President Obama issued an executive order Wednesday allowing the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone obstructing the administration-backed political transition in Yemen.
The order could be used against U.S. citizens or residents found trying to interfere with the government transition of power agreed to last fall after an uprising forced then-President Al Abdullah Saleh to step down.
“The president took this step because he believes that the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, along with the urgent humanitarian and security challenges, cannot be addressed if political progress stalls,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
The presidential action is unusual because it’s designed to act as a deterrent and the administration has not determined specific names or organizations it’s trying to target.
With news earlier this month that authorities had thwarted a second attempt by Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to strike the U.S. with a sophisticated underwear bomb, the Obama administration wants to ensure that political chaos in Yemen does not disrupt international counter-terrorism efforts and continued cooperation with the government there.
U.S. drone strikes in the country have increased this year against members of AQAP in southern Yemen.
Even though Mr. Saleh finally resigned after several attempts to remain in power, a number of his relatives and supporters tried to hang onto their offices only leaving when the new president issued a decree forcing them out last month. Mr. Obama’s executive order is aimed at trying to keep them permanently on the sidelines.