Next week, the State Department is expected to release a list of Russian human rights violators who could be subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States, but Congress is worried that State will avoid naming senior Russian officials in an effort to placate the Kremlin.
The list is required to be sent to Congress by April 13, according to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last December. Lawmakers and NGOs working on the Magnitsky list want the State Department to include top Russian officials and several close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The State Department is using a narrow interpretation of the law, arguing that a higher standard of evidence is required for legal reasons. But some lawmakers involved in the issue believe the narrower scope is meant to placate Moscow.
"We want to ensure that the administration carries out the law in the same spirit that Congress passed it. We didn't do this for a press release; we did this because of the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), an original sponsor of the bill, in an interview.
McGovern sent the administration his own list of 280 Russian officials (PDF) he believes should be included in the State Department's Magnitsky list. Many of them are directly related to the case of Magnitsky, the anti-corruption lawyer who died in Russian prison after allegedly being tortured, and some are close personal associates of Putin.
Yuri Chaika, the general prosecutor of Russia in Moscow, was included on McGovern's list, as was Victor Voronin, the head of economic counterespionage department of the FSB who was reportedly heavily involved in overseeing the Magnitsky case. Chaika and Vororin are both close associates of Putin, and Voronin's ties to the Russian leader date back to their time together at the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB.
McGovern also names Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee and college friend of Putin, Victor Grin, deputy general prosecutor under Chaika, Olga Yegorova, the head of the Moscow City Court, and dozens of other officials associated with the case -- all the way down to the paramedics and nurses in the prison where Magnitsky died.
Several NGOs have also submitted their own lists to the State Department with other names of senior Russian officials not involved in the Magnitsky case. For example, one list obtained by The Cable submitted by an American NGO named Mikhail Lesin, former Russian information minister, who has been sued in the European Court of Human Rights for various acts of intimidation against Russian media figures. Lesin is also the founder of Russia Today, the government-sponsored news network.
NGOs also want to see on the list Ramzan Kadyrov, the appointed governor of Chechnya, who the State Department itself has reported is responsible for a long list of human rights violations, including the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, an American citizen, in 2006.
McGovern is not the only congressman concerned about how the State Department is forming the list. His concerns are shared by key sponsors Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John McCain (R-AZ), several congressional aides said, although those senators are waiting until the list is released before criticizing the administration publicly.
McGovern is not waiting, however, and wrote a letter March 26 urging Obama to create the list using a broad standard: a violator should be named where there is credible information that he or she had engaged in any of the activities outlined in the law as human rights violations.
The administration will only place Russian officials on the list if those officials meet the more stringent standard used by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to justify asset freezes, as defined in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a State Department official told The Cable.
"OFAC has to develop a legally supportable case about everyone who is on the list," the official said. "OFAC standards demand a case of evidence that can withstand challenge because they will be challenged."
The official also said that the list to be released next week can be updated each year and should not be seen as the final list.
McGovern told The Cable that the whole point of the list is to name and shame Russian human rights violators and that asset freezes are only the final step in the process to be applied to certain members of the list. By using the Treasury Department's narrower standard, the State Department could be gutting the power of the legislation, he says.
"The administration knows exactly what the intent of Congress was when they passed this bill. They are going to take the most limited interpretation and find ways not to put anybody on the list. If that's the course they want to take, they are going to receive some bipartisan pushback," he said.
The Obama administration resisted the law throughout its path through Congress and negotiated several changes meant to soften what it expects will be severe Russian retaliation, McGovern said, and is now trying to appease the Russian government by releasing a small list.
"I understand the political difficulty the administration might face, but if the administration were to take a limited view of the Magnitsky bill, it would be a wink and a nod to the hardliners in Russia that they won."
Following Uganda's announcement that it is suspending its hunt for Joseph Kony, the State Department said Wednesday that it is putting a $5 million bounty on the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader.
The Ugandan military halted its search for Kony this week after rebels took over the government of the Central African Republic, where Kony is believed to be hiding. The State Department held a special press briefing Wednesday to announce the expansion of its War Crime Rewards Program to include Kony, LRA leaders Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, and the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Sylvestre Mudacumura.
"We act today so that there can be justice for the innocent men, women, and children who have been subjected to mass murder, to rape, to amputation, enslavement, and other atrocities," said Ambassador at Large Stephen Rapp, head of the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice.
