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

Pompeo hits Iran, China, Cuba in last-minute sanctions push
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed sanctions on China, Iran and Cuba in a last-minute push aimed at boxing in President-elect Joe Biden.
4 min read
Pompeo defended Trump's record amid speculation that he will seek the presidency in 2024 [AFP]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday 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.

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

Pompeo condemned as "appalling" the massive operation on January 6 in Hong Kong in which China rounded up 55 people including an 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 disposable to hold those responsible to account," Pompeo said, referring to the People's Republic of China.

President Donald Trump's outgoing administration slapped sanctions on six people over the detentions including 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's top leader, 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 draconian security law in Hong Kong after widespread and sometimes violent protests that sought to preserve freedoms guaranteed to the financial hub before Britain handed back the territory in 1997.

Pressure on Cuba, Iran

Antony Blinken, who will appear for a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday to be 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 Trump's Republican Party, which saw a boost in support in the crucial state of Florida from Cuban-Americans.

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

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," Pompeo said, referring to former presidents Fidel and Raul Castro.

Biden has promised to pay attention to human rights in Cuba but also to bring back some of former president Barack Obama's policies to normalize ties, including by allowing Cuban-Americans to visit and send money.

Biden is also eager to return to a nuclear accord negotiated by Obama with Iran, believing that Trump's "maximum pressure" policy that included a sweeping ban on oil sales has failed to curb Tehran on any front.

Pompeo announced fresh actions Friday on a Chinese steel company and a UAE-based building materials firm for working with Iran Shipping Lines, which is already under US sanctions.

'Sorrow, anger and pity'

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced the sanctions against his colleague as the work "of a regime that leaves a legacy of isolation and defeat in foreign policy."

The US actions are sure to prompt calls of hypocrisy by China as the roundup in Hong Kong came the same day as Trump supporters violently rampaged through the US Capitol in an effort to block the ceremonial certification of Biden's victory.

Pompeo condemned the violence but has fiercely defended Trump's record amid rising speculation that he will seek the presidency himself in 2024.

The former Kansas congressman was fiercely criticized this week by the editorial page of the Kansas City Star which said his tenure had resulted in the world seeing the United States "with a mixture of sorrow, anger and pity."

"He has spent the last few months doing his best to wreck the foreign policy of the incoming Joe Biden administration," the editorial said.

"America will be better when he leaves office. Kansas will be much better if he decides to stay away from his adopted home state forever."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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