Home United States Senior Administration Officials On Yemen

Senior Administration Officials On Yemen

Senior Administration Officials On Yemen

MODERATOR:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s background call on Yemen.  This call will be on background attributable to senior administration officials, and it is embargoed until 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, on Wednesday, January 17th.

For your information only and not for reporting, joining us on the call this evening will be: from the National Security Council, [Senior Administration Official One]; from the State Department, [Senior Administration Official Two]; and from the Department of Treasury, [Senior Administration Official Three].

We’ll take brief opening remarks from each of our speakers, then we’ll turn it over to all of your questions.  And so with that, let’s turn it over to Senior Administration Official One from the NSC to kick us off.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great, thank you, and thank you all for joining.  As you’ll be aware, over the past months, Yemen-based Houthi militants have engaged in unprecedented attacks against U.S. military forces and international maritime vessels operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.  These attacks fit the textbook definition of terrorism: they have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners; jeopardized global trade; and threatened freedom of navigation.

The United States and the international community have been united in our response and in condemning these attacks in the strongest terms and have taken extensive diplomatic action to counter these attacks.  Last month, the United States operated – launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a coalition of more than 20 nations committed to defending international shipping and deterring Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.  The U.S. also joined more than 40 nations in condemning Houthi threats.  This month, together with 13 allies and partners, the U.S. issued an unequivocal warning that Houthi rebels would bear the consequences if their attacks did not cease.  And last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Houthis end attacks on merchant and commercial vessels.

Last week, U.S. military forces, together with the United Kingdom with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by Houthi rebels to endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways.  Despite countless warnings, however, and diplomatic engagement, these attacks from Houthis have not stopped.  In fact, yesterday the Houthis launched an ASBM at a U.S.-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged merchant vessel, and this morning they launched one at a Greek-owned, Maltese-flagged merchant vessel.  Fortunately, no one was injured and the vessel remains seaworthy.

In response to these ongoing and escalating attacks, tomorrow the United States will designate Ansar Allah, or more commonly known as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224.

Now, let’s be clear:  We are taking this action because of the Iranian-backed Houthis’ continued attacks on the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.  These attacks are a clear example of terrorism and a violation of international law and a major threat to lives, global commerce, and they jeopardize the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

We have taken this action to pressure the Houthis to cease their terrorist activities, including missile and drone attacks against international shipping.  The ultimate goal of sanctions is to convince the Houthis to de-escalate and bring about a positive change in behavior.  If the Houthis cease their attacks, we can consider delisting this designation.  We will continue to monitor the situation and assess the group’s actions to inform our position going forward.

Now, importantly, this destination will take effect 30 days from now to allow us to ensure robust humanitarian carveouts are in place so our action targets the Houthis and not the people of Yemen.  We are rolling out, as we take this action, unprecedented carveouts and licenses to help prevent adverse impacts on the Yemeni people.  The people of Yemen should not pay for the price – pay the price for the actions of the Houthis.

We are sending a clear message:  Commercial shipments into Yemeni ports on which the Yemeni people rely for food, medicine, and fuel should continue and are not covered by our sanctions.  This will be in addition to the existing humanitarian carveouts that exist in many sanctions programs for food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance.

The United States is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian assistance for Yemen.  We recognize the grave humanitarian situation in Yemen and we are taking many steps to ensure these sanctions do the least harm to the Yemeni people.  The United States has continued to work with our partners to use all available tools to promote accountability for the Houthi attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea and bring an end to such attacks.

With that, I’m going to pause and turn it over to my colleague, [Senior Administration Official Two], from the State Department.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Hi, and as my colleague noted, the Secretary of State will announce tomorrow the designation of Ansar Allah, as noted, again, commonly referred to as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, or SDGT, and that’s pursuant to Executive Order 13224, as amended.  And as noted, the designation will become effective 30 days from today, which is approximately February 16th.  And we are working to mitigate any adverse impacts of the designation on the people of Yemen, as just noted.

Ansar Allah is being designated as an SDGT for having committed or attempted to commit, posing a significant risk of committing, or having participated in training to commit, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of the United States’ nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.  And at this time, for more specific information on the general licenses and other mitigation measures, I’ll now turn it over to my colleague from Treasury.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Thanks so much, [Senior Administration Official Two].  As [Senior Administration Official One] mentioned, the administration is prioritizing the mitigation of unintended adverse impacts from this designation that may otherwise arise for the people of Yemen.  OFAC will be publishing additional broad general licenses – five broad general licenses that authorize certain transactions related to the provision of food and medicine and medical devices, fuel, personal remittances – that’s funds that could be sent by individual to individual, telecommunications, operations at ports and airports.

