US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi militia as an international terrorist organization days after the Iran-backed group killed three people in a drone strike in the UAE.
Marking his first full year in office with a two-hour press conference, Biden focused on his domestic efforts and the fight against COVID-19, but also touched on foreign policy issues, mostly addressing the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and also taking questions on Iran and Yemen.
Weeks after taking office in 2021, Biden officially delisted the Houthi militia as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a designation put in place by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The US leader has also worked to bring Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.
Asked if he would redesigns the Houthis as a terrorist group, Biden replied: “It’s under consideration.”
Houthi rebels claimed credit for a cross-border drone strike on Monday that killed three migrant workers in the UAE.
Biden’s Special Envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was sent to the Gulf and London on Wednesday “to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN, senior regional government officials and other international partners,” according to a statement from US State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“The special envoy and his team will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process,” Price said.
Lenderking will also address “the urgent need to mitigate the dire humanitarian and economic crises facing Yemenis.”
Price quoted UN data released last week that shows 16 million people in Yemen need aid totaling about $3.9 billion.
“It is imperative that donors, especially regional donors, provide additional funding, and that all parties to the conflict take steps to improve humanitarian access and address Yemen’s fuel crisis,” the UN said.
Biden was also asked if he was making progress with Iran in efforts to force the regime to adhere to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal.
“It is not time to give up. There is some progress to be made,” he replied.
However, the lengthy press conference was clearly intended to highlight Biden’s achievements since being sworn in as president one year ago on Jan. 20, 2021.
Political analyst Dalia Al-Aqidi said Biden’s press conference sounded more like a campaign speech, and appeared to be orchestrated to allow him to address his political talking points as Democrats and Republicans prepare for a midterm election battle for control for the House and Senate this year.
“Basically, we just saw the first draft of his presidential campaign pitch, and I expect that America will hear the same speech over and over while the country is suffering from a stalling economy and colossal inflation,” said Al-Aqidi, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy.
She criticized Biden’s failure to address terrorist violence that resurfaced in Colleyville, Texas, this week when four members of a synagogue were held hostage until the gunman was killed by police.
The US leader confirmed he plans to run for re-election and will keep Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate. He also defended his role in the sudden US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden initially took questions from 11 reporters, who were on a list he held at the podium. Questions focused on the economy, mounting tensions with Russia over Ukraine, and growing polarization in the US. He acknowledged the need to get out of the White House and “speak directly” to the American people.
Halfway through the press conference, Biden accepted questions from other reporters who were sometimes openly critical of his performance.
The US leader insisted he has made significant progress easing the economic burden caused by the global pandemic, including creating 6 million jobs, reducing unemployment to 3.9 percent and getting 210 million Americans fully vaccinated.
Biden also claimed he is working to bring the country together, and blamed the failure to bridge the nation’s growing divide on Trump, citing private discussions he has had with several Republican senators who say they fear Trump will undermine their re-election if they support Biden’s agenda.
Uyghurs urge UN rights chief to ask hard questions in Xinjiang
Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.
The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.”
China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”
Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.
“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years.
The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary.
“I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.
Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.”
“I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP.
“If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.”
Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism.
It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.
An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites.
The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province.
Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access.
The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation.
Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.”
“I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added.
Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”
“There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.
In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say.
Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.
Moscow not sure it needs resumed ties with West, will work on ties with China
Russia’s Foreign Minister said on Monday that Moscow will consider offers of re-establishing ties with the West and think whether that is needed, but will focus on developing ties with China.
“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” Lavrov said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.
He also said Moscow’s goal now is to further develop ties with China.
“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster,” Lavrov said.
UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.
The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.
This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.
“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.
The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.
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