WHITE HOUSE – President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued an executive order freezing U.S. assets of anyone considered to be threatening the success of the U.S.-backed political transition in Yemen.
In the order, Mr. Obama declares a national emergency with respect to “actions and policies of certain members of the government of Yemen, and others threatening peace, security or stability by obstructing implementation of last year’s political transition agreement.”
In an accompanying note to Congress, he says the order does not target the entire country or its government, but those obstructing a transition “that meets the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change.”
The U.S. Treasury Department gets authority to freeze U.S.-based assets of anyone, “including political or military leaders of entities,” obstructing implementation.
No names are listed. But the order covers those who have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support” for obstructing the peaceful political process and transfer of power.
The subject did not come up during Wednesday’s White House news briefing, but State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland provided an overview of the order’s intent.
“This is a big umbrella set of authorities that can be used as necessary. Again I am not going to name names here, because we haven’t designated anybody yet, but it is definitely meant today as a message to those who are trying to block transition that we have this tool to use against them and that they should think again about the policies they are pursuing,” Nuland said.
Asked whether Washington believes there are individuals attempting to block Yemen’s transition, Nuland said the United States has had concerns about what she called “spoilers” and “foot draggers” and “actual opposition” from various groups.
The intent, she said, is not to discourage “healthy debate” in Yemen about implementing the political transition, but put on notice those who want to undo the agreement, stand in its way, or block it, and show that the U.S. is watching and “will take steps.”
President Obama’s order comes as the U.S. steps up counter-terrorism and military aid to Yemen as the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fights the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
President Hadi was vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down this past February after 33 years in power, under a U.S.-backed transition, following mass protests against the government.
President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, met with President Hadi and other officials in recent days in Yemen and was briefed on military operations.
In addition to Yemeni government air strikes, which some news reports say have been aided by U.S. intelligence assets, al-Qaida fighters in Yemen have been targeted by missiles from drones. U.S. military trainers recently returned to Yemen.
The United States, with help from foreign intelligence agencies, recently foiled a plot to blow up a civilian airliner said to have been planned by the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen.