The Trump administration’s push to label Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi group as a terrorist organization would be “deeply damaging” to U.S. national security, say former U.S. diplomats and State Department officials.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent Sunday, 20 former senior officials with a focus on U.S. policy in the Middle East called for the administration to “abandon plans” to label the Houthis a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
They raise alarm that such a move would be viewed as politically motivated and “undermine the credibility of U.S. counterterrorism programs and policies.”
“To be clear, we hold no sympathy for the Houthi movement, nor are we condoning its actions,” wrote the signatories, who include nearly every living former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, former counterterrorism coordinators at the State Department and former senior career officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“That said, we do not believe that the Houthi movement meets the definition of a Foreign Terrorist Organization nor do we believe that the designation will advance U.S. national security interests.”
The Trump administration is reportedly weighing the designation for the insurgent military group engaged in a six-year civil war against the Saudi-led coalition supporting the internationally-recognized Yemeni government.
Such a move would be part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. President Trump vetoed an effort by Congress in April 2019 to end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen.
The signatories argue the designation would hamper the international community’s efforts to deliver life-saving aid to the country that is enduring the worst humanitarian crisis in history, including delivering food and medicine to at least 70 percent of the Yemeni population under Houthi control.
They also warn that it would harm international efforts to negotiate a political solution to the crisis.
“We urge the administration not to take this step, which we believe would be deeply damaging to U.S. national security interests, including the fight against terrorism, and, most of all, to the innocent civilians in Yemen,” the signatories wrote.
“Instead, we encourage the administration to re-double its support for the UN-led peace process. U.S. backing can provide critical momentum to efforts to persuade the parties to end the fighting, implement a permanent, sustainable cease-fire, and begin the political reconciliation that will permit Yemenis finally to address the root causes of the current conflict.”
The crisis in Yemen is one of the darkest stains on the international community, with U.N. officials remarking earlier this month that atrocities there may amount to war crimes.
The United Nations Humanitarian Office said on Dec. 3 that at least 230,000 Yemenis have died due to the war, including 131,000 from a lack of food, health services and infrastructure. More than 3,000 children have been killed and 1,500 civilian casualties were reported in the first nine months of 2020.
On Dec. 11, World Food Program spokesperson Tomson Phiri called the country “a ticking time bomb” with 16 million people unable to get food.