These broad general licenses will be in addition to existing humanitarian carveouts that exist under our terrorism sanctions program that authorize activity by the U.S. Government that includes USAID implementers and contractors as well as the operations of nongovernmental organizations and certain international organizations.

During the 30-day, these broad general licenses will become effective concurrent with the effective date of the designation, which will be 30 days – approximately February 16th.  During this 30-day implementation delay, the U.S. Government will conduct outreach with stakeholders crucial to facilitating humanitarian assistance and the commercial import of critical commodities into Yemen.  That includes with financial institutions, commercial shippers, NGOs, UN humanitarian assistance agencies, and other critical international organizations that deliver vital humanitarian assistance to Yemen.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  If our AT&T moderator wouldn’t please mind just repeating the instructions for joining the question queue.

OPERATOR:  Absolutely.  It will be 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  You may withdraw your question by repeating the command, and please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Again, it’d be 1 then 0.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Let’s please go to the line of Missy Ryan from the Washington Post.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) very much.  Just wanted to see if you guys could comment on why the administration – what were the substantive reasons, if there were any – if there were substantive versus sort of procedural or, like, concerns-about-impact reasons – for doing the SDGT versus the FTO designation, because obviously there’s been call – calls for that.  And does this mean that the administration review of that step, which, as I understood, had been ongoing, is over?  Is this – is this the conclusion of that, or is there still the possibility that the FTO step will be taken sometime soon?  Thanks.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Okay, maybe I’ll start – oh, go ahead.  Go ahead, [Senior Administration Official One].


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, go ahead, [Senior Administration Official One].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Okay.  I’ll start and then [Senior Administration Official Two] will, I’m sure, supplement with maybe a better answer.  So I think – I think we believe that the SDGT designation is the appropriate tool at the moment to pressure the Houthis.  And I think this is – as with all sanctions, we are looking to make sure that our sanctions are effective in putting pressure on an actor to cease activity that are – is problematic to achieve the foreign policy goals.  We think the SDGT does that in a number of ways, including cutting off Houthis from financing, putting pressure on them, and calling out their terrorist behavior in a clear manner.

I think we are always trying to make sure that the impact of our sanctions is – it’s used for the desired foreign policy effect while minimizing unintended consequences.  And the SDGT allows us the possibility of making sure that we are continuing to – in our efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen to deliver humanitarian assistance, to make sure that there aren’t unintended consequences for the humanitarian situation and the people of Yemen.

And so I think the – the where we’ve come to is I think we do think that the SDGT provides better flexibility to achieve the aims that we have in terms of carving out and safeguarding humanitarian assistance as well as the broader well-being of the people of Yemen and targeting the action towards the Houthis while still achieving our foreign policy aims, which is to call out the Houthis’ actions for what they are, which is unacceptable terrorism.

[Senior Administration Official Two], you may have things to add on top of that.  Let me turn it back to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, that’s a perfect answer.  I think it’s just a carefully calibrated action to maximize, again, the deterrent impact while mitigating impact on vulnerable Yemeni civilians.  As always, we do continue to monitor, and we will in this case, Ansar Allah’s destabilizing activity against peaceful maritime trade, and then continue to calibrate its response accordingly if we choose to do so.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Can we please go to the line of Simon Lewis from Reuters?

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  Yeah, I hope you can hear me.  Yeah, just a couple of questions very quickly.  Given that you’re expressing confidence that you’re able to have these carveouts that will avoid impact on the humanitarian situation, well, why wasn’t the administration sort of able to do carveouts I guess in the first place when these designations were removed two years ago, three years ago now?  Why at that time couldn’t you do these carveouts if they’re, as you say, sort of likely to avoid the humanitarian impacts?

And I wondered also if any of you are able to talk about the impact this could have on the talks towards a peace deal between the Houthis and the Saudis.  Is this potentially going to disrupt those discussions?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  [Senior Administration Official Two], do you want me to start again?  I’m happy to flip the order – switch the order.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, go for it, and then I can – I can also talk about the second question a little bit.  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great, sounds good.  So I think – I think both the questions are in fact in some ways related, but I think the key thing for us is I think we think that it is the correct step, and it was the correct step in 2021, to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and SDGT designations for the Houthis.  That was made by the – a decision that the Secretary of State made in recognition of a very dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, and the revocations were intended to ensure that relevant U.S. policies weren’t impeding assistance.

