President Joe Biden’s administration held an interagency meeting on Friday to discuss designating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization again, two sources familiar with the issue told Axios.
The White House National Security Council didn’t outright reject designating the Iran-backed militia group as a terrorist organization, however, the State Department suggested specific Houthis leaders should be slapped with sanctions rather than the organization as a whole, the sources said.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week that while the president has not made a decision on designating the Houthis a terrorist group, the organization’s leaders must be held accountable for attacks.
“And we’re not going to relent in using all appropriate tools, including sanctions and designations of Houthi leaders and of entities who are involved in military offensives that are threatening civilians and regional stability, that perpetuate the conflict, against those who commit human rights abuses or violate international humanitarian law, or those who exacerbate the humanitarian crisis or seek to profit from the suffering of the Yemeni people,” Price said.
“And we know that there are Houthi leaders who have done precisely those things. We have held many such Houthi leaders to account using these authorities,” Price added. “And again, we are not going to relent in doing so.”
Last year, Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken was urged by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization due to their attacks targeting civilians and energy infrastructures.
In one of his first moves as president, Biden reversed former President Donald Trump’s decision to list the Houthis as a terrorist organization. Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, blacklisted the group on Jan. 19, 2021, one day before Biden took office.
“The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said at the time. “The designations are also intended to advance efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.”
While Biden has not taken action on the Houthis designation, Price said the administration is still focused on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
“At the same time, we do remain committed to doing all we can, as effectively as we can, to address the humanitarian emergency that continues to afflict Yemen. This is a country where, according to most estimates and many analyses, the site of the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. More than 16 million Yemenis are suffering from food insecurity,” Price said.
“And so as we seek to engage in diplomacy to bring about an end to the civil war, because we know a diplomatic resolution to the civil war will be the best antidote to the levels of instability, levels of violence, the humanitarian catastrophe, we are continuing to do all we can in the interim to provide and to encourage the world to raise its ambition to provide for the long-suffering Yemeni people.”