White House looks to place travel restrictions on countries deemed safe

Withdrawal to be invoked if any of its citizens are attacked or killed

The White House confirmed on Saturday it would place travel restrictions on foreign governments unless they have received assurances that their citizens would not be targeted for assassination.

Amid a scandal involving the FBI’s handling of the investigation into President Donald Trump’s election campaign and subsequent appointment of a special counsel, the administration has attempted to outline the extent of its authority in declassifying information from the era of the former President Barack Obama. It has also sought to quell criticism that it has been slow to embrace new congressional oversight of its actions.

On Friday, the day after the news of the special counsel’s appointment was made public, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, pointedly referred to Obama as “not currently working on any investigation”, a comment that underscored the administration’s anxiety about invoking Obama’s past office.

But by evening Trump hinted at broader presidential powers, tweeting: “Hopefully future President’s won’t have to use the power of their offices as harshly as I have. There is no blame!”

His administration’s action drew a mixed response from South African observers, who bemoaned the possibility of border controls on South African nationals without a high level of government reciprocity.

Mick Mbaru, South Africa’s chief information technology and innovation officer, also raised the question of whether Zimbabwe was potentially in line for a similar move.

The Trump administration will send a letter to South Africa and the other 19 countries that will receive travel restrictions

“I’m sure South Africa will not be able to decide on its own at this stage that we have seen on Twitter from the White House – hypothetically speaking – whether they are going to do away with this rule,” he said.

The White House confirmed on Saturday that the administration had drawn up plans for countries in North and South America, the Middle East and Africa to be placed under travel restrictions, a move that was further delayed after Turnbull said it could trigger a trade war.

By targeting a broad range of countries, the decision would isolate the White House from its historically liberal supporters in the country, some of whom celebrated Friday night’s announcement of Barack Obama’s scholarship initiative in high school, signed by Trump in January 2017.

South Africa, which imposed its own temporary restrictions on America in 1994, when the first Bush administration was still occupying the White House, has so far been largely unruffled by the president’s actions on US-South African relations.

“President Trump is doing precisely what a bully and unelected president wants to do – bully and use the full might of the federal government to intimidate, threaten and coerce other countries,” said the South African veteran anti-apartheid activist, Mick Jagger.

Zephaniah Evans, a veteran commentator and historian of American-African relations in Africa, added: “It is unfortunate that Trump has chosen to escalate these attacks.

“There is a group of us who have already told Trump to choose his words carefully when it comes to Latin America. South Africa has a chance to opt out of these measures, without reservation.”

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