US temporarily suspends sanctions on Yemen’s Houthi militias

The Treasury Department in a notice said that all transactions with the group will be authorised through February 26


Tuesday 26/01/2021
Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen January 18, 2021. (REUTERS)
Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration outside the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen January 18, 2021. (REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday froze US sanctions on dealing with Yemen’s Houthi rebels for one month as it reviews a terrorist designation that aid groups warn will aggravate a humanitarian crisis.

The Treasury Department in a notice said that all transactions with the group will be authorised through February 26 at 12:01 am (0401 GMT).

The order signed by Bradley Smith, acting director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the United States was not unblocking any funds that have already been targeted.

The move comes after Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, said that the United States would quickly review the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group and end military support to Saudi Arabia’s offensive in Yemen.

Former US President Donald Trump’s administration, closely allied with the Saudis and vociferously opposed to Iran, declared the Tehran-aligned group to be terrorists in a determination that took effect on January 19 — one day before Biden’s inauguration.

Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced the move despite months of warnings by aid groups that the decision would intensify suffering in a nation where more than 80% of the 29 million people need aid to survive.

Humanitarian groups argue that they have no alternative but to deal with the Houthis, who amount to a government in much of Yemen including the capital Sana’a.

Pompeo had insisted that the State Department was exempting humanitarian work, but Blinken said the effort was not enough as it pertained just to Americans.

The Treasury Department in revised guidance said that non-US entities would not be targeted.

The Iranian-supported Houthi rebels rule the capital and Yemen’s north where the majority of the population lives, forcing international aid groups to work with them. Agencies depend on the Houthis to deliver aid, and they pay salaries to Houthis to do so.

Six years of war between a US-backed Arab coalition and the Houthi militias have been catastrophic for Yemen, killing more than 112,000 people and reducing infrastructure from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks to ruins. It began with the Houthi takeover of the north in 2014, which prompted a campaign by the Saudi-led coalition, aimed at restoring the internationally recognised government.

Most of Yemen’s 30 million people rely on international aid to survive. The UN says 13.5 million Yemenis already face acute food insecurity, a figure that could rise to 16 million by June.