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

  • Published at 04:33 am January 16th, 2021
Mike Pompeo
File photo: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during his weekly briefing at the State Department, in Washington, DC on September 2, 2020 AFP

President-elect Joe Biden has said he will return to the 2015 nuclear pact if Iran resumes strict compliance with it

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 on 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.

Also Read - Trump administration takes final swipes at China and its companies

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.

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