Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- The Trump Administration has announced a change of approach that could be a major turning point in US policy toward Yemen, announcing that they no longer consider the Shi’ite Houthi movement in Yemen to be a proxy of the Iranian government.
“Not all Houthis support Iran,” said Denise Natali, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, at a briefing hosted by the newspaper Al Monitor.
“Iran clearly does not speak for the Houthis, nor has the best interests of the Yemeni people at heart,” said Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, at a press briefing later that day. “Iran is trying to prolong Yemen’s civil war to project power.”
In September, Hook had written about Iran “controlling and deploying” the Houthis as a “terror front."
The allegation was originally used by the Saudi government to justify its brutal Yemen War, and the US was only too willing to mirror it. This was in spite of the Houthis having substantial ideological differences to Iran, little direct contact, and not being the same type of Shiites.
The US have not explained their change in stance, but it may reflect Saudi Arabia’s ongoing peace talks with the Houthis, as the US cannot support a peace deal that involves an Iranian-linked faction.
However, arguing that the Yemen War has something to do with Iran was the only real justification the US had offered to get involved in the conflict in the first place, and if the Saudis fail to resolve the conflict diplomatically, it will be much more difficult for the US and its Western allies, France and Britain to justify continued involvement in the war.
The move may also reflect President Trump’s concern to show his natural supporters that he is not continuing needlessly with the unending wars he criticized so fiercely as a candidate. He is already working his way towards disengagement in Syria and Afghanistan.
The change of policy will cause wry smiles in Moscow. When the Houthis took over the capital in 2014, Moscow, despite being one of the few countries to maintain their embassy, refused to get involved and recommended Washington do the same.