US keeps sanctions on Houthi leaders despite delisting of group

“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansar Allah’s malign actions and aggression,” Blinken said.

Saturday 13/02/2021
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a press briefing at the State Department in Washington. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a press briefing at the State Department in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON – The short-lived US designation of Yemen’s Houthi militias as a terrorist group will end Tuesday but sanctions on individual group leaders would remain in place and be in force, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“The revocations are intended to ensure that relevant US policies do not impede assistance to those already suffering what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Blinken said in a statement Friday.

He went ahead with the promised move despite US condemnation of a drone attack Wednesday on the Abha international airport in Saudi Arabia, which has carried out an offensive in Yemen to defeat the Houthis.

“The United States remains clear-eyed about Ansar Allah’s malign actions and aggression,” Blinken said, referring to the Houthi movement by its formal name.

He said that sanctions on individual Houthi leaders would remain in place and be in force.

Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo had in his final days declared the insurgents to be a terror group, pointing to an attack on the airport in Yemen’s second city of Aden and their links to Iran, an arch-enemy for former president Donald Trump.

But humanitarian groups said the designation would put them at legal risk and severely impede efforts in a nation where 80 percent rely on aid.

Humanitarian workers said they had no choice but to work with the Houthis as they are effectively the government in much of the country, including the capital Sana’a.

Blinken had called revocation of the terror designation a top early priority as President Joe Biden launches a new diplomatic drive to end the war.

The new US secretary of state held discussions on Yemen earlier this week with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Farhan.

Saudi Arabia leads a coalition which intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-backed Houthi group.

On Wednesday, the Houthis carried out a drone attack on Saudi’s Abha airport, which caused a fire in a civilian aircraft.

US  President Joe Biden last week named veteran U.S. diplomat Tim Lenderking as a US special envoy to Yemen in a bid to step up American diplomacy to end the war.