WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Sunday that he would define Iranian-backed Hussein rebels as a “foreign terrorist organization” until the Trump administration runs out. The ruling will take effect on January 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The announcement comes as Pompeo and his top aides rush to complete actions that they believe will consolidate their legacy and that of the president. In addition to declaring Hutus, Pompeo is also expected to reassign Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”
Both moves will impose or re-impose sanctions on targets and could complicate Biden’s incoming administration’s diplomacy. On Saturday, Pompeo angered China when it announced that restrictions on US diplomatic contacts with Taiwanese authorities were negligible. In addition, Pompeo plans to extract explicit links between Iran and al Qaeda before leaving office on January 20th and to strike more Iranian entities with sanctions, officials said.
Officials were not authorized to discuss the steps in public, as they have not yet been announced and have spoken on condition of anonymity.
For months, the administration has weighed the official definition of the Houthi rebels as a “foreign terrorist organization.” But those efforts were mired in internal disagreements over whether sanctions could be effectively enforced without exacerbating the severe humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The objections of the Ministry of Finance were apparently resolved last week, after some exceptions to the sanctions allowing the continuation of the aid were settled.
Late Sunday, Pompeo announced that he was continuing to identify the Hutus, also known as Ansarsala, along with separate terrorist designations of three senior rebel leaders.
“These designations will provide additional tools to counter terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iranian-backed militia in the Gulf region,” he said. “The markings are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilians, infrastructure and merchant shipping. ”
Consideration of the ruling has already sparked complaints from aid organizations, who have warned that the sanctions could prove disastrous in efforts to help starving Yemeni civilians caught up in the conflict between the Hutus and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
“The United States acknowledges fears that these designations will affect the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We plan to introduce measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activities and imports into Yemen.”
These measures will include the issuance of special licenses by the Ministry of Finance to allow US aid to continue flowing to Yemen and humanitarian organizations to continue working there, he said.
President Donald Trump has taken a firm stand on Cuba and lifted many of the sanctions the Obama administration had eased or lifted as part of a broader rapprochement with the communist island. The removal of Cuba from the list of “state sponsors of terrorism” was a key component of these efforts, and a review of the country is Pompeo’s long-term goal.
Such a name is legal, and it was not clear on Sunday whether all the technical criteria needed to restore Cuba to the list had been met, according to officials. When removing Cuba from the list, the Obama administration had decided that the country no longer supported international terrorism, but Pompeo was expected to cite Cuban support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro as the main justification for the move, officials said.
Pompeo is also expected to make remarks later this week, condemning Iran for its alleged shelter and support for members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. In November, US officials said Iran had sheltered al-Qaeda number two Abu Mohammed al-Masri, who was killed in August by Israeli agents in Iran along with his daughter, the widow of bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.
The Trump administration has steadily increased pressure on Iran since the president withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2015 and began reintroducing sanctions that were eased under an agreement aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.
On Saturday, Pompeo announced that he was lifting all restrictions on contacts between US diplomats and Taiwanese officials. These restrictions were in place as the United States formally adopted its “one China” policy in 1979 and recognized Beijing after formal diplomatic ties with Taipei were dropped.
Pompeo was at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to take action on China in Taiwan, repression of dissent and human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and the western Xinjiang region, and Beijing’s controversial maritime claims to the South China Sea.