President Donald Trump has fired Defence Secretary Mark Esper just weeks before leaving office.
Trump took to Twitter to announce that Esper has been fired and announced that Christoper Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, would take over for the interim.
I am pleased to announce that Christopher C. Miller, the highly respected Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (unanimously confirmed by the Senate), will be Acting Secretary of Defense, effective immediately..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2020
During his last few months as Defence Secretary, Esper visited Malta in order to negotiate the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which would grant US jurisdictional powers in Malta as part of a larger security arrangement.
The highly-controversial agreement was met with serious backlash across the island with many highlighting the fact that such a deal would impinge on Malta’s neutral status.
Esper met with Prime Minister Robert Abela but negotiations came to a halt after the Defence Secretary rejected the proposed deal to the weaker terms the Maltese government reportedly proposed.
The US has long wanted to have this type of jurisdiction in the well-placed Maltese islands. It was believed that the SOFA agreement was being used as a bargaining chip in return for US support ahead of Moneyval’s upcoming crucial review of the country’s anti-money laundering regime.
However, Prime Minister Robert Abela has insisted Moneyval’s review and a potential SOFA are completely separate issues and that any agreement would respect Malta’s constitutional neutrality.
With US President-elect Joe Biden pledging to mend the rift with its European allies, it begs the question as to whether SOFA will remain at the forefront of US foreign policy in Malta.
In the context of Moneyval, strengthing relationships with the US might help Malta’s position and negotiate a deal to prevent the country from being greylisted.
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