Ambassador Romanowski Discusses the CT 2019 & TIP 2020 Reports with Al-Anba Newspaper

• According to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, the ongoing Gulf dispute had a negative impact on countering Iran’s threats. Does Iran still pose a threat to countries in the region? 
The Iranian regime continues to foment violence, both directly and through proxies, in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Iran views the Assad regime in Syria as a crucial ally and Syria and Iraq as vital routes through which to supply weapons to Hizballah, Iran’s primary terrorist proxy group. Iran’s actions only feed regional instability.  We will continue to work with our allies to counter Iran and its malign influence and that of its proxies.
• How can the International community hold Iran accountable while it [Iran] hides behind its proxies to avoid any accountability? 
The United States holds Iran directly responsible for the actions of its proxies and will continue  to do so.  In April 2019, the U.S. Department of State designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The United States and its allies will continue to pursue and hold Iran’s proxies, and Iran  itself, accountable for their terrorist acts.  In September, President Trump issued Executive Order 13886, enabling the Departments of State and the Treasury to more effectively sanction the leaders of terrorist organizations and those who participate in terrorist training. The United States ratcheted up efforts to degrade and disrupt Hizballah’s finances, with numerous designations of financial entities, facilitators, and money launderers tied to the group.  The U.S. will continue to work with the international community to address Iran’s threats to global security.
• What are the main Kuwait-related points in this report? 
Kuwait is a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, part of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition Small Group, and co-leads (with Turkey and the Netherlands) the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group. Moreover, the Government of Kuwait conducted a significant number of training programs to build counter terrorism capacity and to counter terrorism financing.
Throughout 2019, Kuwaiti government officials participated in several counter-terrorism capacity-building workshops.  Kuwait is a member of Middle East- North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and its Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group.
• The report mentions that some countries “misused its counter-terrorism laws to prosecute human rights and political activists.” Do we lack a clear and comprehensive definition of terrorism and terrorists?
The definition of terrorism and terrorist remains clear.  Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government or the civilian population.
The United States believes that protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, is an important part of our counterterrorism strategy. Human rights violations can lead to greater instances of terrorist radicalization.
• Secretary Pompeo criticized “Palestinians’ stubbornness, and choosing threats over engagement in negotiations with Israel.” Don’t you think that Israel’s expansion of settlements is the main obstacle in a two-state solution?  
We have asked and remain hopeful for Israelis and Palestinians to come to the table to negotiate a path forward and to find a resolution to this decades-old issue. Each party must be willing to sit down and discuss its objectives.  The inability to come to the table is a key obstacle to achieving a lasting peace.
• Did the CT Report explicitly accuse any Arab countries of supporting terrorism? 
The report provides a snapshot of events during 2019 relevant to countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Syria and Sudan are currently officially designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Syria continued its political and military support to various terrorist groups. The regime continued to provide weapons and political support to Hizballah and continued to allow Iran to rearm and finance the terrorist organization. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is among the  designated terrorist groups present and active in the country with the permission of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Secretary of State designated Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1993 for supporting international terrorist groups, including the Abu Nidal Organization, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hizballah. In September 2019, Sudan officially formed the civilian-led transitional government after 30 years of the regime of former President Omar al-Bashir. The transitional government has asserted that it no longer supports the aforementioned or any other terrorist organization. Sudan has taken steps to work with the United States on counterterrorism.
• How do you evaluate Kuwait’s efforts in fighting terrorism and terrorist financing? 
Kuwait is a strong ally of the United States and a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Kuwait co-leads the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group and is a member of the Middle East- North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF).  Kuwait participates in and hosts trainings to counter terrorism and terrorist financing, which is an indispensable asset in contributing to the global fight against terrorism. Kuwait has made significant efforts in trying to better monitor the activities of private charitable organizations. Nonetheless, more effective measures should be adopted to ensure that charitable donations do not benefit regional terrorist groups.
• What is the US stance concerning the recent conflict in Libya in view of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) involvement now? What is their main role?
The United States opposes escalating foreign military intervention in Libya, on all sides.  An immediate ceasefire by all parties is imperative. We urge all parties to commit to a ceasefire and resume negotiations immediately. A return to UN-led ceasefire and political talks is the only way to resolve the core issues that are driving this conflict.
The State Department TIP 2020 Report
• What are the main positive points raised in the TIP Report concerning Kuwait?
First of all, I want to emphasize that the United States is committed to ending modern slavery. There is no excuse for human trafficking and all governments must take bold action to bring about necessary reform.
Kuwait has made positive strides this past year.  It convened its anti-trafficking committee for the first time.  It referred many potential trafficking victims to protective services.  It pursued more prosecutions and convictions under the anti-trafficking law. In many instances, it revoked licenses for companies involved in trafficking.  Moreover, COVID-19 has brought much needed attention to the issue of visa trading in Kuwait.  We commend the government for the action it has taken against traffickers, and Kuwaiti civil society for their tireless efforts to raise awareness and provide support to victims of trafficking. Of course, there remains much to be done.
• Main recommendations made, and what are aspects of cooperation between the US and Kuwait to be able and implement these recommendations?
The report stresses the need to institute reforms to the sponsorship-based employment system, including  allowing workers to change employers without employer approval.  It is important to cease prosecution of workers who flee employment, and ensure no recruitment fees are paid by workers.
The report recommends that the Kuwaiti government increase its efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including Kuwaiti citizens and complicit officials. Also, forced labor should be punished criminally instead of administratively.
The report recommends that the Kuwaiti government institute training for officials on proactively identifying and referring to protection services victims of human trafficking and ensure that  these procedures are routinely employed. The government should proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations.