The new Treasury Department license issued on Monday allows all transactions involving the Houthi group or any entity in which it owns 50% percent or more – though not its blacklisted leaders – until Feb. 26, 2021.
The Treasury Department appeared to be trying to allay the fears of companies and banks involved in commercial trade to Yemen, which relies mainly on imports.
The Treasury specifically stated in a Frequently Asked Question, “Foreign financial institutions do not risk exposure to … sanctions … if they knowingly conduct or facilitate a transaction” for the Houthis.
Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official under the Obama Administration, says the license “essentially wipes out the entire effect of the designation while giving the Biden administration a chance to make the decision on its own rather than getting stuck with Mike Pompeo’s decision.”
Donald Trump’s administration announced the designation of popular Ansarullah movement as a terrorist group on January 11, nine days before new US President Joe Biden took office last Wednesday.
Trump was a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia, offering logistical help and military sales for the kingdom’s six-year war on Yemen to dislodge the Ansarullah-led and Sana’a-based National Salvation Government, which is controlling much of the war-torn country.
The Biden administration’s move to approve transactions with the Houthis came after 22 aid organizations working in warn-torn Yemen called for Washington to revoke its labeling of the Houthis as a terror group as the move put “millions of lives at risk”.
The joint appeal was issued by Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and Norwegian Refugee Council, among others.
“This designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict,” said the 22 groups.
The Trump administration had exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices from its designation, but UN officials and aid groups said the carve-outs were not enough and called for the decision to be revoked.
Earlier this month, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, had also called on the USA to reverse the Trump administration’s stance.
The US State Department said on Friday that it has initiated a review of the designation and is working as quickly as it can to conclude the process and make a determination.
Since late 2014, Houthis have been running state affairs following the resignation of the Riyadh-back President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Months later in March 2015, the Saudi regime and a number of its allies launched the deadly war on Yemen to reinstall Hadi, but the campaign has flatly failed in the face of stiff resistance by the Yemeni armed forces.