US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking announces Washington will resume aid to Houthi enclaves in Yemen

The US special envoy for Yemen is reversing Trump administration aid policy for Houthi-held territory

Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr Ahmed Nasser al-Mohammad Al-Sabah receives US Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking. KUNA

The US will restore humanitarian assistance to Houthi-held territory in northern Yemen, Washington’s special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking announced on Friday.

"Just today, the US restored humanitarian assistance and funding in north Yemen to help meet the region's critical need," Mr Lenderking told an online panel at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "Only through a durable ceasefire can we hope to reverse the direct humanitarian crisis."

Mr Lenderking’s remarks came after his return from a two and a half-week trip to the Gulf to hammer out a ceasefire aimed at ending Yemen’s six-year civil that has pitted the Saudi-led coalition and internationally recognised government against the Houthi rebels.

“I’ve been intensively engaged with UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, the leadership in Saudi Arabia, Oman, as well as other regional states and parties to put the elements together for a nationwide ceasefire,” said Mr Lenderking, noting that he does not “publicise all those engagements".

Reuters reported earlier this month that Mr Lenderking met with Houthi negotiators in Oman.

And while US President Joe Biden ended offensive military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen last month, Mr Lenderking reserved some of his most biting comments for the Houthi rebels.

“We now have a sound plan for a nationwide ceasefire with elements that would immediately address Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation directly,” said Mr Lenderking. “That plan has been before the Houthi leadership for a number of days.”

“Tragically and somewhat confusingly for me, it appears that the Houthis are prioritising a military campaign to take Marib, home to over one million [internationally displaced persons], over suspending the war, including relief to the Yemeni people. I will return immediately when the Houthis are prepared to talk.”

The Trump administration suspended more than $50 million in humanitarian aid to Houthi-held territory in northern Yemen last year, citing the rebels’ restrictions on the assistance.

The Biden administration removed the Trump administration’s last-minute terrorist designation on the Houthis last month, largely to allow humanitarian assistance to resume in northern Yemen.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $191m in US assistance to Yemen at a UN pledging conference earlier this month, putting Washington on track to allocate more than $350m in aid to the war-ravaged country this fiscal year.

Humanitarian organisations frequently criticised the Houthis’ onerous assistance restrictions. But the aid groups and a group of US politicians in Congress called on both the Trump and Biden administrations to restore the assistance to Houthi-held territory, noting that 80 per cent of the Yemeni population lives in the war-ravaged north under rebel control.

“This interference delays and prevents vital aid from reaching those who need it, inhibits humanitarian actors from accurately implementing and assessing needs and puts our partners’ staff in danger as they face threats and harassment from authorities,” Sarah Charles, the assistant to the administrator at USAID’s bureau for humanitarian assistance, said at the Atlantic Council event.

“It has been most egregious in the north, where Houthi obstruction reached such heights last year that USAID made the difficult decision to partially suspend some NGO assistance. In recent months, we’ve seen some signs of decreasing interference in the north, though more progress is needed.”

Mr Lenderking told the council that Saudi Arabia backed his efforts.

“I can tell you from having spent a considerable amount of time in Riyadh just in the past couple weeks, the Saudi leadership is prepared to address the conflict in a way that maybe they weren’t prepared to six months ago or 12 months ago, and they’re providing full support for my efforts. And I think that is absolutely critical," he said.

"I’m looking for the same response from the other side. I’m eager for it.”

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