The US on Tuesday exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices from its designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization.
It was not immediately clear whether the carve-outs would be enough to allay UN fears that the Houthi blacklisting would push the country into a large-scale famine. The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of its people in need.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move against the Iran-aligned Houthis last week and it took effect on Tuesday, one day before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden succeeds Republican President Donald Trump.
Biden’s incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan posted on Twitter on Saturday: “Houthi commanders need to be held accountable, but designating the whole organization will only inflict more suffering on Yemeni people and impede diplomacy critical to end the war.”
An Arab-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis in a war widely seen as a proxy conflict between US ally Saudi Arabia and Iran. UN officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country’s suffering is also worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The designation freezes any US-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement. The United Nations has urged Washington to revoke the designation.
UN officials and aid groups have warned it will scare off commercial trade in Yemen, which relies almost solely on imports, creating a gap that the humanitarian operation cannot fill regardless of US humanitarian exemptions.
The US Treasury said on Tuesday that official business of the United Nations and its agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would be exempt from the designation.
It also approved work by aid groups to support humanitarian projects to meet basic human needs in Yemen, democracy building, education and environmental protection, and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices.