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South Africa’s links with Hamas and Iran pose new threat to Agoa as Republican senator weighs in

South Africa’s links with Hamas and Iran pose new threat to Agoa as Republican senator weighs in
(Image: Rawpixel | Unsplash)

A top Republican senator has vowed ‘course-corrective action’ against South Africa.

The top Republican in the US Senate foreign relations committee has vowed to try to reverse the Biden administration’s decision this week to extend South Africa’s full Agoa trade benefits next year.   

Senator Jim Risch has written to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken  and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, strongly criticising the hosting of the Agoa Forum in South Africa this week and the continuation of the country’s Agoa eligibility. 

South Africa should not have been rewarded because it had subverted US national security and foreign policy interests by its relationships with Hamas, Iran and Russia and its criticism of Israel, he said. 

Because of the Biden administration’s failure to communicate its concerns to South Africa, the US Congress would have to take “course-corrective action”, Risch said. This implied that he intended initiating action to reverse the Biden administration’s decision to keep South Africa in Agoa next year.

Risch’s letter emerged just as Blinken, President Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior officials from both governments were about to officially launch the Agoa Forum at Nasrec on Friday. 

The South African government earlier lobbied energetically to keep the Agoa Forum and South Africa’s duty-free exports to the US under Agoa, after Risch and other congressional leaders had opposed this because of Pretoria’s perceived closeness to Russia.

A truly ‘non-aligned’ partner would engage with international third-party partners, including the United Nations, on humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza rather than the leader of a foreign terrorist organisation.

Now the eruption of war between Hamas and Israel and Republican perceptions of Pretoria’s closeness to Hamas and to Iran, which sponsors Hamas, have presented a new threat to South Africa’s Agoa benefits.

Risch cites International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor’s recent phone call to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, her visit to Iran to meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and what he says was a proposed visit by Raisi this week that was cancelled, as reasons for concern. 

“Recent statements and actions by the South African government against Israel’s right to self-defence and its engagement with Hamas (including a phone call by Foreign Minister Pandor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh) following its October 7 terrorist attack on Israel further prove the administration’s policy towards South Africa is dangerous,” Risch wrote.

“While Pandor reported discussing humanitarian aid to Gaza and denied media reports that she expressed support for Hamas in the call, a truly ‘non-aligned’ partner would engage with international third-party partners, including the United Nations, on humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza rather than the leader of a foreign terrorist organisation.

That Raisi’s visit was even considered… makes clear yet again that South Africa’s government has priorities in direct conflict with our national security concerns.

“Earlier this year, Foreign Minister Pandor also urged the International Criminal Court to arrest ‘the leaders of apartheid Israel’. This is not a matter of miscommunication or misunderstanding; South Africa has taken a clear policy position.”

In August, Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian visited Pretoria for the 15th South Africa-Iran Joint Commission of Cooperation, followed shortly by the participation of Iran’s President Raisi in the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. During the summit, Iran joined the BRICS alliance

In late October Pandor had visited Tehran. Recent media reports indicated that Iranian President Raisi would visit South Africa this week, immediately preceding the Thursday start of the Agoa Forum. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South African carrot juice producer Rugani steals the Agoa show 

“While I understand the South African government has since tabled the plans for Raisi’s visit, that such a visit was even considered does not reflect well on the administration’s choice of venue, and makes clear yet again that South Africa’s government has priorities in direct conflict with our national security concerns.”

Risch cited the letter which he and Democratic Senator Chris Coons and other congressional leaders had written to the Biden administration on 9 June, calling on it to reconsider hosting the Agoa Forum in South Africa and also to reconsider extending South Africa’s Agoa benefits because South Africa had allowed US-sanctioned entities such as the Russian cargo ship Lady R to enter South Africa.

“Beyond flouting the US’s targeted Russia-related sanctions, the government of South Africa has deepened its dependency on China. It continues to bolster ties with Iran and Cuba, both state sponsors of terrorism” Risch said. 

He said he would move to tighten the Agoa eligibility requirements. The argument that this would hinder broader US trade and investment in Africa “and hamper US efforts to counter economic threats by global malign actors” was “misplaced”.

“Every time the United States refuses to respond to actions by China, Russia or Iran, these arguments lose merit. Prioritising commerce over our principles and national security interests undermines our credibility as a strategic alternative to their way of doing business.”

Risch said he supported the reauthorisation of the overall Agoa programme before it expires in 2025.

But hosting the Agoa Forum in South Africa and maintaining South Africa’s eligibility benefits in 2024 “compromises the programme’s integrity and our trade preferences”.

He urged “robust changes to Agoa’s eligibility criteria, management of the Agoa programme by USTR, and oversight of the act’s implementation by Congress”.

“Recent actions by South Africa to directly challenge the United States and align with our adversaries make the Johannesburg forum another example of the administration sending mixed messages and engaging in contradictory foreign policy.  

“The inconsistent responses and actions of the administration undermine US credibility, making it more challenging for allies to align with our policies and to deter our adversaries’ efforts.” 

A senior US official said: “We appreciate the senator’s concerns. Agoa is a cornerstone of our economic engagement with the continent and has benefited Africans and Americans for decades. The Agoa Forum is critically important to enable us to consult African leaders and businesses on Agoa’s future.” DM

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  • Koggel Mander says:

    Instead of asking for the arrest of the leaders of apartheid Israel, how about arresting the leaders of corruptheid South Africa?

    • Steve Davidson says:

      How about arresting all of the crooks in both Israel, especially Netanyahu, and SA? Why not stop the whataboutism and go for the jugular in both countries?

      • Wily Fox says:

        Good idea … provided we start in South Africa (where we have arresting powers) … We’ll probably never finish here (the problem is simply too big) … It’s a bit audacious to point a finger at other countries while your own leaders are guilty of heinous crimes against their own people, wouldn’t you say??? So, how do you suggest we “go for the jugular” of our own corrupt leaders???

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Chickens coming home to roost

  • Shawnbedser says:

    One has to wonder where Hamas got the components to build all of those rockets from maybe sent on the Lady R? Now that would be something to worry about .

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    Once again our useless politicians fail to understand the situation: From only the Eastern Cape perspective, surprisingly, SA is exporting huge amounts of car parts and agricultural goods to both the USA and Europe. The favourable AGOA agreements help with all of this and keep our prices competitive. If we lose the agreemnts we will lose contracts and businesses will shut down with the consequent loss of thousands of jobs. But of course our blue light politicians don’t care about that, only about who can put money into their (the ANC’s) begging bowl because I am sure that this is not about principal or policy but rather about MONEY.

    • ingy poni says:

      And you think that the USA agreed to the terms out of the goodness of their hearts! Our expert government officials negotiate on behalf of South Africa to get those agreements supported and signed! Whether you like it or not South Africa has legal processes in place that demand that officials ascent to our sovereign laws just like any of the other countries do and quite unfortunately the WTO which has constantly been dominated by the West. It is a source of mystry that South African s do not seem to understand this simple fact

      • Nick Miller says:

        What negotiations? AGOA is a unilateral treaty, conditional only upon various generAl requirement re rule of law, no confiscation of property etc.
        Get your fact right before commenting!

  • Shlomo BenChaim says:

    SA support for terrorists hamas/isis should not be rewarded. SA ANC anti Semitism stinks as bad as their corruption.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    Good.
    There should be consequences for the ANC and their communist policies and support for human rights violators.

  • Moruti Ledwaba says:

    I find it interesting that the US has threatened to oust SA from Agoa. Why has it not happened? Is the Agoa agreement only beneficial to SA? or is it also in the interest of the US? Many of those who comment seem to be blind to the fact that ousting SA from Agoa will hurt the interest of the US.Many of you highlight the economic benefits SA receives but ignore the strategic position she holds in Africa. SA should dare the US to kick her out of Agoa and see what happens to US interests in Africa. Go figure!

    • Margaux Venter says:

      This is so interesting! There is definitely a strong anti-SA sentiment growing, but I’m curious about other US decision makers perspectives. I do not always understand SAs international position but unfortunately no one has a moral high ground. May leaders (who impact the lives of millions) be quick to build bridges, to humanize other nations, and to avoid being retaliatory.

