A career US diplomat said on Thursday that the State Department was still considering re-designating the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist organisation, more than a month after President Joe Biden said he was looking at the move.
Steven Fagin made the comments during his confirmation hearing before the Senate to serve as the US ambassador to Yemen.
Mr Fagin pledged that the Biden administration would “continue targeted designations of individuals and entities that seek to perpetuate conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen for their own gain".
“The possible designation of the Houthis as a [foreign terrorist organisation] is under review by the administration,” he told Republican Ted Cruz.
“My understanding is that the review is considering the anticipated impact of such a designation on the behaviour of the Houthis, as well as the anticipated impact on the humanitarian situation.”
The UAE asked the Biden administration to re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist group after the rebels launched attacks on Abu Dhabi in January following significant defeats at the hands of pro-government militia in Yemen’s oil-rich Shabwa province.
Mr Fagin condemned the Houthi ballistic missile and drone attacks against the UAE and Saudi Arabia as “terrorist attacks"'
But re-designating the rebels as a terrorist group would affect the transfer of humanitarian aid to Houthi-held areas, where about 70 per cent of the Yemeni population lives.
Mr Fagin also said that the “ongoing Houthi detention of current and former members of our local Yemeni staff in Sanaa is deplorable".
He said “the unlawful flow of weapons from Iran to the Houthis is also enabling the continued Houthi offensive in Marib, complicating efforts to get the parties to the negotiating table and extending the suffering of civilians".
“Strengthening enforcement of the targeted UN arms embargo for Yemen to cut off the flow of arms to the Houthis must be a priority," Mr Fagin said.
He previously served in the State Department’s office of Iranian affairs and as the charges d'affaires at the US embassy in Iraq.
Alina Romanowski, who Mr Biden has nominated to serve as his ambassador to Iraq, also testified before the Senate on Thursday.