Terrorism Should Be Enabled Prevent Another Barrier To Supporting One Of The Poorest Nations In The World.
The term terrorism “makes it harder to provide life-saving aid in a country already affected by the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” said New York Democrat Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“People will suffer and die, and these deaths are completely preventable,” said Mr Meeks.
The terrorism designation, announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Sunday and coming into effect on January 19, imposes new economic and travel sanctions on Houthi rebels, who toppled the Yemeni government six years ago and who have been waging war against Saudi Arabia since 2015 to lead.
It largely aims to impede Iran, the main beneficiary of the Houthis, by discouraging weapons, supplies and other support that Tehran has sent to the rebel movement as part of a proxy war in the Middle East.
Mr Pompeo said the action aims to “advance efforts towards a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors”.
He also noted concerns that the naming would limit aid to desperate Yemenis, but said that if the Houthis “did not act like a terrorist organization, we would not name them”.
This did little to reassure the helpers and other commercial importers who were demanding clarification of seemingly conflicting liability standards.
“It is hard to imagine that in the final days of the Trump administration, lightning will strike them and suddenly they will find out how hot it is to keep these labels from torturing civilians in Yemen,” said Scott Paul, the chief of humanitarian policy for Oxfam America. “We can’t count on it.”
Congressional assistants expressed similar concerns after being briefed on Monday by State Department officials and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Houthis, who call themselves Ansar Allah or the Partisans of God, are de facto the government in an area where the majority of the Yemeni population lives, including the capital Sana and the country’s largest port.
Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab allies who have pushed for the expulsion of terrorism have failed to restore the internationally recognized government as the war in Yemen has settled in a swamp and that of the United Nations as the worst humanitarian Crisis of the world called crisis has triggered.
Millions of Yemenis rely on state institutions controlled by the Houthis for basic goods. Ships bringing food have to pay port dues in a Houthi-controlled port, and Western charities support teachers and health workers who work for Houthi-controlled administrations, whether they support the group or not.
Mr Pompeo pointed to an attack on December 30th on the civilian airport in the Yemeni city of Aden, in which 27 people were killed, as evidence of the Houthis’ terror capabilities. Nobody has taken responsibility for this attack, and both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are active in the region.
Many analysts believe the Houthis pose no direct threat to the United States and have been skeptical that the sanctions will put pressure on the Houthis to negotiate to end the war. The United States has supported Saudi efforts in the war that killed thousands of civilians in Yemen.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior member of the Houthi movement, scoffed on Monday at the label “killing and spreading hunger”.
A spokesman for the new administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not rule out reversing the nomination after Mr Trump stepped down on January 20.
Even diplomats who say the Houthis are not a terrorist organization and refuse to be named recognize that “they are certainly a hideous group,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, ambassador to Yemen during the Obama administration.
“So how can you remove the FTO designation without pointing out that you sympathize with them or blame them for the disaster in Yemen?” said Herr Feierstein, now at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “It will not be easy.”
Lara Jakes reported from Washington and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Edward Wong contributed to the coverage.