I think that there are a couple of things that have changed in the situation at this moment.  First of all, there’s been a resumption of commercial shipping to Yemen of crucial goods, although we remain concerned about the humanitarian situation, which explains the unprecedented steps that we are taking in conjunction with this action.  And I’ll turn to [Senior Administration Official Three] as well to add anything there on the details of why we think those will be effective.

I think that allows us to think about how do we make sure that we – or maximize the chances that this action is not going to set back the humanitarian situation, although of course we’re going to monitor it, and it’s something that we’re going to have to work toward.

I think the context is also one in which the recent attacks since November are really unacceptable.  We cannot sit idly by and watch what the Houthis are doing in the Red Sea and not recognize their actions for what they are, and so I think we have tried to design in this action a way to take forward what would be a natural response, which is to designate the Houthis, who are day in, day out committing terrorism in the Red Sea at the moment, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, while making sure that given what we have learned, given how we are – the evolving situation on the ground in Yemen and trying to find a way forward, using unprecedented carveouts to minimize the humanitarian consequences that we saw with the Trump administration’s designation.

Let me turn to [Senior Administration Official Two] to see if she has anything to add, and also [Senior Administration Official Three] if there’s anything she wanted to add on the carveouts.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  I don’t have anything to add, so I don’t know if you want to turn to Treasury before I answer the question on the peace deal.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I – thanks, [Senior Administration Official Two].  I mean, happy to jump in, just a little more context on the authorizations.  I think we – we had an extensive engagement even after the previous designation with the NGO community; have also sort of closely studied trade flows, et cetera, and what is most critical for the people of Yemen, and fuel is one of those.  So you’ll see a fuel authorization, and that’s sort of in response to what we see, critical needs on the ground.

You also have this delay in effectiveness of 30 days, and what this does is buys us additional space to have these critical conversations with key interlocutors for both humanitarian and commercial trade to make sure that we can craft any additional authorizations to make the mitigation as effective as possible.

Over to you, [Senior Administration Official Two].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Hi, so on – just on – I’m not the expert on the peace deal, but I can say that the United States remains committed to resolving the conflict in Yemen and supports efforts by Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UN, and others to reach a durable ceasefire beyond the current truce in Yemen, and an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni peace process.  So we are designating Ansar Allah – again, often known as the Houthis – because of its terrorist activities that’s been outlined here, notably its continued and indiscriminate attacks on merchant vessels and international shipping in the Red Sea.  Such activity is incompatible with pursuing peace in Yemen and hinders further progress on implementing the roadmap agreement.  Thanks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to the line of Shannon Crawford from ABC News?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) doing this call.  A couple questions.  The Secretary of State said today that the reason for the U.S. strikes on Houthi sites was for the purposes of getting them to stop attacks on commercial shipping, but there’s been a lot of conversation from the SAOs too about how many of their capabilities were degraded.  But we’re talking about a penalty that takes effect in 30 days, so is there an acknowledgment from or an understanding that – from the administration that the strikes won’t be enough to stop the attacks?

And also I was wondering if you could get a little bit more specific about what exactly you would have to see to consider removing the designation.  Is it just the Houthis stopping attacks for a period of time, or are there going to be other – kind of a different rubric for that?  Thanks so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Maybe I’ll start off again.  So I think I would think about it slightly differently from the way that you posed that question.  It’s absolutely not the case that our delayed implementation is around some sort of expectation on the rest of our efforts, and those efforts, as you mentioned, include the strikes on Houthi sites and capabilities, and specifically equipment and staging areas that are used to attack ships.  They also include the diplomatic efforts that are ongoing and including the coalition that we’ve built with many, many partners, Security Council resolutions, and other pieces.  We see these sanctions as one piece – and that is often how we see sanctions – of a broader effort to try to bring the Houthis back from the terrorist attacks that they are currently committing and convince them to cease their illegal actions.

I think the 30-day implementation period is not some sort of prediction around what may happen in those 30 days, but instead a real acknowledgment that we need to do some work to make sure that this designation impacts the Houthis, puts pressure on them, while absolutely minimizing potential impact on the people of Yemen.  And delayed implementation is a tool that we have in our sanctions programs, so [Senior Administration Official Three] may want to speak more on the technical details there, but we tend to use it in cases where there is reason to have outreach – for example, to commercial shippers who are shipping food into Yemen; to humanitarian partners who – on whom we rely to deliver crucial aid in Yemen to make sure they understand what the impact of the restrictions is and what it should not be, and also to make sure that we’ve calibrated those licenses and carveouts appropriately.  And given the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, which remains a focus for the United States, we wanted to be extra careful.  So I would just really separate that out.

