President Biden rejects branding Russia 'state sponsor of terrorism'

UN watchdog urges security zone at Ukraine nuclear plant

By: AFP
Published: 09:20 AM, 7 Sep, 2022
President Biden rejects branding Russia 'state sponsor of terrorism'
Caption: File photos.
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US President Joe Biden's administration on Tuesday said it would be counterproductive to brand Russia a "state sponsor of terrorism," rejecting calls from Ukraine and lawmakers to take the far-reaching action.

Biden, asked by a reporter on Monday if he would blacklist Russia as a terrorist state, said simply, "no," after months of non-committal answers from senior officials.

Asked Tuesday whether a decision had been made, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said a terrorism designation was "not the most effective or strongest path forward" to "hold Russia accountable."

She said the designation would hamper aid delivery to parts of war-ravaged Ukraine or prevent aid groups and companies from participating in a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ship badly needed grain from Ukraine's blockaded ports.

"It would also undercut our unprecedented multilateral (coalition) that has been so effective to holding Putin accountable and could also undermine our ability to support Ukraine" in negotiations, she told reporters.

A label of "state sponsor of terrorism" by the United States, the world's largest economy, has wide-ranging ramifications, with many businesses and banks unwilling to incur the risk of legal action by US prosecutors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the West to label Russia formally as a terrorist state following a series of attacks that killed civilians, notably a strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk in June in which at least 18 people died.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, asked about Biden's decision, said the lack of a designation now "does not mean that it can never be made."

"We are grateful to the US for everything they continue to do for Ukraine, but on this particular issue, we will not back down and will continue to insist on our position, as it will be the right decision indeed," he said.

- Stepping up pressure -

At the United Nations, Ukraine's envoy also renewed calls for the designation as he lamented Russia's occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, saying Moscow was deliberately trying to raise dangers.

"This can be corrected only by strengthening sanctions -- only by officially recognizing Russia as a terrorist state at all levels," Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the UN Security Council.

Latvia's parliament in August declared Russia a "state sponsor of terrorism," saying it was carrying out "genocide" against Ukrainians, but French President Emmanuel Macron in June also explicitly ruled out the label.

US lawmakers across party lines including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have urged Biden to brand Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, seeing it as a way to step up pressure after months of economic sanctions over Moscow's February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The United States only brands four nations as state sponsors of terrorism, all US nemeses with much smaller economies than Russia's -- Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba.

Cuba was added controversially back to the list in the final days of former president Donald Trump's administration, which took a hardline approach to the communist-ruled island.

The Biden administration on taking office reversed a Trump decision to brand Yemen's Iranian-backed Huthi rebels as a terrorist group, also out of concern for hampering aid.

UN watchdog urges security zone at Ukraine nuclear plant

The UN's atomic watchdog called Tuesday for a security zone to be set up around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russia, as the area was hit by more shelling.

Russian troops seized control of the plant -- Europe's biggest atomic facility -- in March and there have been repeated attacks in the vicinity, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.

"The current situation is untenable," the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report after it sent inspectors to the plant last week.

"There is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident.... This can be achieved by the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone."

At the United Nations, Russia said it regretted that the report did not blame Ukraine for the attacks.

"We do understand your position as an international regulator, but in the current situation it's very important to call things by their name," Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia told a Security Council session attended virtually by IAEA head Rafael Grossi.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling of the site, which took place again Tuesday despite the watchdog's recommendations.

"If the provocations by the Kyiv regime continue, there is no guarantee that there won't be serious consequences, and the responsibility for that lies fully with Kyiv and its Western backers and all other members of Security Council," Nebenzia said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he welcomed the fact that the report noted the Russian military occupation of the plant.

He said that if the proposed security zone was aimed at demilitarizing "the territory of the nuclear power plant... then we can support it."

Kyiv and Moscow continued to trade blame Tuesday for attacks on the Zaporizhzhia plant, and on the city of Energodar where it is situated.

The IAEA sent a 14-person team to the site last week. At least two members were to remain on a permanent basis to ensure the facility's safety.

But on Monday, the last working reactor was disconnected from the grid after shelling caused a fire.

Meanwhile US President Joe Biden's administration said it would be counterproductive to brand Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, rejecting calls from Ukraine and lawmakers to take the far-reaching action.

Biden, asked by a reporter on Monday if he would blacklist Russia as a terrorist state, said simply, "no," after months of non-committal answers from senior officials.

Asked Tuesday whether a decision had been made, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said a terrorism designation was "not the most effective or strongest path forward" to "hold Russia accountable."

She said the designation would hamper aid delivery to parts of war-ravaged Ukraine or prevent aid groups and companies from participating in a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ship badly needed grain from Ukraine's blockaded ports.

- Russia buying rockets -

Separately on Tuesday, a pro-Kremlin official in the Russian-controlled port city of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine was seriously injured in a car blast, according to Moscow-installed authorities.

In the past months, several officials installed by Russian forces in Moscow-controlled territories in Ukraine have been killed or wounded in attacks.

Kyiv has not formally claimed responsibility.

Ukraine has recently claimed its first gains in a counter-offensive against the Russian army in the south, saying it has recaptured several areas and destroyed multiple targets.

A US official said Tuesday that Russia is buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to replenish stocks depleted by months of intense fighting.

"This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, due in part to export controls and sanctions," the US official said, on grounds of anonymity.

Western sanctions have made it harder for Moscow to acquire components to manufacture replacements, including computer chips.

President Vladimir Putin attended large-scale military exercises Tuesday involving China and several Russia-friendly countries, as Moscow seeks to strengthen partnerships in Asia in the face of Western sanctions.

And the European Commission laid out the new hurdles facing Russian travellers seeking EU entry visas, in the latest punitive measures taken in response to Moscow's invasion.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.