Pompeo hits China, Iran, Cuba in last-minute sanctions push

Western Union, a US-based money transfer firm, shut its offices in Havana last November after US sanctions were imposed. The US announced new sanctions on Friday against Cuba's Interior Minister.
Western Union, a US-based money transfer firm, shut its offices in Havana last November after US sanctions were imposed. The US announced new sanctions on Friday against Cuba's Interior Minister.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed sanctions on three of his primary targets - China, Iran and Cuba - in a last-minute push aimed in part at boxing in President-elect Joe Biden.

Days before he turns in his keys at the State Department, Mr Pompeo vowed to punish China over its clampdown in Hong Kong - a stance backed by Mr Biden - but moved further away from Mr Biden's goal of easing tensions with Iran and Cuba.

He condemned as "appalling" the massive Hong Kong operation on Jan 6, in which China rounded up 55 people, including American lawyer John Clancey.

"We condemn PRC actions that erode Hong Kong's freedoms and democratic processes and will continue to use all tools at our disposal to hold those responsible to account," Mr Pompeo said on Friday, referring to the People's Republic of China.

President Donald Trump's administration slapped sanctions on six people over the detentions, including Mr Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong's sole delegate to China's top lawmaking body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

It earlier took action against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who acknowledged that, as a result, she was no longer able to use a credit card or hold a bank account.

China last year pushed through a security law in Hong Kong in response to widespread protests triggered by an extradition law.

Mr Antony Blinken, who will appear for a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday to be Mr Pompeo's successor, has vowed that the next administration "will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing's crackdown on democracy".

But the Biden administration is expected to shift course on Cuba and Iran, on which hardline stances have become points of pride in Mr Trump's Republican Party, which saw a boost in support from Cuban-Americans in Florida.

The Treasury Department said on Friday it was imposing sanctions on Cuba's Interior Minister Lazaro Alberto Alvarez Casas, days after Mr Pompeo said he was putting the island back on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Mr Pompeo pointed to the arrest in 2019 of Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was held in a prison run by the Interior Ministry "where he reported being beaten, tortured and held in isolation".

"The Castro regime's repression of fundamental freedoms requires the condemnation and action of all countries that respect human dignity," said Mr Pompeo, referring to former presidents Fidel and Raul Castro.

Mr Biden promised to look into human rights issues in Cuba and bring back some of former president Barack Obama's policies to normalise ties.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2021, with the headline 'Pompeo hits China, Iran, Cuba in last-minute sanctions push'. Subscribe