Washington Demands ‘Immediate Release’ of Relief Workers Detained by Houthis


The United States called on the Houthi group in Yemen to immediately release Yemeni aid workers, who also work with US and international relief organizations, detained arbitrarily in the capital Sanaa.

The US stressed the need to maintain the safety of humanitarian relief workers, and to cooperate with them instead of arresting and abusing them.

Ned Price, the official spokesman for the US State Department, said the US administration is deeply concerned by reports that “some of our local Yemeni employees are detained in Sanaa.”

He called for their immediate release, stressing the continued US support for the Yemeni people.

During a press conference, Price said the US has been exerting nonstop diplomatic efforts “behind the scenes” to release the detainees.

“We are still working on this critical issue. The majority of those arrested are no longer in detention,” he said, pointing to some progress.

He said the US is adamant to guarantee “the safety of those who serve the US government abroad, which is why we are actively involved in this, including through our international partners.”

Earlier, a State Department spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US will not stop its calls to release all individuals unjustly detained by the Houthi group in Yemen, “regardless of where they are or who detained them. Exercise of human rights, freedom of expression and religions must never be criminalized,” he said.

David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, for his part said Houthis have consistently proven rebellious, and are now playing to gain time while making “slow but steady progress on the battlefield.” He believes the Houthis have little incentive to sit for negotiations.

In an opinion article published by Foreign Policy magazine, Schenker said the US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, one of the “best and brightest” workers in the Middle East at the State Department was charged with the “unenviable” task of brokering an end to the seven-year war. But he is “not to blame,” because “successful diplomacy depends on effective influence and the tools that the state possesses.”

He added: “If they defeat the Yemeni national army in one of its last major strongholds in the north and take control of the energy center of Yemen, the Houthis would essentially have won the war. For Riyadh, Washington, and the Yemeni people, this represents a worst-case scenario. Even if the war were to end, the humanitarian situation would remain critical, with two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million citizens continuing to face famine and depending on the United Nations World Food Program for daily sustenance.”

Schenker believes “Yemen is yet another problem from hell” for the Biden administration. As with Afghanistan, the US government will likely soon be faced with the challenge of another “failed state” led by a “radical Islamic” ideology.

He urged the US administration to bring the Houthis back to the list of foreign terrorist organizations, a designation that Biden canceled upon taking office.

The government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi could still unite with Yemeni factions opposing the Houthis to launch a counteroffensive, “the fortunes will otherwise dramatically reverse. But the probable outcome is that Washington’s adversaries are going to win this war—and sooner rather than later. Given the bleak trajectory, it’s time for the Biden administration to craft a plan B to contend with a Yemen controlled by Iranian proxies,” Schenker stated.

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