US hits Yemen’s Houthis with sanctions over Marib offensive

“It is time for the Houthis to accept a ceasefire and for all parties to resume political talks,” Blinken said in a statement.
Friday 11/06/2021
A file picture of Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking at the State Department in Washington. (AFP)
A file picture of Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking at the State Department in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON – The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions targeting Yemen’s Houthi militias as it voiced exasperation that the Iranian-banked insurgents have kept up a military campaign.

President Joe Biden’s administration — which has used sanctions more sparingly than Donald Trump’s previous team — also removed sanctions on several former Iranian officials, saying it was acknowledging changes in behaviour.

The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on several individuals including Said al-Jamal, a Houthi supporter who allegedly has run a smuggling network out of Iran to sell oil illicitly to benefit the insurgents.

International officials and analysts say Iran has increased its material support to the Houthi militias as the war in the Arab nation passes the six-year mark. A Saudi-led coalition is trying to hold off the Houthis, who seized the country’s capital and are waging an offensive now to capture a major northern city, in defiance of US and UN calls for a ceasefire.

— Targeted sanctions —

The new US action designates 11 Yemeni individuals, alleged front companies and intermediaries and vessels involved in what it said were the illicit transfers.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was hoping to exert pressure on the Houthi militias to end their offensive launched in February to seize Marib, the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north.

“It is time for the Houthis to accept a ceasefire and for all parties to resume political talks,” Blinken said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to apply pressure to the Houthis, including through targeted sanctions, to advance those goals,” he said.

The Biden administration, in one of its first steps, removed a last-minute designation by Trump of the Houthis as a terrorist movement.

The move came in response to fears from aid groups that they would need to pull out of Yemen as they are obliged to deal with the Houthis, who effectively are the government in vast areas including the capital Sana’a.

— A focus on diplomacy —

The Biden administration has ramped up diplomatic efforts on Yemen, which the United States considers the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and distanced itself from a devastating air campaign by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Biden has also sought to re-enter a nuclear accord with Iran rejected by Trump. Indirect talks in Vienna have been held up by Iran’s insistence on a complete removal of sanctions.

The Treasury Department said Thursday it was removing sanctions on three former Iranian officials including former National Iranian Oil Company chief Ahmad Qalebani.

“These delistings are a result of a verified change in behaviour or status on the part of the sanctioned parties and demonstrate the US government’s commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in behaviour or status for sanctioned persons,” the Treasury Department said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the move was not linked to the talks on the nuclear deal in Vienna.

Critics of US sanctions policy have said that targeted individuals have little recourse to get off the blacklist, even if they address concerns.