WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday announced that he will designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a “foreign terrorist organization” as time runs down on the Trump administration. The designation will take effect on Jan. 19, one day before president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The announcement comes as Pompeo and his top aides rush to complete actions they believe will cement their legacy and the president’s. In addition to the Houthi designation, Pompeo in coming days is also expected to likely re-designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” according to several admininstration officials.
Both moves will impose or re-impose sanctions on the targets and may complicate the incoming Biden administration’s diplomacy. On Saturday Pompeo angered China when he declared restrictions on U.S. diplomatic contacts with Taiwanese officials to be null and void. In addition, Pompeo plans before leaving office on Jan. 20 to draw explicit links between Iran and al-Qaida and hit more Iranian entities with sanctions, the officials said.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the steps publicly because they have not yet been announced and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The administration had been weighing the formal designation of the Houthi rebels as a “foreign terrorist organization” for months. But that effort had been bogged down in internal disagreements over whether sanctions could be effectively enforced without worsening the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Objections from the Treasury Department were apparently overcome last week after certain exemptions to the sanctions allowing for aid work to continue were arranged.
Late Sunday, Pompeo announced that he was proceeding with the designation of the Houthis., also known as Ansarsallah, along with separate terrorist designations of three senior rebel leaders.
“These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah, a deadly Iran-backed militia group in the Gulf region,” he said. “The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping. ”
Consideration of the designation had already prompted complaints from relief organizations that have warned the sanctions could prove catastrophic for efforts to help starving Yemeni civilians who have been caught in the conflict between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia.
“The United States recognizes concerns that these designations will have an impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” Pompeo said in his statement. “We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen.”
Those measures will include the issuance of special licenses by Treasury to allow U.S. assistance to continue to…
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