Absolutely, if we saw a – as we said – I said at the top, if we saw a cessation of Houthi attacks on ships, we are willing to relook at this designation.  It is very much targeted on that specific terrorist behavior.  We are also – would be willing to look at it not coming into effect.  If the Houthis stopped tomorrow, that is something that we, again, would be willing to look at.  We are absolutely targeting the cessation of these attacks rather than a broader suite of behavior with these sanctions.  And the 30 days is not, again, some sort of deadline; it is really just the implementation period that we thought was necessary to make sure that we could live up to what we are pledging to do, which is try to minimize as best we can any adverse impact on the people of Yemen.

I don’t know, [Senior Administration Official Three], if you wanted to say anything more on that delayed implementation, or [Senior Administration Official Two], if you wanted to add.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  That’s right, [Senior Administration Official One].  I mean, we use it in select and distinct situations, including those that not only do we have the need to make sure that the humanitarian situation has all the mitigation it needs, but also in situations where we’re not concerned about asset flight.  So it’s – this is a group that doesn’t hold their assets in the U.S., for example, that risks the movement of assets out of the U.S.  So that is another factor that goes into our thinking of whether a delayed implementation is a – is the right approach.  Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  And I don’t have anything else to add.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to the line of Joseph Haboush from Al Arabiya?

QUESTION:  Yeah, thanks for doing this.  Two quick ones.  Could you talk about, if you’ve reached out to our U.S. Gulf partners ahead of the move, what their reaction has been?  And then secondly, can you talk about any pushback by U.S. diplomats or State – at State or elsewhere in the administration against making this move?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  [Senior Administration Official Two], I don’t know if you want to take that one, as it’s State Department outreach.  I would confirm that as with our normal sanctions outreach, we are reaching out to our partners, including in the region.  We – normally, we conduct notifications.  We don’t typically talk about specific reactions of our partners, trying to keep our diplomatic conversations diplomatic.  But let me turn to [Senior Administration Official Two] in case she has anything to add from the State Department perspective.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, no, no, that’s absolutely correct.  We do – tend to do it on all of our designations, but in particular this one we usually reach out to key partners.  We would not be able to speak to the reactions, and I’m not going to speak to any  internal conversations or pushback within State or elsewhere.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Tom Bateman from BBC?  Oh, I’m sorry, I think he – we lost him.  He dropped from the queue.  Can we please go to Jeff Schogol from Task and Purpose?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) against the Houthi have not stopped them from continuing to launch missiles and continuing to attack shipping.  What makes you think this will deter the Houthi?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great, thanks for that question.  Look, I think – I think as I said in response to one of the previous questions – and I’ll turn to my colleagues as well to add – that this is one piece of a broader effort.  I think often our sanctions are not best seen in isolation but part of a broader strategy.  I think the key thing for us is to make sure that it’s very clear how we view the Houthi behavior, and designating Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist is part of an overall strategy to put pressure – financial pressure, diplomatic pressure – to make clear how we view these actions and how we – and to also create broader effects for the Houthis.

I think we wouldn’t see that as something that we would view in isolation.  It’s part of a broader strategy that also includes a military intervention as well as other actions that we’ve taken to try to restore safety for commercial shipping in the west – in the Red Sea.  That remains our goal and we are going to continue, as we usually do in an important area where we do need to stand up for the rights of commercial ships and the safety of American personnel.  We are going to take a multipronged strategy, and this is one piece of it.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Can we please go to Elizabeth —

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  [Senior Administration Official Two], I don’t know if there’s something —

MODERATOR:  Sorry.  Anyone else?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, I can just – I mean, I’ll highlight just in general the sanctions – these terrorist designations aim to highlight the malign activity of and isolate Ansar Allah and the individuals involved with Ansar Allah.  It enables coordinated action across the U.S. Government and with our international partners to disrupt terrorist activities.  It denies target access to the U.S. financial system.  It enables the imposition of sanctions on other bad actors who support them, and it provides an additional basis for U.S. law enforcement action.  But it is really holding them accountable for its activities in the region and attempting to disrupt terrorism and terror threats.  But it is not isolated by itself.  Again, it is part of a broader strategy.  So those are just additional pieces too that that designation provides.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Can we please go to the line of Elizabeth Hagedorn from Al-Monitor?

