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U.N. And International Aid Groups Express Concerns Over Pompeo's Latest Moves

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As he prepares to leave office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is taking steps that could make his successor's job harder. Today, he put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Hours earlier, Pompeo announced plans to formally declare that Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen are terrorists. That move is raising concerns among international aid groups, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In tweets all week, Secretary Pompeo has been highlighting what he sees as his major accomplishments, but he's also signaling he's not done yet. Today, he was at the U.S. government's Voice of America, saying some of its broadcasts have been too critical of America and should do more to promote democracy elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: The world needs VOA's clarion call for freedom now more than ever. I hear it wherever I go.

KELEMEN: He's calling for tougher messages on China, Iran and Venezuela. And today he officially put Cuba back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for, among other things, continuing to harbor U.S. fugitives and for dealing with Venezuelan intelligence services. The Obama administration took Cuba off that list when it opened diplomatic relations with Cuba. Pompeo says Cuba broke its commitments. Senator Patrick Leahy, though, issued a statement saying Pompeo didn't do anything constructive with Cuba during his time in office and just seems intent on making things as difficult as possible for the incoming Biden team.

That's true in Yemen, too, says another Democrat, New York Congressman Gregory Meeks. He says Pompeo's decision to designate Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization endangers the lives of Yemeni people. Many aid groups agree.

DAVID MILIBAND: This is pure diplomatic vandalism.

KELEMEN: That's David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary who now runs the International Rescue Committee. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting in Yemen since 2015 to reinstall a government that was ousted by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Miliband says millions of Yemenis who rely on aid live in areas controlled by the Houthis.

MILIBAND: This policy, in the name of tying up the Houthis, will actually tie up the aid community and international diplomacy.

KELEMEN: Secretary Pompeo says he will carve out exceptions to make sure aid workers get supplies to Yemenis. But Tjada McKenna, who runs Mercy Corps, isn't convinced.

TJADA MCKENNA: This is already a very difficult environment to work on, so adding anything else will just make it even more so.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, she calls Pompeo's announcement confusing and unnecessary and says she hopes the incoming Biden administration will reverse it on Day 1. The terrorist designation for the Houthis goes into force the day before Biden is inaugurated. Cuba goes on the terrorism list right away.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF COCONUT RECORDS AND WOODY JACKSON'S "TRACK MEETINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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