Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress this week both criticized the Trump administration’s designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels as terrorists.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Sunday that the Houthis would be labeled a foreign terrorist organization. Houthi forces are backed by Iran and are engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized and Saudi-backed government. The rebels have attacked Saudi Arabia, a strong US ally, several times in recent months.
House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said the designation would make it more difficult to deliver aid to war-ravaged Yemen, where Houthi forces control much of the country’s west.
"This designation makes it harder to deliver life-saving assistance in a country already experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” Meeks said in a Monday statement. “Food aid, clean water, and basic health care for millions would be severely impacted.”
The designation means any US-based assets of the Houthis can be seized. Aiding a designated terrorist organization is also a crime under US law. This could complicate aid deliveries to parts of Yemen under Houthi control.
Congressional Republicans made similar statements to their Democratic counterpart's. The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch of Idaho said the executive branch must grant waivers if Yemen is to continue importing necessary supplies.
“Yemen imports 90 percent of its food. In light of near-famine conditions that have already existed in Yemen, this designation will have a devastating effect on Yemen’s food supply and other critical imports unless the Executive Branch acts now to issue the necessary licenses, waivers and appropriate guidance prior to designation,” McCaul and Risch said in a joint statement Monday.
All the congressmen voiced criticism of Houthi forces at the same time. Meeks said they have a “destabilizing role” in the country. McCaul and Risch called their behavior “dangerous.”
Some humanitarian organizations made similar comments to the congressmen.
"Already one of the most difficult operating environments for aid responders in the world, this designation jeopardizes the ability of aid agencies to continue operating at the scale required to prevent a catastrophe,” the US-based Mercy Corps said in a statement sent to Al-Monitor.
The designation of Houthi forces as terrorists, which takes effect Jan 19, is in line with US President Donald Trump’s strategy to pressure Iran and its allies. On Tuesday, Pompeo also accused Iran of harboring al-Qaeda.