QUESTION:  Hi.  You said this label would help cut off Houthi financing.  Can you elaborate on how they’re using the international financial system and why this tool is needed when you already have sanctions on the books, some of which were imposed recently, aimed at disrupting their financial networks?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great.  [Senior Administration Official Three], did you want to lead off on that given that it’s a Treasury question?  Or I’m happy to jump in.  Why don’t you lead and I’ll jump in after?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Sure.  Designating an entity in connection with other – other pieces of its network is one – is – it’s – when we look at taking down a network, it’s not just the piece parts but it’s the entity as well.  So while you’re correct that there are times and movement of funds that may be through front companies or facilitators, the entity itself in doing transactions with the quasi-government operations of the entity, et cetera, that might fall squarely within transferring money to the entity, it’s critical that that designation be out there globally.

And even if the transaction is not flowing through the U.S. financial system, large banks that operate throughout the world often ingest our risk and put guidance through their AML/CFT factors, et cetera.  So we do think that it will have an impact even if a lot of these transactions that are conducted may be with front companies.  It’s a critical piece of the entire puzzle when you’re looking to stop financial flows to an entity.  Over.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Yeah, I would just add to that I think in terms of how we’re thinking about it and some of the efforts that we’ve put in, obviously we are absolutely concerned that this might, if not for the humanitarian carveouts and delayed implementation, have – have actually too much of an effect and actually spill over in terms of harm for the people of Yemen.  So I think we do think that this will have an effect on – on Houthi finances.

That’s not to say that we don’t have other sanctions in place that are relevant, but we do think that this is an impactful designation and is also important really for many of the reasons that [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned, including coordination and clarity both within the U.S. Government and with allies and partners in terms of how we are viewing the attacks that we’ve seen in the Red Sea.

MODERATOR:  Can we please go to the line of Cindy Saine from Voice of America?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) to anyone who can answer.  Can you talk about the destabilizing role of Iran behind these Houthi attacks, and do you think that this designation will impact Iran’s actions?  And what options are available to the U.S. to counter that?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great, thanks.  Maybe I’ll lead, but then, [Senior Administration Official Two], you should jump in as well.  Look, I think we’ve been very clear that we see that these attacks have been enabled by and supported by Iran.  I think we’ve been very clear also around Iran’s role in supporting Houthi acts of terrorism and destruction more broadly.  I think this, again, designation helps to provide more clarity about how we are seeing the Houthis themselves.  I think you will note – and actually, to the previous question – we do have a number of sanctions in place that are targeting and trying to – already they cut off support from Iran to the Houthis and also the shipment of components of missiles and drone components from Iran, so we have a number of pieces here.

I do think that this designation is important in this broader context, again, to clarify how we view the Houthi attacks and also to have some of those real impacts that [Senior Administration Official Two] enumerated earlier on the call, which also will make things somewhat more difficult and impede Iranian support.  Again, it is part – as we think about how do we target and discourage Iran from continuing its support for attacks on commercial vessels via their enabling actions for the Houthis, I think providing a comprehensive strategy and having this one piece of it is, I think, the way that we view this.  So – but I think, [Senior Administration Official Two], you may have more to add.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Not much more.  I mean, you’re right, we believe this designation will apply additional pressure on the Houthis to change its behavior and turn away from Iran, and then for the Houthis to become a constructive actor in the UNSC process.  I mean, they currently use IRGC funding, training, and weapons to destabilize Yemen and engage in terrorist activities or terrorism that affects the region.  So we will continue to also counter and blunt Iranian malign influence wherever we can.  So, of course, the choice to move away from Iran is now in the hands of the Houthis.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Great, and we are running a bit short on time.  I know there’s still a number of folks in the queue, so we’ll try to get to as many as possible.  Can we please go to Laura Seligman from Politico?