    • Wily Fox says:

      Wake up!!! The US don’t need South Africa … They were doing us a favour … All we needed to do is the sensible thing, ie to align economically and politically with the free world … Unfortunately you can’t be on both sides of the fence at once …

    • Ben Harper says:

      hahahahah, that’s some good stuff you’re smoking

    • Nick Miller says:

      Please explain what would happen. Very little I suspect. The US doesn’t get any great benefit from AGOA, other than improving relations with African nations.

    • Jan-Andries Smith says:

      The AGOA agreement is worth a lot more to South Africa than America in relative terms. To us is represents 1.5% of our total exports, to them it is only 0.089% of imports. Its value is 0.65% of our GDP, and only 0.01% of their GDP. Which to me makes it very clear that it is worth more to us than to them, about 65 times more.

  • Annie Conway says:

    Just move the conference as a warning shot across the anc’s bow …. But will it make any difference to the thick skulls? Somehow doubt it. Their Russian masters are still firmly in control of this eminently corruptible lot of communists

  • Johan Buys says:

    Could the auditor general do a review of oil and refined product origins into SA past year perhaps?

    Urals oil and refined product can be had on the putin-market for 30% discount. India is suddenly (hallelujah) na exporting nation. I am 99% certain there is a very very large middleman

  • Andre Swart says:

    Question:

    Why hasn’t the USA kicked SA oht of Agoa?

    Answer:

    Because the USA knows that the ANC does not represent the citizens of SA! Less than 5 million people vote for the ANC from a population of 65 million.

    What’s more … the USA knows that the ANC will be voted OUT of government soon!

  • John Smythe says:

    And so the ANC does it again. Sigh!

  • I am trying to get a open letter to the national Director NPA
    The minister of Justice and The minister of police regarding Fraud perjury and serious crimes defeating the ends of Justice and contributing to the death of my wife inhumane acts committed by SAPS and NPA officials that are covered up at all costs by the NPA and SAPS
    And the JSC that accept that for a judge to lie is acceptable and a magistrate that states one falsly ACCUSED has no rights when trying to make him aware of criminal acts by SAPS and NPA have taken place to get innocent people to court the magistrate Commission saying they can’t interfere this is not hear say I have documents that prove every word even though there have been desperate attempts to destroy every bit of evidence
    Want a story that every south African should read I got it but the papers are even not will ING for some reason to consider the story which would expose serious human right actions breach of every possible so called rights under the constitution which protects criminals

  • Bulumko Ntsokontsoko says:

    It is very unfortunate that we live in a polarized world where people are forced to choose sides.

  • Wily Fox says:

    Well done to our ANC government!!! When they screw up, they screw up big time … Now they stuffed up our trade relations with the US … What’s next??? Are they going to send troops to aid Hamas terrorists in their onslaught on Israel???

  • Vusi Dladla says:

    South Africa has no links with Hamas. The minister explained very clearly that the phone call she made to Hamas was about the safe passage of humanitarian aid and nothing more. It is will known that the ANC is allied to PLO who are rivals to Hamas. Any suggestion that South Africa or the ANC government is allied to Hamas is unadulterated propaganda. Klaar.

    • Wily Fox says:

      Do you know how you sound when you utter such claptrap??? The PLO doesn’t even exist anymore … Hamas controls all of Gaza … Aid to Hamas translates into more weapons & feeding terrorists while the people still go hungry … The UN is the only responsible agent for distribution of humanitarian aid … Our corrupt leaders seem to have a knack for making the wrong decisions … Countries like Russia, China & Iran would chew us up & spit us out after they’ve exploited all our remaining resources …

      • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

        You are very ignorant also. Hamas won the last elections in the Palestinian occupied territories in 2006. The PLO and Fatah lost including the legitimacy of speaking on behalf of the Palestinians. The US has been turning a blind eye on the atrocities of Israel and its military against the Palestinians for years. To the US and Israel the Palestinians do not exist as the fascist Minister of Defence of Israel said that they are less than humans. They are peddling a false notion of self defence in committing the atrocities against the Palestinians that was rejected by the International Court of Justice in July 2004 on the building of the wall by Israel to create an open air prison in Gaza. The US and Israel have been showing a middle finger to the UN on the Palestinian suffering for decades now. They wanted to create the PW Botha Apartheid Constellation of States and ignore the plight of the Palestinians the Palestinian resistance blew the rubbish on the 7th of October and the dishonest Americans who are directly involved in the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians are angry. Their plans have failed dismally and we are not going to listen to their hogwash like the majority of the people in the world.

    • Trenton Carr says:

      You believe everything you hear from the CANCer?

    • Denise Smit says:

      The Minister of International Affairs directly phoned Hamas – how can they not have ties. And why should the leader phone her of all people. Of course there are ties , No one can deny it. Denise Smit

    • Denise Smit says:

      And it is not only Hamas it is terrorist Isis Hamas. Denise Smit

    • Ben Harper says:

      Wrong, Hamas has an official office in Johannesburg

  • Shlomo BenChaim says:

    Not not reward ANC for supporting Jew hatred. Their relationship with ISIS HAMAS stinks as bad as their antisemitism

  • Moruti Ledwaba says:

    Good morning Andre & Derek et al
    Question: Why has the US not kicked out SA out of Agoa?
    It would be great if the “real” reason is because of the answer you provided. That would be morally commendable. Unfortunately I do’nt share your view. History has tons of examples of how the US has made citizens of different countries suffer as collateral damage when they punish the “transgressions” of their leaders. Just reflect a little bit about the current situation in the Gaza Strip. The reprehensible & cowardly invasion of Israel by the terrorist Hamas is bringing untold suffering to women, children, the infirm and elderly in Gaza. The innocent residents of Gaza are collateral damage as the IDF hunts Hamas terrorists. If your argument was valid another way would have sought to punish the leadership of Hamas. There are many examples throughout the ages to support this view
    My answer: The US is keeping SA in Agoa because of America’s interests: maybe not so much economic interests but certainly political. Antagonising SA will threaten the geopolitical interest of the US in Africa. The US knows this and SA knows this as well and that’s why SA keeps rubbing the US the wrong way. That’s my take. Listen to Prof. John Streamlau from Wits

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Not South Africans pushing these harmful policies, it is the cANCer tumor. It needs to be cut out.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Our foreign policy positions cannot be decided at the whims of a dishonest and lying USA. We are not a colony of the United States as Fabricius thinks. It is the US that is disorderly in both Israel and Iran. Fabricius has his facts and knowledge of international relations that are very ill informed. He needs to be able to read the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the notion of self defence of 2004 which he is very ignorant of. A country that has control over the occupied territories cannot claim self defence. This was handed to the UN General Assembly in July 2004 over the building of the wall and settlements and is very wide ranging. Fabricius knows that it is the lying US that withdrew from the JCPOA and the thugs now are demanding additional conditions and Iran is correct to reject them in every respect. Our country cannot be tied to the skirts of the US foreign policy that is informed by its national interests and political thuggery. If AGOA is going to be used that we must be US poodles like the UK then we must say to hell with AGOA. The call for the arrest of the racist and fascist Israel leaders is correct as Netanyahu and military leaders has been committing well documented human rights violations , war crimes and genocide against the Palestinians that did not start after 7th of October. Peter Fabricius must also read the concept of politicide that he is ignorant of which gives the right to the oppressed and those who are occupied to take up arms.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Given what I know, it seems that the US Congress is becoming exceedingly biased in their perceptions. I don’t know if it is only the Republican Party, but much of what has been said is misinformed, unless of course the US Congress demands that all countries of the world must either become USA vassals or else we are their enemy. That is not how international politics in the modern world works and if they are successful, they are likely to isolate the USA and drive most of the non-aligned world into the hands of China. If it was not the US Congress but some relatively uninformed entity, one would be able to argue that the discrepancies between the positions of the ANC (which we all know has a long-standing relationship with Russia going back to the freedom struggle) and the SA Government (which is bound by the SA Constitution and represent ALL SA interests, not just that of the ANC) is confusing to them. But the US Congress, having all the information at their finger tips, should be better informed. I also think that us as South Africans should keep a more open mind and be less prone to the us-and-them syndrome, which sees everything as either “western” or “communist”. The modern world does not work like that any more; it has not since the middle of the 1990’s. Even the BRICS (or BRICS+ from 2024) is not an anti-western alliance; it only exists to create more diverse economic opportunities for countries not accommodated by the traditional world infrastructure.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    I am humbled by the maturity of comments by Roelf, Ledwaba and others, the ANC has a huge shortcoming in handling our finances and corruption but on the same vein i commend them for respecting our democracy, HAMAS was designated a terririst organisation by America and cohots in my view they are a militant organisation, Israel has killed many Palestinians either softer than what they show of Hamas those people are dead by terrorist means by a State that colomnised them, if we were in the same position as Palestine we will welcome anyone who offers to liberate us, if Palestine was a state with its own army there will be no Hamas, America is biased they call Russia an aggressor but they support the aggressor in Israel who bomb innocent civilians in an open prison designed by them an America supports this unconditionally, no Agoa or any financial benefit is worth the blood of innocent Palestinians and Jews, they must leave our minerals and shove their Agoa to a very dark place, China is open for business and they are the the next superpower, we wont support them blindly they the Rohingya descrimination issue they need to sort out but for now to hell with Europe’s biased foreign policies

