South Asia and Beyond

Pompeo’s Sanctions Increases Pressure On Biden

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed further sanctions on Iran, China and Cuba at a time when president-elect Joe Biden is looking to normalise ties with Iran and Cuba. With regard to China, Pompeo stated that the sanctions were in response to the massive round-up by the Chinese authorities in Hong Kong of 55 pro-democracy activists under the controversially introduced national security law. An American was among those arrested.

“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,” Pompeo said.

The sanctions come as no surprise and Biden may find it difficult to reverse them early in his administration. Regarding Iran and the other nations, constitutional experts say a number of sanctions were used under the executive orders signed by President Trump. These can be removed immediately but there are issues as attitudes have hardened against Iran especially because its proxies – namely the Houthis – are believed to be responsible for carrying out attacks on Saudi Arabia.

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The terrorism designation put on the Houthis in Yemen and declaring Cuba a “state sponsor of terrorism” will be tougher to navigate as Biden will be under pressure to explain how their behaviour had changed to warrant the removal of sanctions. Hard-line Republicans will be waiting to pounce on this and criticise the government.

The other problem is also the nations in question – Iran’s hard-liners are increasing in number and feel there is no use in dealing with the US again. As for Cuba, while Biden may be keen to return to an Obama-style détente, memories of an alleged sonic attack on US diplomats in Havana in 2019, for which the Cuban government is being held responsible by Washington, makes this much more complicated this time around.

As for China, it remains to be seen just what if anything Biden is willing to do – given the large domestic backlash if he is seen as conceding too much. So while the world may be expecting a complete turnaround quite quickly, Pompeo’s politics might just get in the way.