The United States on Tuesday exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices from its designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization.
The carve-outs are not enough to allay U.N. fears that Washington’s move would push Yemen into a large-scale famine. The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need.
“Our concern from the beginning … is the impact on the commercial sector and that the vast majority of food and other basic supplies that come into Yemen comes in through the commercial sector,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
U.N. officials and aid groups said the designation will scare off commercial trade in Yemen, which relies almost solely on imports, creating a gap the humanitarian operation cannot fill regardless of U.S. humanitarian exemptions.
The United States has exempted the export to Yemen of agricultural commodities. Its description of that includes food for people, including raw, processed, and packaged foods, live animals, vitamins and minerals, and bottled drinking water.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move against the Iran-aligned Houthis last week and it took effect on Tuesday, one day before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden succeeds Republican President Donald Trump.
Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing on Tuesday: “We would propose to review that immediately to make sure that what we are doing is not impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance.”
A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis in a war widely seen as a proxy conflict between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Iran. U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as Yemen’s suffering is also worsened by an economic collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The designation freezes any U.S.-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.