Report to Congress on State Sponsored Terrorism

May 4, 2021 12:22 PM

The following is the May 4, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, State Sponsors of Acts of International Terrorism—Legislative Parameters: In Brief.

From the report

The United States currently designates as state sponsors of acts of international terrorism the governments of Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. A terrorism designation is but one part in the bilateral relationship between the United States and each of these governments.

Syria. The United States has recognized the government of Syria as a state sponsor of acts of international terrorism from 1979, when restrictions on exports to any country engaged in international terrorism were added to export administration law in 1979.

Iran. Secretary of State George Shultz designated the government of Iran as a sponsor of acts of international terrorism on January 19, 1984. In July 2015, the United States, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, European Union, and Iran agreed to a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the agreement, Iran ensured that its nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful, and in return, the negotiating parties and the United Nations lifted economic sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear pursuits. In May 2018, President Donald Trump ceased U.S. participation in the JCPOA and set a course for reestablishing restrictions on trade, transactions, and investment in most of Iran’s economy. Throughout, however, U.S. sanctions have remained in place to address Iran’s support for international terrorism, missile proliferation, human rights violations, and disrupting regional stability.

North Korea. Secretary of State George Shultz first designated the government of North Korea as a supporter of acts of international terrorism in 1988, after a mid-air bombing of a South Korean civilian airliner was attributed to the North. President George W. Bush, in a memorandum to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in June 2008, notified of his intention to rescind North Korea’s designation; the Secretary removed the designation in October 2008.6 In late 2014, the possibility of returning North Korea to state-sponsors lists resurfaced when the Obama Administration attributed a cyberattack on Sony Pictures to North Korea. It was a debate that Congress had sustained since 2008, when President George W. Bush removed the terrorism designation as part of multinational negotiations to disable and dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Congress had gone so far as to require the Secretary of State to report to the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and Ways and Means by October 31, 2017, on “whether North Korea meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.” The deadline was missed, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s determination of November 17, 2017, to designate North Korea answered the question.

Cuba. The government of Cuba was designated as a state sponsor of acts of international terrorism in 1982. In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced he would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease diplomatic and economic restrictions, while anticipating Congress could engage in a review of sanctions codified in permanent law. At the same time, the President announced that the State Department had begun a review of the government of Cuba’s designation as a supporter of acts of international terrorism. On May 29, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry delisted the government of Cuba. Early in his term, however, President Donald Trump changed course, issuing new rounds of sanctions over his four years. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo designated once again the government of Cuba as a supporter of acts of international terrorism on January 12, 2021.

This brief report provides information on legislation that authorizes the designation of any foreign government as a state sponsor of acts of international terrorism. It addresses the statutes and how they each define acts of international terrorism; establish a list to limit or prohibit aid or trade; provide for systematic removal of a foreign government from a list, including timeline and reporting requirements; authorize the President to waive restrictions on a listed foreign government; and provide (or do not provide) Congress with a means to block a delisting. It closes with a summary of delisting in the past.

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