Senior administration officials told reporters that several factors went into rescinding Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, including the Castros telling them “many, many, many” times that they don’t like terrorism.
President Obama yesterday submitted to Congress notice of the administration’s intent to remove Cuba’s terrorist designation.
“After a careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government, the Secretary of State concluded that Cuba met the conditions for rescinding its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
“As the president has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the president to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” Earnest said. “More broadly, the United States will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes sniped at critics on Twitter, “Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove #Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
Congressional critics say otherwise. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who keeps a running list of Cuba’s activities that sponsor terrorism, warned just a week ago that the White House was putting “alarming” pressure on the State Department to rush the removal of the terrorist designation.
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call after the White House announcement that “the Cubans have for a long time shown us many, many, many speeches by their leaders, both Fidel and Raul, in which they have rejected terrorism.”
“Many instances, in fact, of terrorist acts that they have decried publicly, I think the latest probably being the Charlie Hebdo incident in France,” the official added. “But certainly, there are lots of incidents that they can point to. And in terms of commitments for the future, they point to both statements by their leadership and ratifications of international treaties, and the assurances that they gave us.”
That official acknowledged the review time was “well within the period of time that the president gave to us,” but insisted the process was “extremely rigorous.”
Another official called “the pledge or the assurances that they will no longer support acts of terrorism in the future” an “important component of this evaluation.”
Congress has 45 days from the receipt of Obama’s report to block the removal of the terrorist designation. Obama could then veto that.
Menendez said the administration’s action gives “no explanation, no justification, and no comfort” to the family of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, who was “murdered in cold blood” by Joanne Chesimard — on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Terrorists list and harbored by Havana.
“This decision to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism sends a message that you can continue to be complicit as Cuba has – with North Korea and China – in the smuggling of jets, missiles, and other weapons in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions – and do it with impunity,” Menendez said. “This decision to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism allows Basque terrorists wanted by Spain, and members of FARC wanted by Colombia, to see Cuba as a place of refuge.”
“How can we say Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism when the Castro regime continues to harbor dozens of other American fugitives: cop killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers, arms traffickers? For Cuba to be removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, it must demonstrate changed behavior through verifiable actions, not empty rhetoric. Cuba remains as repressive today as ever and is undeserving of this potential newfound designation.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) noted that the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba has been “ask, and you shall receive.”
“This is being done only for political reasons and not in accordance with the law,” she said. “For months, the Obama administration deceived the American people by conveying that opening embassies and the SST designation were not linked in these misguided talks. But this unwise decision to remove Cuba from the SST list illustrates that the Obama administration is willing to concede to the demands of the Castro brothers in order to set up an embassy in Cuba. Removing Cuba from the terrorist list does not help the Cuban people as they are still left oppressed and without even basic human rights while emboldening its oppressors.”
Ros-Lehtinen stressed that recently “Castro thugs beat U.S. citizens and Cuban pro-democracy activists in Panama and now the regime is being rewarded for such actions by being removed from the SST list.”
“This removal will only undermine U.S. national security and send a signal to the Cuban people that, instead of disapproving of the Castro regime’s methods, the U.S. is rushing to embrace two decrepit tyrants in their twilight,” she said. “Sadly, President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terror list is based on politics and not facts.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the decision “sends a chilling message to our enemies aboard that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
“This is yet another example of President Obama viewing the world through rose-colored glasses,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “President Obama is trying to find redeeming qualities in the Cuban regime regardless of the facts. But the facts are clear, there has been no change in the nature of the Castro brothers’ regime.”