US envoy suggests potential removal of Houthis from global terror list

President Joe Biden did not classify the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, but rather a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

By Mike Wagenheim, JNS

Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, left the door open for Washington to again remove the terror designation from Houthi rebels should the latter cease their attacks in the Red Sea.

“Houthi actions endanger the lives of civilian seafarers, disrupt the flow of food and other essential commodities to people worldwide, undermine navigational rights and freedoms and irreparably harm the marine environment and sensitive ecosystems that Yemeni fishermen depend on,” Lenderking told reporters on Wednesday.

“These attacks are also not helping Yemen, which remains in dire need of humanitarian and economic support,” Lenderking added, speaking from Oman. “The Houthis claim that their actions are a response to the conflict in Gaza, but their attacks only hurt ordinary people in the region. You can care about and support the Palestinians and still oppose the Houthi attacks.”

Lenderking added that the economic damage caused is “due exclusively to Houthi recklessness and Iran’s efforts to sow instability across the region. These attacks serve nothing more than a narrow Houthi agenda.”

The U.S. official, who visited Saudi Arabia earlier in the week, blamed Tehran for continuing to “enable these attacks through arms funding and intelligence support to the Houthis, reminding the world that they are the leading sponsor of terrorism.”

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The Houthis have fought a bitter civil war in Yemen that expanded into a regional conflict against a Saudi-led coalition. A tenuous, U.N.-brokered ceasefire has held largely since April 2022.

The Houthis’ decision to attack international, private vessels sailing in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, as well as kidnap crews, has led to a U.S.-centered international response, including missile strikes on Houthi vessels and interests in Yemen.

It also led to Washington’s announcement on Jan. 17 that it was redesignating the Houthis as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” effective starting in mid-February.

In its closing days, the Trump administration had designated the Houthis as a terror group, but the Biden administration promptly dispensed with that designation. It did so reportedly to assure humanitarian actors in Yemen that they would not be sanctioned.

Unlike former president Donald Trump, U.S. President Joe Biden did not classify the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization—a more punitive designation than Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

The latter designation “has put additional pressure on their ability to fundraise, and it is—it was our intent to put this additional pressure on the Houthis as a way of signaling our desire to move their behavior away from the focus on the Red Sea back toward the peace process,” Lenderking said on Wednesday. “I do think, from what I’m seeing, that there is this pressure that is being felt.”

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“My hope as the envoy for Yemen is that we can find diplomatic offramps to find ways to de-escalate and allow us to pull back, eventually, the designation, and, of course, to end the military strikes on Houthis’ military capability,” he added. “We favor a diplomatic solution. We know that there is no military solution.”