Psaki’s claim that ‘no sanctions have been put in place’ against foreign leaders, even in the recent past

The administration of Biden visa restrictions imposed out of 76 Saudi people, according to the administration, were implicated in the threat of dissidents abroad, but the list did not include the crown prince.
Defending bin Salman’s omission on Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN that there are “more effective ways to ensure this does not happen again” while leaving ” room to work with the Saudis “in areas where there is mutual agreement and US national interest.” Psaki said Biden had made it clear he would “recalibrate” US-Saudi relations, including ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen.

This is all fair enough. But Psaki also made another claim – a claim that Biden’s decision to avoid direct sanctions against bin Salman followed a precedent set by previous presidents.

“Historically, and even in recent history, in Democratic and Republican administrations, there have been no sanctions in place for the leaders of foreign governments where we have diplomatic relations – and even where we do not. have no diplomatic relations, “said Psaki mentionned.

Facts first: It is not true that there have “been no sanctions in place” against the leaders of foreign governments, even in the recent past. In fact, Biden’s three predecessors who took office in the 21st century imposed direct sanctions on foreign rulers. Psaki made a narrower and more specific statement on Monday, saying the United States has “generally” not imposed direct sanctions on leaders of countries with which it has diplomatic relations.

Gary Clyde Hufbauer, a non-resident senior researcher at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who has studied the sanctions, said Psaki’s claim on Sunday “is too broad” given the list of leaders against whom the United States have effectively imposed direct sanctions. He added: “What Psaki meant was that the United States seldom, if ever, sanction the leaders of countries considered important American allies, nor does it sanction the leaders of nuclear adversaries.”

The list of leaders against the United States who have been hit with direct sanctions include:

There is some complexity as to who qualifies as the head of a foreign government. The official head of the Iranian government is the President, but the ultimate authority is, as the title suggests, the Supreme Leader. Saudi Arabia is still officially ruled by King Salman, but the Crown Prince, his son, is the de facto ruler.

Either way, Psaki’s claim has gone too far. Michael Beck, a sanctions expert with TradeSecure, LLC, said that when you consider the list of officers sanctioned, “it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that the United States does not or will not sanction the leaders of foreign governments.”

The specifics of the sanctions imposed on these leaders varied. They included travel restrictions, asset freezes, and bans on Americans having financial relations with them.

A closer claim on Monday

Psaki narrowed the claim during his daily White House press briefing on Monday. She said this time: “Historically, the United States, through the Democratic and Republican presidents, has generally not sanctioned heads of government in countries where we have diplomatic relations.”

The “not typically” and the “countries where we have diplomatic relations” make Psaki’s claim on Monday more accurate than the claim she made on CNN on Sunday. (Psaki did not respond to an email request for comment on his Sunday complaint.)

The United States had varying levels of diplomatic relations with countries whose leaders it sanctioned under Trump, Obama, and Bush.

The United States did not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran or North Korea. He ad the suspension of the operations of its embassy in Libya when it announced the sanctions in 2011.
The United States had diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe at the time of the sanctions in 2003. The United States had partial diplomatic relations with Myanmar in 2007, when represented by a charge d’affaires rather than an ambassador.
With Venezuela, Belarus and Syria, the United States had diplomatic relations at the time of the sanctions but seen the relationships fracture over the next two years, diplomats being expelled or withdrawn.

A complex subject

There are, of course, foreign leaders that the United States has not directly sanctioned, even accusing them of serious wrongdoing. For example, the United States imposed many sanctions on Russian individuals and entities close to President Vladimir Putin but did not explicitly target Putin himself.
Michael kimmage, a professor at the Catholic University of America who specializes in US-Russian relations, noted that “given the overlap between Putin’s finances and the state-owned enterprise and the fortunes of his friends,” the question of what which constitutes a direct sanction against Putin “does not admit of simple answers”. Hufbauer said that in cases like the harsh US sanctions on the Uganda of the late Idi Amin or the Cuba of the late Fidel Castro, trying to separate the sanctions against the country from the sanctions against the leader is to create a “distinction without difference”.
George lopez, a professor at Notre Dame University who previously sat on a United Nations panel of experts tasked with monitoring and enforcing sanctions against North Korea, interpreted Psaki’s claim more generously than Hufbauer and Beck.

Lopez said that, “on the whole”, the practice of the United States has been to “sanction all those directly under the charge” rather than directly sanctioning the leader. Traditionally, he said, the attitude of the United States has been that “you don’t make politics personal at this level.”

Given this general US approach, Lopez argued that Psaki’s Sunday claim was “sufficiently specific” even though there were exceptions to the rule. Due to the number of exceptions, we respectfully disagree – although it’s good that Psaki got more specific the next day.


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