The outgoing US administration is to designate Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organisation, a move that diplomats and aid groups say will cast a shadow over peace talks and efforts to combat the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
A leader of the Iranian-aligned group, which has been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since 2015 in a war widely seen as a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, said it reserved the right to respond.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move, which will include sanctions against the movement and three of its leaders, in a statement late on Sunday.
It will come into effect on Jan 19, the Trump administration’s last day in office. The US administration has been piling on sanctions related to Iran in recent weeks, suggesting to some that Trump wants to make it harder for Joe Biden’s administration to re-engage with Iran and rejoin an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme after he becomes president on Jan. 20.
For Biden to undo the designation would require a lengthy legal review, and he could also face political obstacles from Iran hardliners in Congress.
Yemen’s Saudi-backed government called for more further pressure on the Houthis, who seized the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and control much of northern Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, which has been attacked by missiles and drones launched from Yemen by the Houthis, said the designation would “neutralise” the Houthi threat by preventing it securing arms and funds.
The United Nations warned that the US plan was “likely to have serious humanitarian and political repercussions”. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was imperative that the United States “swiftly grant the necessary licenses and exemptions to ensure that principled humanitarian assistance can continue to reach all people … without disruption.”
He also said the UN was “concerned that the designation may have a detrimental impact on efforts to resume the political process in Yemen, as well as to polarise even more the positions of the parties to the conflict.”