WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday his administration is considering re-designating Yemen's Houthi movement as an international terrorist organization following drone and missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates claimed by the group.
His comment at a news conference came shortly after the Emirati Embassy said on Twitter that UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba urged the Biden administration to restore the designation in response to Monday's strikes on Abu Dhabi airport and a fuel depot.
Asked if he supported returning the Iran-aligned Houthis to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, from which they were removed nearly a year ago, Biden replied, "The answer is, it's under consideration."
But he conceded that "it's going to be very difficult" to end the conflict pitting the Houthis against Yemen's internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led military coalition, to which the UAE belongs.
Biden's comment reflected the lack of progress toward ending the war since he launched an initiative shortly after taking office a year ago to bolster U.N. efforts to restart peace talks and end what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian disaster.
The UAE welcomed Biden’s comment, the Emirati Embassy said on Twitter. The “case is clear – launching ballistic and cruise missiles against civilian targets, sustaining aggression, diverting aid to Yemeni people,” it said.
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, said on Twitter on Thursday that the United Nations and global community must not show leniency and hold the Houthi movement accountable because "it encourages other terrorist organisations to act similarly".
As part of the initiative he launched last year, Biden appointed veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking a special envoy. The State Department also reversed a last-minute Trump administration decision placing the Houthis on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups, subjecting them to financial sanctions.
Three people were killed in Monday's drone and missile attack claimed by the Houthis.
In response, the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday staged air strikes on the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, killing at least 20 people including civilians, according to Houthi media and residents - one of its deadliest attacks since 2019.
Otaiba held "broad" consultations with Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on the situation that included discussions of the Houthi attack, a National Security Council spokesperson said.
The Emirati Embassy said that Otaiba was accompanied by the top UAE intelligence official, Ali al Shamsi.
The embassy, in a second Twitter post responding to Biden's consideration of the terrorist designation, said Otaiba pressed the case for re-designating the Houthis in his meeting with Sullivan.
Lenderking began a new mission to the Gulf on Wednesday in a bid to reinvigorate the peace process and tamp down the surge in violence, the State Department said in a statement.
The envoy "will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive U.N.-led peace process," it said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Pentagon said.
"Austin conveyed his condolences for the loss of life, and underscored his unwavering support for the security and defense of UAE territory against all threats," the Pentagon said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Alexandra Alper, Idrees Ali, and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Andrea Shala, Lisa Barrington and Ghaida Ghantous;Editing by Mark Heinrich, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)