Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ending Cuba's Terrorism Designation

An issue I've blogged a decent amount about is Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Part of the new Cuba policy involves reviewing--and presumably revoking--that status. Yesterday there was a briefing with a "senior administration official" about Cuba, and the issue came up. Here are the relevant excerpts:

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to see how the State Sponsor of Terror designation might affect the formal process of converting the Interests Sections to embassies, if that fits in the timeline at all? 
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the two things are fairly separate. I will say that the process that we’re undertaking as part of the review of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list is underway. And as you know, that’s a fairly – that’s outlined in the law. There is a process that we undertake, and it begins with a review of all of the evidence and the intelligence. And so that has begun. And the President asked that the State Department undertake that review and complete it with a recommendation to him within six months. We will do so. I don’t, frankly, believe it will take quite as long as six months, but I don’t know exactly when that will be complete. And I certainly wouldn’t prejudge the outcome. But as you know, it has to include both a review of the past six months and whether or not the government has provided any support for international terrorism during that six month period, and then assurances that the government involved will not support international terrorism in the future. 
So we will undertake the review and gather all of the data, and then make a recommendation to the President, and then – sorry – then the President will send that information to the Congress before he makes a decision on removal or retention in the list. 
QUESTION: Hello? Yeah, sorry. Thank you so much. I just wanted to follow up on – about the terrorism designation. When was that review initiated? And I know you don’t want to prejudge the outcome, as you said, but in past re-establishment of diplomatic relations – you gave the examples of Burma and Kosovo and Vietnam – what was the experience there and how long did it take? Was that an obstacle to those talks? Because from the Cuban standpoint, we heard Raul Castro dedicate much of his speech to the National Assembly right after the December 17th announcement about the terrorism designation. So it seems like this is going to be a stumbling block for you all. 
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I guess the first thing I will tell you is – in terms of the process beginning, it began the same day the President made the announcement. Because when the President tells you he wants you to do something in six months, you basically look at your watch and say, “Let’s get started.” So we certainly went to work as soon as the President’s announcement was made.
And it’s not – in many ways it’s not all that complicated. In other words, it doesn’t have a huge number of steps. We have to review all of the facts and go to all of the agencies that might be involved in having information. But we’re going to do this as aggressively as possible and as quickly as possible. And for that reason, I don’t necessarily see there being a real problem in the re-establishment of embassies necessarily being held up by review of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, because my hope would be that as we do this we will be doing it as quickly as possible and we will have an outcome before we are able to move ahead on embassies.
So I’m pretty optimistic that in timing questions – not in necessarily outcome, but in timing questions – people won’t end up sitting around saying, “Damn, we can’t do anything because the State Department hasn’t finished its job yet.” Now, there is a 45-day period where the President has to submit a report to Congress 45 days before removal from the list, for example, would take effect, if that’s the end result of the recommendation. So there is a sort of waiting period before there’s a removal, if removal is the decision. Nevertheless, if that decision has been made, one could envision other decisions going forward even while that waiting period was taking place. But again, I’m not prejudging that. If the decision was for something to remain on the list, obviously we would have to be looking at something quite different. So I do think that in terms of timing, we will have the data we need to make a decision on how we move forward in enough time.

This is a set forward from one of the last times the media asked about the designation, less than a year ago. At that time we were told there was actually no process at all for review. Now it's "not complicated." To sum up, the review will be completed by June 17.

Given that Cuba is hosting talks to end the Colombian civil war and transform the FARC from a guerrilla organization to a legitimate political force, there's no terrorism connection in Latin America. Of course, they will be looking at the North Korea arms shipment. I'll be curious to see how they deal with that, but I don't think it merits keeping Cuba on the list. We should have every expectation that Cuba will be removed from the list, if for no other reason the president would've have announced it without a clear sense of the outcome.


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