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Washington Vows More Sanctions on Houthi Leaders

Washington Vows More Sanctions on Houthi Leaders

Thursday, 27 January, 2022 - 08:30
Houthi fighters ride on the back of a patrol truck as they secure the site of a pro-Houthi tribal gathering in a rural area near Sanaa, Yemen, on July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Washington has pledged to take the “necessary steps” and use all “appropriate tools” to hold Houthis responsible for the recent attacks against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and their role in protracting the conflict in Yemen, described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

A sharp rhetoric is being resorted to in US statements as well as diplomatic moves made by US officials in the State Department and the White House. The US has also reiterated the importance of finding a solution for Yemen according to international references, especially UN Resolution 2216.

Regarding recent statements made by US President Joe Biden about redesignating Houthis as a terrorist organization, a US State Department official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the revision of such a decision is still ongoing against a backdrop of the deteriorating situation in Yemen and the failure to establish a ceasefire.

Although the official did not elaborate more on the review steps, he stressed that Washington “is committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the official asserted that the US had not found a single positive role for Iran in Yemen.

If Iran wants to show that it can be a responsible actor, it must begin by ending its interference in the conflict in Yemen, “and from this standpoint, we have supported dialogue between it and the countries of the region in the interest of security and stability,” the official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The US administration will continue to work with its partners in the region to stand against the “unfortunate Houthi attacks,” as well as continue to hold the Houthis responsible for their “heinous actions.”

As for diplomatic efforts, the official pointed to the efforts of US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking and said they help in building international consensus for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire and a political solution.

Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government had both announced their support for a ceasefire and the resumption of political talks.

Moreover, the official praised Oman in helping untangle the Yemeni crisis, describing it as a “decisive and proactive regional role.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the US administration is “taking a close look” at the appropriate response for the Houthi attacks.

“What we will continue to do, no question about it, is to stand with the UAE, stand with Saudi Arabia,” said Price.

Speaking at a press briefing, Price revealed that Washington will continue to work with its partners and allies to hold Houthis accountable.

“We will continue to hold the Houthis to account for these terrorist attacks. We will do that in different ways. We have used a number of tools already, and I suspect you will see us continue to do that in the days and weeks ahead,” he Price.

“We will not relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that are threatening civilians and regional stability, perpetuating the conflict, committing human rights abuses, or violating international humanitarian law, or exacerbating the very grave humanitarian crisis,” he added.

Commenting on the steps taken by the US administration, Norman Roule, a former official in the CIA and a current senior advisor to the “United Against Nuclear Iran” project, said that Washington had hoped to force the Houthis to return to negotiations for a peaceful solution in good faith.

However, the Houthi attacks and speeches indicate a “terrorist organization.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Roule pointed to Iran encouraging Houthis.

Because of this, the group has repeatedly refused diplomatic operations and attacked dozens of civilian targets in the hope of causing great human losses.

However, Roule believes that relisting Houthis as a terrorist group will not be easy.

According to the expert, there are people in the US administration who believe the redesignation will impede humanitarian operations and make a political settlement out of reach.

The Houthis have been more willing to consider a political settlement when they face military setbacks, and neither the Biden administration nor Europe is likely to support military action, “so I don’t think the administration will be able to do much in that regard,” said Roule.

He added that the US would continue to send Lenderking to find out whether political solutions are possible.

Answering a question about the link between nuclear talks in Vienna with Iran and Houthis, Roule explained that the Iranians have always separated nuclear talks from regional and missile issues.

“Perhaps Tehran’s attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia are not related to the talks. However, the size of the attack and the complex nature of weapons used by the Houthis likely require some degree of Iranian support, perhaps even being directly involved in the attacks,” said Roule.

He stressed that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are still very safe despite the recent attacks. This safety is due to the skill of the air defense units and security services, but the Iranian-backed Houthi attacks pose a threat to millions of expatriates living in these countries.

“This makes the Houthi attacks an attack on the international community no less than (Al-Qaeda’s) attacks in New York,” concluded Roule.

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