Washington imposes sanctions on two Houthi commanders in Yemen

US special envoy Tim Lenderking voices disappointment after the Iran-backed group declined to meet him in Oman

Houthi supporters hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a protest against Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, Monday, May 17, 2021, in Sanaa, Yemen.  (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

The US on Thursday announced sanctions against two senior leaders of the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, saying its continuing offensive in Marib is exacerbating the humanitarian situation and paralysing diplomatic talks.

Supported and armed by Iran, the Houthis launched an assault on Marib in February and are now a few kilometres from the government-held city, the site of the only oil refinery in the north and a gateway to nearby oilfields.

The sanctions have been placed on Abd Al Karim Al Ghamari and Yusuf Al Madani, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said.

Mr Al Ghamari is being sanctioned “for his role in orchestrating attacks by Houthi forces impacting Yemeni civilians", Mr Blinken said.

“He most recently took charge of the large-scale Houthi offensive against Yemeni government-held territory in Marib governorate, as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia and neighbouring states.”

US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking first announced the sanctions in an earlier call with reporters.

“Marib is not going to fall any time in the foreseeable future. [The Houthis] are putting the lives of one million at risk,” Mr Lenderking said.

He said Washington was pushing for a ceasefire that would allow humanitarian relief into the country.

“If the Houthis continue to obstruct [this], it will be clear for the international community which party is not in favour of peace in Yemen.”

Mr Lenderking said Washington was “disappointed” by the Houthis’ latest actions, which include declining a meeting with the US negotiating team in Oman this month.

“We have gone out of our way by undesignating the organisation,” Mr Lenderking said, referring to the Biden administration’s decision to remove the group from the list of foreign terrorist organisations in February.

But despite this move and the US limiting support to Saudi Arabia in the conflict, the Houthis have continued to backtrack on their commitments, he said.

The US, Mr Lenderking said, “has levers to press” and Thursday’s sanctions fell into that category.

Mr Lenderking, who has so far made five trips to the region, said Washington is especially concerned about the Houthi offensive on Marib.

He said the indirect US-Iran nuclear talks taking place in Vienna were “the beginning of our work with Iran” to return to compliance with the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

But Mr Lenderking said he hoped that other destabilising behaviour by Iran would be addressed later.

“If Iran wants to show it can be [reasonable], this is a good time," he said.