Biden to review Houthi designation, curb support for coalition, and declassify CIA Khashoggi report

The new administration of US President Joe Biden intends to review the recent designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a “terrorist” group, and end support for the Saudi-led coalition as the devastating Yemen war approaches the end of its sixth year. It is also expected to declassify CIA report about Khashoggi murder.

According to Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, the new administration will “immediately” review the designation which came into effect yesterday as one of outgoing President Donald Trump’s parting shots. These included further sanctions on Iran, Cuba and China announced by the now ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“At least on its surface, [the designation] seems to achieve nothing particularly practical in advancing the efforts against the Houthis and to bring them back to the negotiating table while making it even more difficult than it already is to provide humanitarian assistance to people who desperately need it,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The US has provided the Saudi war effort with intelligence and logistical support since 2015, which has led to Yemen experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN.

Despite the Senate approving a bill in 2019 to end US support for the coalition, Trump vetoed efforts to curb support for the Saudis. Last month it was reported that the State Department had approved the sale of munitions worth $290 million to Saudi Arabia in what critics said was a rushed decision in the closing days of the Trump administration.

However, there are signs that this lucrative support for Riyadh may end once Biden becomes the 46th US President today. “The Houthis bear significant responsibility for what’s happened in Yemen,” explained Blinken, “but the way the [Saudi-led coalition] campaign has been conducted has also contributed significantly to that situation. And so our support should end.”

Biden to declassify report about Khashoggi murder

The incoming US administration under Joe Biden will declassify an intelligence report about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul more than two years ago. This news was revealed by Avril Haines, who is expected to serve as the Director of National Intelligence in Biden’s team.

Khashoggi was in self-exile and working as a columnist for the Washington Post when he was brutally murdered by a Saudi hit squad on 2 October 2018. Following months of investigations, it was reported that the operation was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his intelligence chiefs, according to audio recordings obtained by Turkish intelligence.

Saudi Arabia has always denied official involvement in the killing and claimed that the agents from the hit squad went rogue and acted independently. Eight of them were sent to prison in the Kingdom last year in what the UN and human rights organizations labelled a sham trial that let the senior people responsible get away, literally, with murder. Outgoing US President Donald Trump boasted of having “saved” Bin Salman from being held accountable for the killing.

Since then, there have been calls to release the classified intelligence findings and Biden has been urged to do so. The Trump administration blocked its declassification despite being legally required to release the document.

When US senator Ron Wyden asked Haines about this during her confirmation hearing yesterday, however, she confirmed: “Yes, senator, absolutely. We will follow the law.” Wyden commented afterwards that it is “refreshing to hear a straightforward commitment to follow the law.”

According to the Guardian, former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel said that Haines’ openness about publishing the report “is a useful way to put the question of accountability for Khashoggi’s murder in the public domain early in the new administration.”

Riedel predicted, though, that its release could open a new set of problems in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. “If the document fingers [Bin Salman] as responsible for the murder it will raise the question, what is Biden going to do to hold him accountable?”

It has been predicted by many that Biden will be less accommodating towards Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince than Trump has been during his presidency. The new president may seek to curb US arms sales to Riyadh after saying in last year’s election campaign that the international community must treat the Kingdom as a “pariah” state.