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AWKWARD: Top US official challenged on Zim sanctions while ignoring human rights outrages by rich Saudi regime

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By Reason Razao


A SENIOR United States official recently struggled to provide a comprehensive explanation on factors that influenced their decisions to impose sanctions on poor countries whilst turning a blind eye on wealthy nations.

Speaking during a virtual press briefing with U.S. Department of State Sanctions Coordinator, Ambassador James O’Brien said the decision to place individuals and nations under sanctions was a subjective judgement.

O’Brien, who earlier on had suggested that his country imposed economic embargoes on the basis of corruption and bad behaviours, was quizzed by Simon Ateba, a journalist from Today News Africa, on why the US imposed sanctions on poor countries like Zimbabwe whilst choosing to ignore the situations in places like Saudi Arabia.

“Since you talked about corruption and bad behaviours that prompt sanctions, what will you say to people who believe that the U.S. actually sanctioned people who don’t have money?,” queried Ateba.

“For instance, the current prince of Saudi Arabia, who killed Khashoggi, has been oppressing his people, and recently disrespected President Biden by increasing oil prices to help Putin massacre Ukraine, but he has not been sanctioned.

“Nothing is happening to him. And here we are sanctioning people in Zimbabwe and different African countries,” said Ateba.

O’Brien in response said; “We start from the premise that sanctions are one tool, but not all the tools that we have to try to change the behaviour of individuals.”

“What I would say is we apply our policy in a way that reflects the reality of each individual situation, and I do not think it’s fair to say that we avoid – we make decisions based on who has money or who has power.”

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Currently, the U.S sanctions on Russia, which it reports as the largest in its history, do not completely affect the latter’s economic performance which is wrecking in $80 billion a month from energy sales that Uncle Sam and his allies are currently importing in huge volumes.

“We encourage those sales, because that energy is important particularly in the developing world. So it’s not a case about money or no money.

“Sometimes we can use other tools to try to achieve similar results.

South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa

“Sometimes the sanctions are the proper tool. But whether we pick the right individuals to designate, whether they remain the right individuals, whether we have other ways or we should be looking at other people, these are questions we ask ourselves all the time as we review the programs,” said O’Brien.

Meanwhile, in a follow up question, a South African journalist condemned the negative impact of Zimbabwe sanctions on the region, particularly his country, whilst asking if the US might change its stance on individuals and businesses in Zimbabwe.

“My question is President Ramaphosa was recently on a visit to the White House and he said he raised the issue with President Biden, basically arguing that sanctions weakened the economy of Zimbabwe and that has (inaudible) South Africa because we get a lot of economic migrants here and that’s causing – sort of stoking xenophobic sentiment,” Carien du Plessis said.

“Is that taken into consideration in reviewing the – yeah, in the recent changes in sanctions against individuals and businesses in Zimbabwe?,” he asked.

The US representative failed to give a direct answer on whether his country would engage Zimbabwe but opted to say they would work with regional powers.

“So having conversations with obviously the neighbours, with important regional powers, SADC, the AU, and others is a – was very important in the recent changes, and will continue to be as we review the program,” said O’Brien.

He however hinted that the US was willing to extend an olive branch to Zimbabwean companies who were affected by the economic embargo.

“We are, however, willing to always speak with businesses or work with those who fear that our sanctions are getting in the way of legitimate business activity.

“So if you – if there are – there are always sort of rumours that someone is staying away due to our sanctions, but if that ever gets chased down to a specific company and that company wants to talk to us, we’re very happy to do that,” he said.