The outgoing Trump administration is planning to designate Yemen's Houthi movement, known as AnsarAllah, as a terrorist organisation before leaving office in January, according to a report by Foreign Policy on Monday.
Citing several diplomatic sources, FP said the move, which has already faced opposition by the humanitarian community, could disrupt international aid efforts and upend the UN-brokered peace efforts between the Houthi-led National Salvation Government (NSG) based in Sanaa and the Saudi-based, internationally recognised Yemeni government.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could also use the designation as a "victory" in his "maximum pressure" policy against Iran, which is an ally to the NSG ahead of his visits to Israel, Saudi and the UAE this week. Riyadh, which has been waging a five-year war to topple the NSG, already deems the Houthis as a terrorist organisation and, along with the administration of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, has urged Washington to do the same.
"They have been contemplating this for a while, but Pompeo wants this fast-tracked," said one diplomatic source. "It's part of the scorched-earth policy the sour grapes in the White House are taking."
However it has also been speculated that the move is intended to stifle the incoming administration of Democrat President-elect Joe Biden. "It would basically box in the new president when he wants to take a new approach to the war in Yemen, and cut back on the Saudi war," said Gregory Johnsen, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also told the outlet that such designation would be a "clear attempt by the Trump administration to hamstring future peace negotiations."
"The Houthis and their financial supporters are already subject to U.S. sanctions, so the practical impact of the designation would be exclusively to make it more difficult to negotiate with Houthi leaders and to deliver aid to Houthi-controlled areas, where the majority of Yemenis still live," he said.
— محمد علي الحوثي (@Moh_Alhouthi) November 17, 2020
Yesterday Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a senior member of the Supreme Political Council, the executive body of the NSG responded to the news by sharing on Twitter an infographic discussing the definition of terrorism and the position of the NSG.
According to Al-Houthi, the term terrorism is frequently used by Trump and successive US administrations against those who reject US policies and that President Trump has even used this term against domestic protesters.
Al-Houthi stressed that the term "terrorism" cannot provide legitimacy for anyone in targeting Yemen and that what the Trump administration considers as foreign interference amounts to unjustified aggression against Yemen.
He added: "It does not matter to us how America classifies us, because in our view it is a killer of the Yemeni people, for it is the one that kills and besieges our people."
"It is the Trump administration that rejected even the decision of Congress to stop the aggression against our country and stop supporting the Saudi Wahhabis."