Trump designated Yemen's Houthis as terrorists—one day after taking office, Biden reversed it

The US and UK conducted joint operations to bomb Houthi infrastructure in Sana'a on Thursday.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

Shortly after taking office in 2021, President Joe Biden reversed President Donald Trump's designation of the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis as a terror group. 

In so doing, Biden spoke about the need to deal with the humanitarian disaster in Yemen at the time. The Trump administration believed that the Houthis had used violent campaigns to destabilize the region. The Houthis took over the Yemeni capital Sana'a in 2014 along with much of the northwestern region of the country. The US and UK conducted joint operations to bomb Houthi infrastructure in Sana'a on Thursday.

Biden claimed that reversing the designation would prevent a humanitarian crisis. 

"Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis," a Biden official said at the time.

"The designation did not impact the Houthis in any practical way, but it stopped food and other critical aid from being delivered inside Yemen and would have prevented effective political negotiation," said Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy in praise of Biden's move.

Trump had branded the group as a foreign terror group in order to "deter further malign activity by the Iranian regime," per then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The designation went into effect only one day before Trump ceded the White House to Biden in January 2021.

"If Ansarallah," the formal name for the Houthis, "did not behave like a terrorist organization, we would not designate it as one," Pompeo said. Three of the leaders of the Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim, were also designated as terrorists. The group are Shiite Islamists. 

Classifying them as terrorists prevented any of them from entering the US, made it illegal for any Americans to aid them with "material support or resources," and made it illegal for anyone to do business with the terror group.

The UN was displeased by the designation, saying that it put Yemen " in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades."

"I urge all those with influence to act urgently on these issues to stave off catastrophe," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, "and I also request that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse."

"We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen," Pompeo said.

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