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Apologies for any french words in my comments, Peter Fabricius revisit Iraq, Lybia and Afghanistan and the role of France, America and Britain by the way Britain sold Palestine to Israel, look at how Israel was a useful tool against Egypt and the west in the Suez canal when they instructed Israel to pretend they were attacking Egypt then the west asked both to step back but when Egypt stepped back the Suez canal became open for them, our eyes are open now they can not discover minerals that were there before they came anymore

  • David Forbes says:

    I don’t know what rightwing planet Peter Fabricius lives on, but as far as I know, Iran, Gaza and Russia all have elected representatives. Whether one agrees that they were “democratically elected” is another issue entirely. One could well argue that money buys democracy in the USA, and that what democracy actually offers these days is a far, far cry from what it used to be.

    But besides that, our Foreign Minister is obliged to keep contact with all sorts of people in official positions in other countries. It’s called “diplomacy” Peter. Even the Americans are in continual contact with Russia, even though they are supporting a proxy war in Ukraine. NATO too. You are naive in the extreme if you think we are going to buy your line that a couple of phone calls to Iran and Hamas government officials or meeting them to understand the conflict from other perspectives, is evil, or wrong, or uncalled for. In fact, it would not be democratic to only support one line on the conflict when you are trying to be non-aligned, which is SA’s official position.
    Peter, we know you are pro-US, pro-West, and so we also know that what you write is never going to be the full story from both sides. We expect that, all media are biased to an extent, it is part of the human condition.
    But to insert propaganda into your articles is not really playing the game. Unless, of course, you are playing America’s game.
    We expect better of you. Please try and be a little more equananimous and objective, even if it is difficult for you. Thanks.

  • douglas wade says:

    Perhaps we should consider the problem in the light of a remark attributed to George Washington to the effect that States do not have friends, they only have interests.
    Oh brave new world.

  • The mighty US is at it again dictating to the whole world what to do when to do it & with whom and wanting their enemies of their own making everyones enemy,next thing They’ll say they can bet their lives we sent weapons to Hamas.

  • Andre Swart says:

    Dear America

    Punish the ANC not South Africa!

    Because the racist ANC communist don’t represent the citizens of South Africa and will soon be voted out of government.

    We, the 60 million citizens who don’t vote for the ANC, fully suppport democracy, the free market system and human rights.

    Through constructive engagememt with civil South Africa, America will benefit tremendously i.t.o. trade and international influence.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Well unfortunately, not enough of the 60 Million voted for parties other than the anc thus the anc is SA. ANY trade deal will be done with the anc and until the day the anc is voted out of government COMPLETELY, SA will remain anc

  • Jack Russell says:

    I’d guess the attitude of the US is that the SA government are like a cousin’s spoilt children, unfortunately a really stupid lot, but they’re in the family so not much we can do about it except hope that one day they’ll at least learn some basic manners?

  • Andre Grobler says:

    How many readers lost track of when it was Fabricius, and when it was Risch’s opinion?
    Politics forced by economics, is 90% the problem of this world… like when rich people sponsor the school’s pavillion… then kids get on the student council… it may just be facts of life, but don’t then bring right or wrong into the argument… be honest at least

  • Drieniedr says:

    I’m so so sorry to hear about this but it is you Americans that complain a about rasist SouthAfrica but now it’s us suffering with this regime party having degrading our land to nothing so please it not all people I’m a christen and is for Isreal look after what you did in your land that is a disgrace to God and Jesus.

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