The United States has moved to list Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization and removed a bloc that humanitarian groups said jeopardized crucial aid as the country’s warring parties cautiously welcomed pressure for peace by President Joe Biden.
The grinding six-year war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, triggering what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday that they had “formally informed Congress” of Foreign Minister Antony Blink’s intention to recall the terrorist designations.
The move, which will take effect shortly, comes a day after Biden announced the end of US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen.
“This decision has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks on civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens,” the spokesman said.
“Our actions depend entirely on the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the previous administration,” they said, adding that the United States was still committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory from rebel attacks.
Blink’s predecessor Mike Pompeo announced the appointment days before leaving office last month, pointing to Houthis’ ties to Iran, an arch-enemy of Trump and a deadly attack on the airport in Yemen’s second city of Aden in December.
Aid groups say they have no choice but to deal with the Houthis, who are the de facto government in large parts of Yemen, and that the terrorist name is at risk of being prosecuted in the United States.
According to the UN, more than three million people have been displaced and almost 80 percent of Yemen’s population of 29 million people need some form of assistance to survive.
On Thursday, Biden announced the withdrawal of US support for the Saudi offensive in his first major foreign policy speech since replacing Donald Trump.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, welcomed his statements and stressed “the importance of supporting diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis”.
It praised the appointment of Timothy Lenderking as US envoy and described it as “another important step” that the United States took to “end the war caused by the Iranian-backed Huthis”.
The Huthi rebels also welcomed the new US government’s approach.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” Houthi official Hameed Assem told AFP on Friday.
But he also warned that “our missiles will not stop until there is a ceasefire … they are the ones who started the war, and they are the ones who should end it.”
Saudi Arabia – which has led a military intervention against the Houthis since 2015 – responded by resuming its commitment to a political solution in Yemen.
The kingdom welcomed Biden’s “commitment to work with the kingdom to defend its sovereignty and counter threats to it”, according to the official Saudi press agency.
But for Yemenis, the talk of a solution is very far from their reality.
“The war does not end; no one wants it to end. This is just propaganda,” said Huda Ibrahim, a 38-year-old housewife from the port city of Hodeida.
“I’m not optimistic and I do not believe in ending the war. How will it end when clashes do not end even one night?”