Donald Trump said that he needed to help Saudi Arabia fight Iran in Yemen. Now his administration is downplaying Iran’s connections to the Houthi rebels.
Trump administration officials have made a sudden about-face from trying to crush the Houthi rebellion to extending an olive branch to the Iranian-backed rebels in an effort to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead on the war in Yemen.
America’s involvement in the war has allowed Saudi Arabia to carry out a brutal siege on Houthi-held areas, where tens of thousands of civilians have died from air raids and starvation. Defenders of the war have always cited Iran’s support for the Houthis as a justification for the Saudi war effort.
But the Trump administration no longer considers the Shiite Muslim rebel group to be an Iranian proxy, according to State Department officials.
“Not all Houthis support Iran,” said Denise Natali, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, at a Thursday morning 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.”
n September, Hook had written about Iran “controlling and deploying” the Houthis as a “terror front.”
The sudden policy change follows breakthroughs at the negotiating table between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi leadership.