The State Department will notify Congress of its intent to designate Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, despite intense pushback from US diplomats and aid groups in Yemen.
“These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah (the Houthi rebels) accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping.”
The 11th hour move by the Trump administration could upend the United Nations’ work on peace talks in the country and there are also fears that such a designation could impact humanitarian aid deliveries, sources have told CNN.
Pompeo also said in the statement that the US recognizes concerns that the designation of the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shia political and military organization from the north of Yemen, will have an impact on the humanitarian situation in the country.
“We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen,” he said. “We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations, and other international donors to address these implications.”
Rolling back a terrorist designation is challenging which means that this move will make it hard for the incoming Biden administration to create a Yemen policy. One State Department official said Pompeo sees the designation as part of the maximum pressure campaign against Iran — given the Houthis’ ties to Iran — and doesn’t care if it puts the Biden team in a challenging position.