Seven Trump foreign policy legacies that Biden has left in place

US president has stayed the course on several key Trump policy decisions in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia

US President Joe Biden has reversed several of former president Donald Trump’s major foreign policy initiatives since taking office, such as pursuing talks to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, rejoining the Paris climate accord and ending US support for offensive Saudi coalition operations in Yemen.

But the unprecedented protests in Cuba this week have highlighted the stringent US sanctions that Mr Trump reimposed on Havana — sanctions that Mr Biden has left in place despite former president Barack Obama’s efforts to normalise ties with Washington’s long-time communist adversary.

And it’s not only Cuba. Mr Biden has opted to stay the course on several key elements of Mr Trump’s foreign policy legacy, including in Afghanistan, Venezuela and China, while maintaining aspects of his predecessor’s approach to relations with Middle Eastern security partners.

Here are seven of Mr Trump’s policies that have remained intact so far under the new president.

1. Afghanistan

A long-time critic of the two-decade war in Afghanistan, Mr Biden pushed back against US troop surges while he served as vice president.

Mr Trump’s Qatar-brokered deal with the Taliban last year that paved the way for the US withdrawal provided Mr Biden with the opportunity to enable a full removal and claim credit for pulling the country out of its longest-running war.

The imminent US withdrawal, which is more than 95 per cent complete, has faced pushback from officials within the Defence Department as well as members of Congress. While Mr Biden has slightly overshot the May deadline agreed to in Doha last year, the withdrawal is nonetheless expected to be complete by the end of next month.

2. Palestine and Israel

Mr Biden has dialled back some of Mr Trump’s most punishing actions against the Palestinians, attempting to restore economic and humanitarian aid and reopen the Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem.

However, he continues to favour the annual $3.8 billion in unconditional American military support for Israel and has shown little appetite to reverse several major policy victories that the Trump administration handed to the close US ally.

The White House confirmed in February that the Biden administration would keep the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. Mr Trump relocated the embassy from Tel Aviv to the city in 2017.

The Biden administration also went out of its way last month to clarify that it is maintaining the Trump administration's policy of recognising Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights after erroneous reports to the contrary surfaced in right-wing American and Israeli publications.

Additionally, the State Department so far has not restored a legal opinion upholding the designation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law, a decades-old bipartisan US policy stance that the Trump administration reversed in 2019.

3. Commitments to Abraham Accord signatories

The Abraham Accords represented one of Mr Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievements, with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco normalising relations with Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his Senate confirmation hearing in January that while the new president supports the accords, the Biden administration would “take a hard look” at some of the commitments that Mr Trump separately made to the accords' signatories.

Despite Mr Blinken’s early comments, the Biden administration has kept all those commitments intact. After a quick policy review, the Biden administration opted to proceed with a $23bn sale in F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE.

The Trump administration also recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara last year shortly before Rabat signed on to the Abraham Accords. Axios reported in April that Mr Blinken had told Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourtia that the Biden administration would not reverse Mr Trump’s position on the territory.

4. US-Saudi security cooperation

Mr Biden ended US support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive military operations in Yemen but has preserved Washington’s defence ties with the kingdom amid continuing Houthi missile attacks on its territory.

While the Biden administration indefinitely suspended two major arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman met key US officials during his visit to Washington last week, including Mr Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

5. Cuba

This week’s anti-government demonstrations in Cuba protesting deteriorating economic conditions and frequent power shortages have revived scrutiny of US sanctions on the island.

Mr Biden intends to resume the Obama administration’s policies of allowing remittances and lifting some travel restrictions, but he has not provided any indication that he will move to lift the stringent sanctions that Mr Trump reinstated following Mr Obama’s short-lived detente with Havana. The Biden administration’s Cuba policy remains under review.

6. Venezuela

Mr Biden has also left Mr Trump’s broad sanctions on Venezuela in place and has continued the former president’s policy of recognising Juan Guaido as the country’s leader.

Biden administration officials said that they would not review US sanctions on Venezuela unless President Nicolas Maduro makes “substantive, credible advancements” to restore the democratic process.

Under Mr Trump, the US recognised Mr Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the interim Venezuelan president.

7. China tariffs

Mr Trump sparked a global trade war with sweeping tariffs, hitting China the hardest with heavy tariffs on approximately three fourths of goods exported to the US.

The US has started to remove some tariffs on its European allies and is working to mutually lift the trade penalties with the EU by December.

But contrary to recent advice from the International Monetary Fund, the Biden administration has not taken action to remove the Trump tariffs on $360bn in Chinese goods. The China tariffs remain under review.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 1:49 PM
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