Biden admin's revolving door on terrorism label draws scathing criticism: 'New low'

A senator has slammed the Biden administration’s offer to reverse the Houthis’ designation as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group in exchange for guaranteeing an end to attacks against Red Sea shipping vessels. 

“The Houthi terrorists and their Iranian benefactors have tried to shut down global trade in the Red Sea with deadly consequences,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote in a post on social media platform X. “Appeasing and rewarding such behavior would be a new low for the Biden foreign policy team.”

During a dial-in press briefing on Wednesday night, U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen Timothy Lenderking told reporters that his hope as envoy “is that we can find diplomatic off-ramps to find ways to de-escalate and allow us to pull back eventually the designation and, of course, to end the military strikes on Houthis’ military capability.”

“We know that there is no military solution, and in that commitment, we are joined by all members of the P5 — Russia, China, France, the U.K. — united in this goal, and I think that’s very helpful for listeners to know that there’s a strong consensus in the international community and among key players to support the peace effort going forward,” Lenderking said. 

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In response to a follow-up question, Lenderking said, “We would certainly study that but not assume it’s an automatic thing.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking speaks during a conference on Yemen’s war hosted by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 30, 2022.

A top Air Force commander for the Middle East on Wednesday also suggested the Houthis may be running through their supply of drone swarms and anti-ship ballistic missiles as the pace of attacks has slowed, The Associated Press reported.

The State Department told Fox News Digital that the SDGT designation is the “appropriate tool at the moment to pressure the Houthis.” 

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“The U.S. government seeks to maximize its deterrent impact on the Houthis while mitigating impact on vulnerable Yemeni civilians to the greatest extent possible,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “We have taken this action in order to deny Ansarallah (the Houthis) the resources necessary to facilitate its terrorist activity, including its missile and drone attacks against international shipping.”

Houthi protest march in Yemen

Newly recruited Houthi fighters attend a protest march against the U.S.-led strikes on Yemen and the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip in Sanaa, Yemen, on Feb. 21. (AP/Osamah Abdulrahman)

“The ultimate goal of sanctions is to convince the Houthis to de-escalate and bring about a positive change in behavior,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and assess the group’s actions to inform our position going forward.”

Houthi supporters rally in Yemen

Houthi supporters attend a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, on March 8. (AP/Osamah Abdulrahman)

The Trump administration in January 2021 designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) after an attack on the airport in Aden, Yemen. Upon taking office, the Biden administration announced it would reverse the decision, citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

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The administration in January relisted the Houthis as an SDGT after the group refused to relent its attacks against shipping vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which the Houthis claimed were related to or supporting Israel.

Damage to M/V Genco Picardy

The Genco Picardy sustained fire damage during a Houthi attack in January. (Indian Navy)

The U.S. and the U.K. repeatedly warned the Houthis against attacking shipping vessels, calling the attacks “a clear example of terrorism and a violation of international law” as well as “a major threat to life, global commerce and … the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said it would provide several counterterrorism general licenses following the Houthi change in status, which former National Security Council official Richard Goldberg called “a bait and switch.” 

“They know FTO status would put maximalist pressure on the Houthis, which is why they won’t do it,” Goldberg, now serving as a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital at the time.

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“Why avoid FTO? It’s the same reason they delisted in the first place,” Goldberg said. “They want the Houthis legitimized enough to be a part of the governing structure in Yemen. They’ll issue all kinds of OFAC licenses to mitigate the SDGT designation, which they couldn’t do with an FTO designation.”

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