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  I wanted to just ask – re-ask, I guess – a question that was asked earlier about the potential impact of this on the peace deal with Saudi.  I know that the – taking the Houthis off the FTO list was part of the reason that there was a ceasefire that was agreed to, so can you just address any more specifically the concern that this might kick off another round of fighting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  [Senior Administration Official Two], did you want to go first on that?  I’m happy to jump in after you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, I mean, I’m not the expert.  I just – again, we – the U.S. still supports reaching a durable peace in Yemen, and these ongoing attacks are incompatible with the peace in Yemen.  So if they choose to focus on pursuing peace in Yemen – the Houthis – the U.S. can work with them to support implementation through licenses or other measures.  So I – aside from the fact that we do support the peace process, we are looking for them to change their behavior.  But over to you, [Senior Administration Official One], to have more.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  No, [Senior Administration Official Two], that’s helpful, and I think I was going to say something very similar.  I think this – our sanctions are not designed specifically to impede the implementation of a peace deal but instead designed to try to bring the Houthis back to a place and move them – get them away from the terrorist activity which we think is incompatible with peace.  We are still very committed from the White House and across the U.S. Government to resolving the conflict in Yemen in a durable way, and we are prepared, as we move down the path of this designation, to also consider whether any licenses or carveouts might be appropriate depending on the circumstances as it pertains to the peace deal.  The sanctions per se will not impede the peace deal, and we do have the tools that would be needed if we needed to facilitate any elements of implementation if that were appropriate.

On the other hand, exactly as [Senior Administration Official Two] has just said, I think we thought it was very important actually to preserve the prospect of peace, to really be very clear around the need for the Houthis to cease this terrorist activity and move away from the attacks that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  And unfortunately, we only have time for one more question, and that will go to Hiba Nasr from Asharq News.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  Thanks for taking my question.  Actually, it was asked but I will follow up.  Obviously, this step would have its impact on diplomatic engagement with the Houthis.  Can you – can we consider it a clear – that all the diplomatic ways are already exhausted?

And when you say it is one piece of a broader strategy, what do you mean?  Can you elaborate a little bit more?  What do we expect in case their behavior didn’t change?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great.  [Senior Administration Official Two], did you want to start on that one?  Or I’m happy to jump in.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, I mean, I don’t think – we’re always – with the State Department, we always are looking for diplomatic opportunities to continue to engage and work with international partners and multilateral institutions to address both the international – the challenges with the international shipping in the Red Sea and addressing Houthis’ terrorist behavior.  We do work with international partners, again, when we talk about these designations and looking at countries to possibly do some more actions.  But again, this is part of a broader effort to look at all ways to engage to get them to stop this activity in the Red Sea and their destabilizing terrorist behavior.  But I’ll turn to [Senior Administration Official One] if she wants to talk a little bit about what happens if they don’t.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure, sure.  And maybe just to start off, just to be clear, when we pursue a sanctions designation, it does not foreclose the ability of the United States to continue to talk with that entity and to continue diplomatic outreach and to continue to offer a path back towards diplomacy.  In fact, we see this designation as hopefully being something that pushes us on a path that could eventually do the opposite.  I think we think it’s very important to react and to protect, as the President said, shipping; to protect the international waterways and to protect U.S. personnel.  That is incredibly important and we can’t let attacks that are unprovoked on commercial ships, on civilians who are operating those ships, and on U.S. personnel to go unanswered.

I think, that said, I would be very clear that designating an entity or even an individual does not stop the United States Government from continuing to talk to that individual or that entity, and I think we would see this as something that we would urge the Houthis to cease their attacks and we would like to be able to continue to think about our engagement in a way that directs us towards a durable peace in Yemen.  So that’s not something that we’re turning away from with this designation.  I do think we think of it as part of a broader strategy.

When I spoke of broader strategy, I think you’re already seeing the pieces of it.  We’re pursuing a diplomatic strategy to make sure that we have a coalition of partners around the world.  We’re pursuing a strategy in the UN consistent with international law and have a UN Security Council – just this week – resolution calling on the Houthis to cease their attacks, as well as other UN Security Council designation back in December.  So a strategy at the UN, a diplomatic strategy with the coalition of partners across the world, a coalition working to protect freedom of navigation, and then we have, as you will all be aware, engaged in a military response to try to degrade the capabilities and directly prevent Houthis from continuing to attack commercial ships.

So I think we have a pretty comprehensive strategy already underway.  Our goal is to continue to make clear the United States is going to protect freedom of navigation, protect our personnel, protect civilians from terrorist attacks in international waters, and I think you’ll continue to see us think about the tools in our toolkit and deploy them in a way that is well-synced and coordinated across the sanctions, military, and diplomatic space.

MODERATOR:  Great.  And unfortunately, that does conclude the time we have for this call.  As a reminder, this evening’s call was on background to senior administration officials, and it is embargoed until 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow.  Thank you all so much for joining us and thank you to our speakers.


Official news published at https://www.state.gov/senior-administration-officials-on-yemen/