The US government is in no hurry to remove Nepal’s Maoists from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. It may not matter much, though, in the short term.
The Maoists were listed in October 2003 under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush issued shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. About 1,000 organizations are proscribed under EA 13224; almost all are Arab, plus a few organizations affiliated to the IRA and UDF in Ireland, FARC and Sendero Luminoso in South America, and the Maoists.
EA 13224 blocks terrorist bank accounts and financial transfers in the US. Forty-two main terrorist organizations (not including the Maoists) are subject to stronger sanctions: they are identified on a separate and older List of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Inclusion on the main terrorist list requires certification that the organization is a direct threat to the US or US citizens, but listing under the executive order does not.
Americans are prohibited from funding or associating with banned organizations on both lists, and the US will be legally limited in the aid it can give a Maoist government in Nepal. But the US’s long refusal to talk with the Maoists is a policy matter, not a legal constraint.
The US government has maintained contact with and support for a Nepali government that included Maoist parliamentarians and ministers for more than a year. It could continue to do so in the short term even after the constituent assembly meets and a Maoist-majority government is formed.
Despite the excitement caused by speculative statements from Speaker Nembwang’s offices after a private meeting with US Ambassador Powell earlier this week, there is no reason to believe that the US will remove the Maoists from the terrorist list any time soon.
The day after Ambassador Powell’s meeting, US State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey took a couple of questions about Nepal at the daily briefing in Washington. He said that there is no change in the Maoists’ status, and he repeated that the Maoists must “end [their] association with terrorism.”
The potential olive branch: “To the extent you have an organization that moves away from violence and terror, and participates in a political process and engages in those kinds of legitimate activities, that would certainly give people an opportunity to at least look again at that situation and at that organization.”
The catch is that the Bush administration doesn’t yet believe that the Maoists have renounced violence. The statement by Maoist leader Prachanda on Thursday – “Right now, I cannot renounce every kind of violence” – followed almost immediately by Maoist spokesman Mahara’s ‘correction’ will not reassure them.
The US will not de-list the Maoists quickly. But they will support the new government and engage slowly with the Maoist leaders in that government. If the Maoists continue to act like democrats, they can expect help rather than confrontation from the US over the coming months, though no direct financial support and no official, high-level contacts are likely.
Real recognition, however well things go in Nepal, is a long term prospect and probably not on the horizon until a new US government takes charge in January 2009. The Bush administration is unlikely to find enough evidence in the coming months to change its long-held position, and the Maoists may well be content to forego short-term US financial aid while hoping that the next US government will be more favorably disposed towards them.
In that they will have been heartened by their meetings with President Jimmy Carter, who was in Nepal to observe the elections on April 10, and by Carter’s parting statement: “My hope is and my cautious expectation is that the US will in the future recognize the authenticity and the non-terrorist nature of the commitment of the Maoists.”
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.