Removing the North Korean Stalinist regime from the state sponsors of terrorism list in return for empty promises on its nuclear program was a mistake.   The ObamaAdministration can learn a thing or two from the  Bush Administration’s mistake stemming from North Korea’s delisting.

A cursory review of the statutory requirements that earned North Korea a place on the list, clearly indicate that they should have remained on the list.   One can make this assessment based just on public sources, the official position of our ally Japan, and recent statements by North Korean leaders.  It was a token removal for an empty promise not to pursue a nuclear weapons program – a non-issue when it comes to statutory delisting.

In recent weeks in this town, similar linking to non-terrorism issues is driving a debate on whether Cuba should also come off the list.  For example,  I was reading a post by Andrew Cochran at the Counterterrorism Blog that summarizes recent activity on this issue.  He writes, in part, that “based on an objective reading of the record, Cuba does not warrant inclusion” on the state sponsors of terrorism list.  

As in the case of North Korea, the debate on removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list is driven by short-term interests that fail to take into account the damage that these countries have inflicted on U.S. and allied interests.  Stalinist regimes will say and do anything to get in the good graces of the U.S. in order to secure the legitimization that comes with good relations with the U.S. and, more importantly, access to the U.S. economy.

When a country gets listed by the U.S. Government on the state sponsors of terrorism list, economic sanctions and other restrictions on relations with the U.S. are triggered.  This determination is made pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act (EAA), section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA).   If a robust review of each element had been done, North Korea would have remained on the list.  Cuba should certainly remain.  A few more countries should be added.

With regards to Cuba, the Cuban Communist Party may say publicly it has renounced terrorism, but such a reassurance is just as reliable as Iran and North Korea saying they have abandoned becoming nuclear powers.   In addition, Cuba supports terrorist groups designated by the U.S. as terrorist organizations including the FARC in Colombia, various Middle Eastern entities and individuals, as well as Basque separatists.

Cuba maintains close relations with state sponsor of terrorism Iran.  The Cuban Communist Party provides safe-haven to cop killers who murdered U.S. policemen on political grounds.  It helped create and has since supported the Zapatista separatist movement in Mexico.  The regime is still actively seeking to penetrate U.S. Government and military facilities to continue its very robust efforts at securing and selling sensitive information to our enemies. 

So, to answer the question posed by Mr. Cochran, removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list is inevitable, but it should not be so in the near future.  If anything, North Korea should be placed back on the list and a few countries in the Western Hemisphere, primarily Venzuela, should be closely reviewed for inclusion as well.

While there are individuals who think engagement with these regimes is better for U.S. interests than holding them accountable for past and current misdeeds, the effort to remove these countries from the state sponsors of terrorism list is driven in large part by a powerful lobby comprised mainly of a certain sector of the agriculture industry.   

There are 194 independent states in the world that these agri-business interests could focus on for increasing sales.  Of the 194, just four countries or 2.06% of the total are listed as state sponsors of terrorism including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.  Its too bad, isn’t it?   These lobbying groups, and the Members of Congress that support them, place U.S. national interests and security considerations second to all else.

The various terrorism watch lists maintained by the U.S. Government, as well as our allies, are supposed to serve as a foreign policy tools, not subject to political whims or lobbying pressure.  These lists are based on clear and concise statutory requirements.  The listing process is only as effective as the enforcement efforts undertaken to ensure that the law is  enforced, the objectives met.  Anything less is akin to rewarding terrorism, not punishing it.

Finally, as in the case of North Korea, the state sponsor of terrorism designation on Cuba gives the U.S. leverage to exact concessions.  What things would we want?  For starters, handing over fugitives such as cop killers and demanding a end to support for terrorist groups in the Americas such as the FARC, the Zapatistas, and Hezbollah.

The Obama Administration can also run down the list of statutory requirements for a transition government in Cuba as well as the delisting requirements.   On this latter point, Cuba will surely fail as it has been involved in terror-related activities during the past six months (the minimal statutory period of review).

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