The State Department says it is not considering a redesignation of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, even after a delegation of human rights activists launched a pressure campaign against the Biden administration.
A redesignation of the Houthis is not a top priority, according to the State Department. "We are currently focused on securing, extending, and building on the [United Nations] truce in Yemen, which is having a tangible impact on millions of Yemenis and provides a credible opportunity for peace in Yemen," a spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon.
The statement comes on the heels of a visit last week by Yemeni human rights activists, who were in Washington, D.C., to press the Biden administration and Congress to consider redesignating the Houthi rebels in Yemen as terrorists. The designation was first approved by the Trump administration during its push to isolate Iranian-backed terror fronts but reversed by President Joe Biden when he took office last year.
Biden administration officials who met with the activists said they view a redesignation of the Houthis as an obstacle to securing a permanent ceasefire between the Iran-armed militants and Yemeni government, according to sources familiar with the meetings. The activist pressure campaign was launched to coincide with Biden’s first trip to the Middle East last week, in which he met with Saudi Arabian leaders to discuss Houthi attacks on the country, among other issues.
The D.C. visit by the Yemeni human rights advocates was accompanied by a letter to the White House criticizing its decision to delist the Houthis and warning about the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen that has developed. The July 11 letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Free Beacon, was signed by 35 organizations advocating for Yemeni human rights. The Biden administration removed the group from the terror list as part of a bid to help bolster U.S.-backed peace talks between the Iranian-armed rebels and the Yemeni government. Though a tenuous cease-fire is in place and expected to be renewed in August with U.S.-backing, the human rights leaders maintain the Houthis must be held accountable for their attacks on civilians.
"Unfortunately, the administration seems more focused on renewing a failed truce than on actually resolving the conflict and aiding the Yemeni people," Dr. Wesam Basindawa, a human rights activist who participated in the meetings, told the Free Beacon. Basindawa’s delegation was organized by the Yemeni Coalition of Independent Women, a human rights organization that seeks to draw attention to Houthi atrocities and their repeated violation of the cease-fire agreement. The activists met with officials representing the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, as well as a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Asked about the situation, a State Department spokesman indicated to the Free Beacon that a redesignation of the Houthis is not being considered.
"Humanitarian considerations continue to be an important factor in any decision regarding a Foreign Terrorist Designation of Ansarallah," the official name of the rebel group, according to a State Department official.
Human rights activists disagree. They say the Houthis continue to conduct terror attacks and violate the cease fire agreement.
"In the year and a half since that action was taken, the Houthis have not moderated their actions or engaged in a productive dialogue," the activists wrote in their letter to the White House. "Furthermore, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has not been relieved."
Since the Biden administration delisted the terror group, "the number of Houthi militia violations against Yemeni people and attacks against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia had doubled," the group notes. "In the past period, the Houthis conducted ... drone or missile attacks on Saudi airports and airfields."
At home in Yemen, "the violence of the Houthi group increased after it was removed from the list of terrorist organizations," committing crimes that include the "siege of cities, bombing civilians, booby trapp[ed] roads and schools, sniping civilians, child recruitment, displacement of civilians from their homes, humanitarian aid theft," and other atrocities. "Nearly half of these incidents affected women and children," the group says.
"The Houthis have responded to your administration’s offer of compassion and conciliation with disdain. They have refused to take advantage of the opportunity that your administration provided and allow for the alleviation of the pain and suffering of the Yemeni people," they write. "It is therefore time to reconsider the Houthi designation as a" foreign terrorist organization.