A senior State Department official said the decision was based on the group’s involvement in terrorist activities, including a missile attack on a Saudi airport in 2019 and another on a Saudi oil distribution station in 2020.
“The labels are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilians, infrastructure and merchant shipping,” Pompeo said, using the Houthi group’s official name.
Humanitarian organizations and foreign diplomats fear the move could complicate UN mediation in peace talks between the Hutus and the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, parties that have been at war for nearly six years in a conflict the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis. the world.
Trump administration officials have denied complicating peace efforts for President-elect Biden, who has promised to breathe new life into diplomatic discussions when he takes office on Jan. 20.
Asked whether defining terrorism would prevent UN or US diplomats from meeting with the Hutus, who are crucial to any lasting political resolution, a senior State Department official said he would “look at job opportunities where we can”
An expert on the matter said Biden’s team did not support the nomination and that the new administration was expected to release him due to concerns about the humanitarian impact.
Nearly a quarter of a million people have already died during the war in Yemen, most of them due to insufficient food, medical care and other indirect causes.
The Hutus control large parts of Yemen, especially in the north, where aid agencies coordinate with the rebels to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid.
How the designation will affect Yemenis may depend to a large extent on the nature of the refusals and exemptions the government grants to aid groups and parties so that they can avoid potential financial and legal sanctions, which will include licenses from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Assets Control Finance (OFAC).
Much of the internal opposition to the decision comes from finance ministry officials, who warn that it will be difficult for them to issue the dismissals in a non-transparent wartime environment. Officials say the department lacks ground intelligence to adequately account for the exemptions and therefore oppose the determination, diplomats familiar with the situation said.
Such protection, even if widely available, would only protect U.S. government officials and entities from potential prosecution for “material support” of terrorism under FTO designation laws, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.
Government officials said the justice ministry is unlikely to make such allegations. But such assurances are unlikely to allay fears among aid organizations and trade groups, who fear violating U.S. law, even if the likelihood of prosecution is low, fueling further questions about why the administration is pursuing the FTO designation. not others without similar complications.
The fact that the administration is preparing to announce the nomination before Pompeo has signed potential waivers and licenses designed to allow aid and trade to continue threatens to increase the decision’s impact on Yemeni civilians. It also represents the Trump administration’s haste to finalize a growing list of measures aimed at Iran before handing it over to a new team expected to take a different approach to Tehran.
The Trump administration says the Husseins are to blame for the country’s grim humanitarian situation, citing the use of child soldiers and hampering the work of aid groups in the country. However, the United States continues to sell billions of dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia, leading to a bloody bombing campaign in the country that has resulted in numerous civilian deaths.
Trump administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive political issue, acknowledged that dozens of aid groups and foreign officials opposed the decision, but said they had exhausted other options and that Houthi rebels were refusing. to meet them. The United States sent two senior diplomats to the Middle East in December to meet with Houthi officials, but the group declined to meet, US officials said.
“We are looking for ways to draw attention to the fact that the status quo is unsustainable,” said a senior State Department official. “It will get people’s attention.”
Scott Paul, head of humanitarian policy for Oxfam America, described the move as a “counterproductive and dangerous” decision that would endanger Yemen’s life. In choosing to issue a definition of the FTO, the State Department is taking “by far the worst” of the options considered against the Houthi rebels, he said.
“The effects will be severe across the country, which is also hit hard by famine, cholera and Covid-19 as banks, businesses and humanitarian donors become unwanted or unable to take the risk of an operation in Yemen,” he said in a statement. .
The definition marks a turning point in the US administration of the war, which began in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition began what Gulf officials had hoped would be a short-lived campaign to remove Hussite separatists who seized the Yemeni capital in late the previous year.
While Houthi forces have repeatedly launched attacks on Saudi Arabia, US authorities cite only one attack on the United States, when in 2016 they unsuccessfully fired missiles at a US warship off the coast of Yemen.
The Trump administration, facing growing pressure from Congress over U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia and civilian casualties in Yemen, has reduced military support for the Gulf coalition by halting air supplies with Saudi planes in 2018.
But the Trump administration is increasingly putting Yemen as another front in its campaign against Iran, which provides military assistance to the Hutus.
During the war, the United States continued a separate campaign to fight terrorism against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the local branch of Islamic State.
Millions of Yemenis still need food aid, including hundreds of thousands of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN
Last year, the Trump administration suspended much of its aid to Yemen because of Hutu restrictions, making it difficult to verify that aid was reaching beneficiaries.