President Donald Trump’s administration enters his final week in office amid a stream of foreign policy activity, even as the president faces possible accusations and widespread criticism at home during chaotic scenes of riots in the nation’s capital.
This week, the administration designated Cuba as the state sponsor of terrorism and the Yemeni Houthi militant organization as a terrorist organization. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also lifted the curb on official U.S. contacts with Taiwanese officials this weekend and on Tuesday accused Iran of becoming a new “home base” for the al-Qaeda terrorist group.
The cascade of developments has angered US allies and enemies awaiting Trump̵
An unnamed U.S. official speaks Foreign policy described the actions as “fire sales diplomacy.”
Sunday’s announcement to list the Iranian – backed Houthi movement – officially called Ansar Allah – as a terrorist group has raised concerns at home and abroad about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, where more than 10 million people after years of war are on the brink of war. Famine according to the UN.
A statement from the European Union said the decision to blacklist the Houthis “risks making UN-led efforts to reach a comprehensive solution to the Yemen conflict more difficult.”
The statement said the US move “would complicate the necessary diplomatic engagement with Ansar Allah and the work of the international community on political, humanitarian and development issues.”
The humanitarian situation is particularly urgent, the statement said. “The designation is likely to have disruptive effects on the delivery of humanitarian aid funded by the international community and further exacerbate the economic crisis resulting from over five years of conflict.”
International aid groups also expressed their dismay. Norwegian Refugee Council said the decision “will prevent aid agencies’ ability to respond and without further safeguards and broader exceptions for the commercial sector, Yemen’s faltering economy will be given a further devastating blow.”
Cuba was then added to the list of state sponsors of terror on Monday, joining Syria, Iran and North Korea. The Trump administration has rolled back ties with Cuba and regretted the bilateral thaw under President Barack Obama to the dismay of liberals in the United States and allies in the EU, who celebrated a milestone agreement with Cuba in 2017.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez dismissed the decision as “political opportunism”, which would be “recognized by those who genuinely care about the plague of terrorism and its victims.”
Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that he was “outraged” by the appointment, especially as he came so soon after the uprising and storm of the Capitol in Washington, DC last week.
“It is important that the list of state sponsors of terrorism is used with care to maintain its seriousness and integrity, and that a country is never added to the list unless it meets the legal standard,” Meeks said. “I urge President-elect Biden to add the reversal of today’s foreign policy failure to his long ‘to do’ list when he takes office.”
Pompeo then told reporters on Wednesday that Iran has become the new “home base” for the al-Qaeda group, claiming that the terrorist organization is embedded in Tehran and is allowed to operate there by the regime. The allegations were dismissed as “warming lies” by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Pompeo confirmed that the top commander of Al-Qaeda, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, had been killed in Tehran in August – allegedly by Israeli agents – where he had been granted a residence permit and protection by the Iranian regime.
But Pompeo did not present any new new evidence that al-Qaeda had moved key operations to Iran, even though some of its members live there. The group still has a significant presence in the Syrian province of Idlib, Yemen and the Sahel region of North Africa, all regions where it continues to have territory and launch armed operations. The same does not apply to Iran.
Pompeo’s claims were met with skepticism, and – like extended sanctions against Iranian targets and military status in the Persian Gulf – they seemed to at least partially undermine Biden’s expected efforts to re-engage with Tehran.
Among those who denied the allegations was Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Zamir Kabulov, who told Sputnik that the allegations were “absolutely unfounded and unreasonable.” Asked whether he had seen any new evidence, Kabulov replied: “There is absolutely no information.”
Russia is among the signatories of the joint comprehensive action plan with the nuclear deal with Iran, from which Trump withdrew in 2018. Along with other signatories China, France, Germany and Britain, Russia has consistently advocated that Iran and the United States return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Russia, China and European parties have repeatedly criticized Trump and his staff for their “maximum pressure” strategy, which seeks to collapse the Iranian economy and isolate the regime in order to force negotiations on a new, more restrictive nuclear deal.
The Trump administration has failed to provide allies and UN support for new sanctions against Iran related to its violation of the JCPOA and for the extension of an arms embargo against Tehran. The Iranian regime celebrated the US failure as a US defeat and proof of the Trump administration’s isolation on the world stage.
On Saturday, the State Department raged Beijing by lifting curbs on official contacts between U.S. and Taiwanese officials; part of the US strategy to avoid provoking China while still maintaining contact with Taipei.
China considers Taiwan a random province and is obliged to bring it under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, if necessary by force. The United States has long supported Taiwan with arms sales and military deployment, but does not officially recognize the democratic island.
In a statement, Pompeo said the State Department had long “created complex internal constraints to regulate the interaction of our diplomats, service members and other officials with their Taiwanese counterparts.”
“The US government took these actions unilaterally in an attempt to appease the communist regime in Beijing,” he added. “Not anymore.”
Chinese state media quickly accused Pompeo of “maliciously seeking to inflict a long-lasting scar on China-US ties.” An official for the official Xinhua News Agency said on Sunday that Pompeo “is only interested in creating unjustified confrontations and has no interest in world peace.”