Washington considers the Yemeni government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi as the nation’s only legitimate government, but also deals with the Iran-backed Houthis because they are in control of parts of the country and the people there, the US Department of State told Arab News on Friday.
“The United States, like the rest of the international community, recognizes the Republic of Yemen government, which is the only legitimate, internationally recognized government in Yemen,” it said. “The Houthis control people and territory and must be dealt with. They are real, political actors in Yemen.”
The assurance from Washington of its support for the Yemeni government came a day after US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking sparked a furor when he said that his country “recognizes” the Houthis as a legitimate force in Yemen.
“I have spoken on a number of occasions about the legitimacy of the Houthis, which is to say that the United States recognizes them as a legitimate actor,” he said during an online roundtable discussion on Thursday, arranged by the National Council on US-Arab Relations. “We recognize them as a group that has made significant gains.”
Lenderking’s remarks were “a clear coup against local, Arab and international resolutions” that recognize the Yemeni government’s authority
Ahmed Ayedh, Marib Press editor
Asked whether it is realistic that the Houthis will bow to US demands that they stop fighting, given they possess large numbers of weapons and continue to have the upper hand on battlefields, Lenderking said that some elements within the Houthi leadership have expressed a commitment to peace, and Washington encourages the group to engage with peace efforts.
“I hope and encourage the Houthis to support the UN-led process and the efforts that are underway to support peace and the political transition,” he said.
The Yemeni government, politicians and journalists expressed dismay over his remarks. A senior government official, who asked not to be named, told Arab News that the Yemeni foreign minister and the speaker of the parliament had contacted officials at the US embassy in Yemen asking for clarification, which came on Friday morning.
Meanwhile Yemenis expressed outrage on social media and in the local media about what they perceived as a shift in US policy on the Houthis.
Ahmed Ayedh, the editor of Marib Press news site, described the Lenderking’s remarks as “a clear coup against local, Arab and international resolutions” that recognize the Yemeni government’s authority, and called on the authority to boycott him.
The US State Department said the envoy’s words were taken out of context. As well as reiterating the support of the US government for the Yemeni government, it slammed the Houthis for escalating their military operations.
“We remain concerned that the Houthis are more focused on waging war and exacerbating the suffering of Yemeni citizens than they are on being part of the resolution to the conflict,” it said.
The Houthis viewed the perceived shift in US tone as a victory and vowed to press ahead with their “resistance.”
Without specifically mentioning the Lenderking’s comments, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, president of the Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee, demanded that the international community deal with the group as the sole, legitimate representatives of Yemen.
“Thanks to God, Yemen has won due to its steadfastness and strength that achieved its legitimacy and independence,” he said in a message posted on Twitter.
Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, said on Friday that the Houthis interpret the international community’s “soft” handling of the war in Yemen and human rights abuses by the rebels as a green light to push ahead with their military operations.
In a message posted on Twitter, he said the Houthi militia considers the international response as “encouragement for its aggression and military escalation, killings of Yemenis and violations of human rights.”
He denounced the militia’s terrorist activities, which he said threaten regional and international security, disrupt peace efforts and exacerbate the human suffering in the country.