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Trump and Pompeo’s decisions on Yemen and Cuba pose a challenge for the incoming Biden administration



On Saturday, Pompeo announced he was lifting formal restrictions on contacts between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, a sign of Washington’s deepening antipathy toward Beijing but also a curious policy decision for the Trump administration to take in its waning days in power. Successive U.S. administrations have carefully managed their ties with Taiwan, which the United States does not formally recognize because of its relationship with Beijing. In blowing up the status quo, the Trump administration may be forcing Biden into a more direct confrontation with China.

On Monday, the Trump administration opted to classify Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, an aggressively ideological decision that further deteriorates relations with Havana and reverses the steps the Obama administration took in delisting Cuba in 2015 as part of a broader thaw.

And on Tuesday, Pompeo declared Iran the “home base” for terrorist group al-Qaeda in a speech and announced sanctions on a handful of al-Qaeda-linked figures living within Iran. Critics of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign fear that the possibility of military action against Iranian targets before Trump departs the White House is still on the table.

These actions appear to have a clear purpose. One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Foreign Policy, characterized the moves as “fire sale diplomacy” — or what the magazine’s reporters described as “parting shots from the outgoing administration deliberately aimed at hampering the incoming administration’s foreign policy.”

The incoming administration may be able to vacate or reverse some of these decisions. But it raises the stakes for Biden’s initial foreign policy efforts and sets the table for bitter political fights at home, with Republican opponents poised to cast Biden and his allies as weak or soft should they try to climb down from some of the maximalist positions taken by Trump and Pompeo.

Observers questioned the utility of the Cuba and Houthi designations. “This is pure diplomatic vandalism,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, in a statement. He added that the Houthi designation made the task for his organization’s staff in Yemen “all but impossible. … [The] cost of terrorism designations in the middle of complex conflicts and humanitarian crises can be measured in innocent lives lost.”

Placing Cuba back on the state sponsor of terrorism list is more a sop to anti-communist hard-liners in Florida’s community of Cuban exiles than a reflection of anything the Cuban regime has done in recent years. “A U.S. economic embargo of Cuba already curbs Americans’ ability to do business with or visit the communist island,” my colleagues reported. “But the new terrorism label could hinder commercial deals with third countries Cuba relies on to import essential goods and turn off foreign investors in its all-important tourism industry.”

“There is no factual basis to re-list #Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terror,” tweeted Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group. “This is a malicious, last-ditch effort to handicap Biden’s foreign policy, and reward [Trump] supporters in Florida for sticking with Trump even after he incited terrorist attacks against the U.S. Congress.”

The decision to list the Houthis as a terrorist organization could have the most devastating effects. The Houthis, a rebel faction with ties to Iran, still control the majority of Yemen after years of ruinous fighting with a U.S.-backed and Saudi-led coalition. Hunger and disease stalk the land and aid organizations have already faced significant funding shortfalls this year, hampering their efforts to deliver urgent food and medicines to the country.

The Houthi designation only makes things harder. “It would prevent numerous Western aid organizations, concerned about prosecution for perceived support of the armed group, from operating in Houthi-controlled areas, where most Yemenis live,” my colleagues reported. “It could also prompt retaliatory measures by the rebels against aid groups, further undermining efforts to assist millions of Yemenis.”

“The consequences will be felt acutely across a country also hit hard by extreme hunger, cholera and covid-19, as banks, businesses and humanitarian donors become unwilling or unable to take on the risk of operating in Yemen,” said Scott Paul, Oxfam’s humanitarian policy lead. “Every day these designations remain in place will compound the suffering of Yemen’s most vulnerable families.”

Even Republicans in Congress, where there is bipartisan support for disentangling the United States from Yemen’s war, condemned Pompeo’s move.

“Yemen imports 90 percent of its food,” said two top GOP lawmakers, James E. Risch (Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Michael McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement. “In light of near-famine conditions that have already existed in Yemen, this designation will have a devastating effect on Yemen’s food supply and other critical imports unless the executive branch acts now to issue the necessary licenses, waivers and appropriate guidance prior to designation.”

For all his talk of bringing “swagger” and putting America first on the world stage, Pompeo leaves behind a legacy of bruising and overtly ideological policy and myriad outraged and exasperated U.S. allies. On Tuesday, the top U.S. diplomat also abruptly canceled his final trip abroad — a European swing through Belgium and, originally, a planned stop in Luxembourg as well — on the grounds that administration officials were now focusing on the presidential transition.

But it seemed that the decision had been made for him. Luxembourg’s foreign minister, whom Pompeo was scheduled to meet Thursday, recently described Trump as a “criminal” and “political pyromaniac” for inciting the events of last week. Pompeo was clearly radioactive and unwelcome. But he, too, still seems keen on setting fires.





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Diary Sow: Senegal’s star student goes missing in Paris



She landed a spot at a prestigious preparatory school in Paris and, her peers say, continued to ace classes. She published a novel last year at the age of 19.

“To Diary,” the Senegalese president wrote to her in an August note, “a rising star who is the pride of the people.”

Then her school, the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, alerted the Senegalese Embassy on Jan. 4 that Sow had stopped showing up.

Nobody has heard from the student who was known to never miss a lecture — neither friends nor family.

Paris police have shared no leads as they scour the city. The prosecutor’s office called the disappearance “worrying.”

“This has devastated everyone,” said a former teacher, Mame Coumba Diouf Sagna, who proofread early drafts of Sow’s book. “She has so many dreams to realize. She has so much hope to give.”

Senegalese President Macky Sall sent investigators to help, while Sow’s classmates embarked on their own search. By Tuesday, a team of eight had called 12 hospitals each.

“We’re doing everything we can,” said Moussa Gueye, a 21-year-old engineering student from a suburb of Dakar, the Senegalese capital. “We’re out here printing and distributing fliers.”

Sow is reserved yet kind, he said — not boastful, though she has the right to be.

“She gets the best grades in everything,” he said.

Hundreds of Senegalese expatriates in Paris and other French cities took to the streets this week, passing out pamphlets featuring Sow’s face and a number to call. Video shows them chanting, “Ensemble allons chercher Diary Sow.” Together let’s find Diary Sow.

“She is famous for being brilliant,” said Souleymane Gueye, vice president of the Federation of Senegalese Students and Trainees of France. “She stands out. Those academic awards usually go to boys.”

In Senegal, speculation blazes across social media: Was she taken? Did she run away?

“What if Diary Sow doesn’t want to be found?” someone tweeted. “I’ve been thinking about it all night, the pressure of being a good student is hard for anyone.”

In September, the month she turned 20, Sow visited Dakar to promote her novel, “Under the Face of an Angel.”

It’s about a complicated girl, she told a bookstore audience. The character is guarded and keeps to herself. Her love interest sees only “roses,” she said — not the thorns.

“The names are fictitious,” she said, “but I use words to express myself to the world.”

Abdoulaye Diallo, the director of Harmattan Senegal, a publishing house in Dakar, teared up as he recalled the day Sow’s uncle urged him to read her manuscript.

“It took us a year to publish it — with two blind proof-readings,” he said. “With the quality of the text, one couldn’t imagine that the author was a woman of her age. It must be recognized that this is a higher mind.”

Sow wanted to explore people’s inner worlds, she said in an August television appearance. The expectations and pressures — “the secret emotions,” she said.

Though her novel was popular in Senegal, she wants to pursue an engineering career.

“I am a scientist,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean I should be limited to science.”

Her fervor for learning was clear early on.

“She is in front of books all the time,” her mother told news crews after Sow won her first big scholastic prize. “She doesn’t want to waste a second of her life.”

Sow grew up in the fishing city of Mbour, about 60 coastal miles south from the hustle of Dakar.

She came from humble means, said Sagna, her former teacher. There were no fancy tutors.

“Just pure determination,” Sagna said. “When I called for recess, the other students would go outside and play, but Diary would just get something to eat — some pasta or rice — and sit inside with a book.”

By age 13, the star pupil was always scribbling in a notebook. At 15, she began to write the story that would turn into her first novel. Sagna corrected grammar and smoothed some phrasing, she said, but the raw talent was obvious.

Together, they polished hundreds of pages over four years. “She became like my daughter,” Sagna said.

They last talked in August, a few months after Sow’s father had died. The teacher had expected grief.

“She was just so positive,” Sagna said. “She rarely complains. No one had any idea of what was to come.”

Now Sagna weeps and prays for the young woman’s return.

“She is the inspiration of so many,” she said. “She’s the example. I don’t want my students to think, is it worth striving so hard if something like this can happen?”

Borso Tall in Dakar and Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.





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Pompeo hits Iran for al-Qaida support on his way out


In a speech to the National Press Club just, Pompeo attacked Iran for alleged secret ties with al-Qaida, citing newly declassified intelligence suggesting Tehran harbored the group’s No. 2, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who was killed in August, reportedly by Israeli agents.

Shiite-ruled Iran and predominantly Sunni al-Qaida are not natural allies in the Islamic world and have had a fraught relationship since the Taliban, which harbored bin Laden, took over Afghanistan in 1996. Two years later, Iran accused the Taliban of murdering several of it diplomats in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Although U.S. officials had previously confirmed the death of al-Masri and his daughter, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, Pompeo’s remarks were the first on-the-record comments supporting the claim.

“Today, I can confirm publicly to the world for the first time, his death on Aug. 7 of last year,” Pompeo said. He also alleged that Iran had “closely monitored” al-Qaida members before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and had stepped up such activity and had decided to actively support them following the nuclear agreement.

Pompeo claimed that ties between al-Qaida and Iran vastly improved in 2015, when the Obama administration, along with France, Germany and Britain, were finalizing the nuclear deal. He offered no evidence for the claim. Pompeo has been adamantly opposed to the nuclear agreement since he was a member of Congress.

“A sea change was happening within the Iran-al-Qaida axis,” Pompeo said. “Iran decided to allow al-Qaida to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaida operatives inside abide by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaida’s stay inside the country.”

He said that since 2015, Iran has given al-Qaida leaders greater freedom of movement inside Iran and have provided safe havens and logistical support to al-Qaida. Pompeo asserted that al-Qaida had now based its leadership in Tehran and was continuing to plot attacks on the U.S. and Western targets from there.

Iran has denied all such charges.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



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