US weighs plan to place Cuba on terrorism sponsor list

WASHINGTON • Officials at the US State Department have drawn up a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a final-hour foreign policy move that would complicate plans by the incoming Biden administration to relax increased American pressure on Havana.

With three weeks left until Inauguration Day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must decide whether to sign off on the plan, according to two US officials. The move would also serve as a "thank you" to Cuban Americans and other anti-communist Latinos in Florida who strongly supported President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in the election last month.

It is unclear whether Mr Pompeo has decided to move ahead with the designation.

But Democrats and foreign policy experts believe that Mr Trump and his senior officials are eager to find ways of constraining President-elect Joe Biden's initial months in office and to make it more difficult for Mr Biden to reverse Trump-era policies abroad.

In recent weeks, Trump officials have also sought to increase American pressure and sanctions on China and Iran.

A finding that a country has "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism" - in the State Department's official description of a state sponsor of terrorism - automatically triggers US sanctions against its government.

If added to the list, Cuba would join just three other nations: Iran, North Korea and Syria.

The Biden administration could move quickly to take Cuba back off the list. But doing so would require more than the stroke of a presidential pen. The State Department would have to conduct a formal review, a process that might take several months.

Democrats on Tuesday assailed the Cuba proposal, criticising what they called an eleventh-hour foreign policy change that unfairly limits the incoming Biden team.

"It's another stunt by this president with less than 23 days to go," said Democratic Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, who is the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The State Department removed Cuba from its list of terrorism sponsors in 2015, after President Barack Obama announced the normalisation of relations between Washington and Havana for the first time since the country's 1959 communist revolution, which he called a relic of the Cold War.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'US weighs plan to place Cuba on terrorism sponsor list'. Subscribe