In a historic announcement on Tuesday, President Obama confirmed that he would remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, on which the country had sat for over three decades. The move came on the heels of new diplomatic talks between the administration and Cuban President Raúl Castro — the first major sit-down between the two countries in over half a century, reported The New York Times on Tuesday. Critics have blasted the official list in recent years, calling it outdated and arbitrary, and the latest change comes as a welcome relief to those who argue that national concern ought to be focused elsewhere. But even with Cuba out, there are still three other countries still on the State Sponsored Terrorism list. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement on Tuesday:
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.
Whether or not the three other nations — Sudan, Syria, and Iran — deserve to be removed from the list is another concern shared by many involved in foreign relations and counterterrorism. In a meeting with NPR last week, Obama explained that the criteria for placement on the list logically included active harboring and sustaining of terrorist activities, "not 'Do we agree with them on everything' [and] not whether they engage in repressive or authoritarian activities in their own country." As unfortunate as the inner workings of any repressed nation may be, the question now becomes whether the administration will further evaluate the status of the the other three countries on the list and what the likelihood of their removal will be.
With nuclear negotiations on the table and Congress moving toward a bipartisan bill that would allow for the country to move forward with its energy goals while still maintaining certain security measures, Iran's continued placement on the list will depend largely on whether current negotiations are successful and how they'll be adapted over the next year or so.
"Countries that wind up on that list are countries we don't like," said New York University Center for Global Affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer in a January 2014 interview with Al Jazeera, alleging that whether or not a country supported or funded terrorism was only one half of the equation. "Evidentially, [Iran's] listing will be a bargaining chip, where we take them off as part of process of alleviating sanctions against Iran in exchange for what we're asking for in the nuclear agenda."
Iran was first placed on the list in January 1984 for allegedly providing excessive "funding, weapons, training, and sanctuary to numerous terrorist groups," according to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). By March 2006, despite the country's support of U.S. military operations against the Taliban post-9/11, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed that Iran had subsequently acted as a "central banker for terrorism in important regions like Lebanon through Hezbollah in the Middle East, in the Palestinian Territories."
Since then, U.S. and United Nations officials have decried the country's alleged involvement in several other devastating terrorist campaigns, such as the Syrian plot to suppress citizens votes and a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Amid the tumult of President Bashar Assad's reign, the Middle Eastern nation has seen swells of revolutionary activity in recent days from moderate fighters in response to the tyrannical grip of the current administration. Tensions rose from quiet assassinations of political dissenters in 2011 to outright civil war between government security forces and rebel civilian fighters. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that neighboring countries Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two unlikely allies, have begun talks to try and remove Assad from his deadly position of power. So what does this mean for Syria's placement on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list?
Since its designation in 1979, Syrian officials have denied that the country deserves the relegation, insisting that its support of known terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are valid, as leaders see both as "legitimate resistance movements aimed at liberating Arab territory held by Israel," according to CFR reports. Although the country has not been directly involved with active campaigns since 1986, strongly condemning the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in 2001, so long as Assad remains in power and belligerent about its support of terrorist cells against Israeli occupation, it's unlikely the country will be removed.
Although Sudan has gained positive traction in recent years due to its willingness to partner with the United States in combating terrorism throughout Northern Africa, it remains on the list for its continued support of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
In 2000, the country assisted in the fight against terrorism by effectively shutting down the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, which the CFR alleges had been acting essentially as a forum for terrorists. According to reports, the government also stopped a group of terrorists who had hijacked a Libyan aircraft, arresting, prosecuting, and convicting them in 2004. With all of its willingness to assist the global community in counterterrorism efforts, its refusal to see the Palestinian Hamas for what it really is might be detrimental to its perceived seat in the Western world.
While the current humanitarian crisis in Darfur is also a sticking point with many in the West, it's not necessarily the reason Sudan won't be removed from the list. And even though President Omar al-Bashir was officially charged with genocide by the International Crime Court in March 2009, it seems that the United States will continue to punish the ruler and his associates by leaving them on the list.
Images: Getty Images (4)