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Houthis and Iran are preventing solution to Yemen crisis, not Saudi Arabia: Schenker

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Saudi Arabia has taken a “very productive approach” to Yemen over the last year and a half and tried to reach an end to the yearslong conflict, the top US diplomat for the Middle East under former President Donald Trump said in an interview aired Tuesday.

Speaking in one of his first interviews since leaving the US State Department, David Schenker criticized the Biden administration's decision to revoke the terror designation that Trump had imposed on the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

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President Joe Biden and his top aides said that the “blanket designation” against the Houthis would further deteriorate Yemen's already crumbling humanitarian situation.

Biden’s decision also lifted the Specially Designated Global Terrorist listing off the Houthi leader and two other senior officials.

Biden administration officials also said the US blacklist would make it difficult for humanitarian groups to get badly needed aid to civilians.

Asked if he had those fears when the State Department decided to sanction the Houthis, Schenker told Al Arabiya: “The truth is that the US Department of Justice has never prosecuted humanitarian organizations for unintentional leakage to terrorist organizations. So, I think that was a straw man.”

“I think by … any reasonable standard by American law, the Houthis, given their working relationship with the IRGC, are a terrorist organization. They kidnap people; they fire missiles and one-way UAVs at civilian targets. They are a terrorist organization,” Schenker added.

Despite previous agreements, including the 2018 Hodeidah Agreement, to halt the fighting, the Iran-backed Houthis continue to express no interest in a peaceful solution to the Yemen war.

“It’s important … for the administration, in particular, [to realize] … that Saudi Arabia for the past year and a half or so has taken a very productive approach to Yemen,” Schenker said, adding that they have engaged with the Houthis in negotiations “with a lot of goodwill.”

“It’s the Houthis that have stonewalled; it’s the Houthis that refuse to make an agreement,” the former Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs said.

The new US administration has appointed a special envoy for Yemen since Biden took office and has said it would be a priority to end the war in Yemen. And Schenker lauded the appointment of veteran diplomat Tim Lenderking as the special envoy. But he is not optimistic about the outcome.

“I hope they get somewhere, but the prospects aren’t great. And it’s not because of Saudi Arabia; it’s because of the Houthis and Iran,” Schenker said.

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