Fury over Trump's 11th-hour Yemen, Cuba sanctions
After a little over a week in the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced new sanctions against the Cuban government and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, sparking a spate of criticism against recent moves to change U.S. foreign policy in Sept. . Hour triggered.
Congress was so angry, particularly at the Houthi name, that lawmakers cursed a group of State Department officials who informed them of the names Monday morning.
"You have to stop lying to Congress," a staff member told officials, according to two congressional assistants.
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Pompeo put Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, bringing with it the toughest US sanctions. The expulsion of the Houthis, a rebel group that controls over 80% of the Yemeni population, as a foreign terrorist organization will be particularly devastating, according to US officials and aid groups working in the war-torn country.
PHOTO: A boy drives Houthi supporters on the back of a patrol car during the funeral of Houthi fighters killed during the recent fighting against government forces in Sanaa, Yemen, on September 22, 2020. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters, FILE)
"This is pure diplomatic vandalism," said David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, adding on behalf of his staff in Yemen: "This designation makes their job next to impossible. ... (The) cost of terrorism designations in The middle of complex conflicts and humanitarian crises can be measured in terms of innocent lives lost. "
After almost six years of war, Yemen, home to 28 million people, is the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The United Nations has warned in recent weeks that alongside coronavirus and cholera, a collapsed economy, widespread malnutrition, and deadly attacks on civilians and civil infrastructure, it could soon face famine.
The Houthi rebels, increasingly armed by Iran since the beginning of the conflict, took control of most of the major cities in 2015. The United Nations-recognized government now controls a small majority of the territory, but despite the support of Saudi Arabia and the US, few large population centers in the United Arab Emirates, whose US-backed coalition has been bombing Yemen for years.
MORE: Aid groups urge US to stop arms sales and resume aid in Yemen
Both sides were charged with war crimes. But the Trump administration has fiercely defended the Saudi coalition, with Trump using his veto power to maintain U.S. aid and bypass Congress to sell the coalition billions in arms. Individual Houthi leaders have been sanctioned over the years, but Pompeo's decision to name the entire movement, officially known as Ansar Allah, essentially criminalizes working with them, which aid groups say they have to do.
This endangers the international flow of aid, food and medicine, on which more than 70% of the Yemeni civilian population depend at a time when humanitarian aid is already severely underfunded, also because the US has released hundreds of millions of aid supplies in the past year.
Legislature officials urged State Department officials to understand why Congress had not been informed of the decision months after the first press coverage, according to the two congressional assistants. When officials replied that any press leak was premature, a staff member interrupted them and told them to "stop lying."
PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 10, 2020 (Jacquelyn Martin / Pool / AFP via Getty Images, FILE).
Several employees asked the officers if they knew how many children would die as a result of this "political stunt," they added. Officials with the US Agency for International Development admitted the humanitarian impact of the sanctions was "catastrophic," according to an advisor. Foreign Policy magazine reported for the first time on the tense appeal.
"Yemen imports 90% of its food. Given Yemen's pre-existing famine, this designation will have a devastating effect on Yemen's food supplies and other critical imports unless the executive acts now to grant the necessary licenses. Waivers and adequate guidance prior to nomination, "two senior Republican lawmakers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, and senior Foreign Affairs Committee member of the House Michael McCaul, said in a statement.
These exceptions do not yet exist, but even if they do, humanitarian groups have warned that they will make little difference due to the legal hurdles they would have to overcome. The designation largely prevents them from negotiating with the Houthis about access to populations in need, makes it impossible to import goods, discourages banks or insurance companies from working with aid groups, or even triggers retaliation by Houthi forces.
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"The designations are intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks on the civilian population, infrastructure and merchant shipping," Pompeo said in a statement late Sunday evening, "and to advance efforts towards peaceful sovereignty." and the united Yemen, which is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors. "
During the same call for a briefing, State Department officials told Congress that Pompeo would re-list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation the Obama administration removed in 2015 as part of its diplomatic pledges to the island nation.
The designation limits support from the US and some international institutions such as the World Bank. criminalizes certain types of trafficking; and prohibits sales or exports of defense equipment, including "dual-use" items intended for civil and military uses.
PHOTO: People gather on a street amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Havana, Cuba, June 18, 2020. (Yander Zamora / EPA via Shutterstock)
In a statement Monday, Pompeo cited the Cuban government, which housed ELN negotiators, even after Colombia requested extradition for a deadly bomb attack and the housing of refugees wanted by US law enforcement, including murder.
"With this action we will again hold the Cuban government accountable and send a clear message: The Castro regime must end its support for international terrorism and the subversion of the US justice system," said Pompeo.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has labeled the decision "hypocritical" after Trump "instigated" a domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol last Wednesday.
MORE: US continues to restrict air traffic to Cuba to increase pressure: State Dept.
"It is important that the list of state sponsors of terrorism is used wisely to maintain its seriousness and integrity and that a country is never included on the list unless it is up to legal standard," he added and urged President-elect Joe Biden's team to add Cuba to their "long" to-do "list.
The Biden government will be able to reverse the decision, but due to legal requirements on the state sponsor of terrorism labels, it will take at least 45 days. This is one of several changes they may want to make as Trump has severely restricted U.S. travel to the country and all but cut U.S. remittances to the Cuban people.
However, it is an open question which of the Trump administration's recent foreign policy changes will lift Biden's policy, including another Pompeo change over the weekend - the lifting of all restrictions on U.S. officials' meeting and communication with Taiwanese officials. This move made it easier for the two sides to hold or communicate meetings, even though the US does not recognize Taiwan.
Anger over Trump's eleventh hour in Yemen, Cuba sanctions originally posted on abcnews.go.com
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