The program, which was started in 1998, had been focused on bringing to justice those indicted by the three international tribunals that were created for the former Yugoslavia, for Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Over the past two years alone, State has paid out more than $5 million to 14 different recipients, Rapp said
But as those cases neared completion, State sought authority to go after any indicted international war criminals. The department succeeded in getting new legislation passed, sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and then Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last year.
"To that end, the expanded program now targets the alleged perpetrators of the worst atrocities, some of whom have evaded justice for more than a decade," Rapp said. "The LRA is one of the world's most brutal armed groups and has survived for over 20 years by abducting women and children and forcing them to serve as porters, sex slaves, and fighters."
Don Yamamoto, the acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, acknowledged that the U.S. forces assisting the Ugandan military in their hunt for Kony are also suspending their activities, but he promised the United States would continue the search using other means.
"The United States remains very committed to the counter-LRA program, along with our partners. And of course, right now is -- even though we've taken a pause because of the developments in Bangui and how the situation there is unfolding -- is remain committed," he said. "And we're going to use all facilities and all technology at our hands to try to find and locate Kony and his group."
Kerry wrote about the ongoing hunt for Kony and other LRA leaders in a Wednesday op-ed in the Huffington Post.
"I refuse to accept a world where those responsible for crimes of this magnitude live in impunity. We will keep working to hold them accountable and deliver justice to all the people they have hurt. Nowhere will thugs and war criminals who terrorize children be safe -- not for long anyways," he said. "And starting today, their lives on the run -- always looking over their shoulder -- include an even greater prize on their head."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said in a Wednesday statement that he hoped the search for Kony would be resumed soon.
"Joseph Kony and his commanders in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are war criminals whose heinous acts have wreaked havoc across Central Africa for the last 25 years. It is important that they are brought to justice for unconscionable crimes against humanity, even as the political situation in the Central African Republic has destabilized," he said. "In expanding its Rewards for Justice program today to include a $5 million reward for the apprehension of Kony and other LRA leaders, the United States has reasserted its commitment to bringing their reign of terror in the region to an end."
STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry's pivot to Asia will be preceded by his third stop in the Middle East, with a newly announced visit to Turkey, Israel, and the West Bank.
Kerry has already traveled to the region twice, once in February by himself, and once in March with President Barack Obama that included stops in Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. Kerry was already planning to go next week to Japan, South Korea, and China, following a stop in London for the G-8 foreign ministers' meeting. Now he is adding a new set of stops, the State Department announced Wednesday.
"The secretary will depart this weekend. His first stop will now be in Istanbul, where he will consult with senior Turkish leaders on a variety of subjects, including the situation in Syria," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Kerry will go to Jerusalem on April 8 and Ramallah April 9, she said. In Jerusalem he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Ramallah he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Nuland did not say whom Kerry will meet in Turkey. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Turkey the week after Kerry.
Following his Mideast detour, Kerry will continue on with his previously planned schedule, stopping in Seoul April 12, Bejing April 13, and Tokyo April 14.
Why Turkey? Following the Israel-Turkey phone call that took place during Obama's visit last month, during which Netanyahu apologized for the deaths that resulted from the Israeli boarding of a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010, the administration wants to make sure the fragile Israel-Turkey warming of relations continues apace.
"So by going to Istanbul first to see Turkish officials and then going on to Israel, the secretary will also have an opportunity to spur both sides to continue to take steps to deepen their normalization and to work well together," Nuland said. "We need to now see further steps on both sides."
Nuland tamped down expectations that there would be any publicly visible progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process coming out of Kerry's trip.
"I would not expect the secretary to be putting down a plan," she said. "As you know, the secretary had a chance to have a meeting directly after the [last] visit with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Abbas. It's now been a couple of weeks. They've had some time to reflect on the visit, et cetera. So this is a chance for the secretary to go back and to listen again and to hear what they think is possible."
"I think you've figured out by now that Secretary Kerry very much believes in personal diplomacy. He believes in sitting with leaders and listening to them. So that's what he will be doing again this time," she said.
The campaign to convince Hillary Clinton to campaign for the presidency began in earnest Tuesday afternoon with a small public rally outside the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
About two dozen George Washington University undergrads assembled outside the venue where Clinton would speak a couple hours later at the Vital Voices gala event, which also featured Vice President Joe Biden. They cheered and held signs reading "Ready for Hillary 2016" and "Power To The Pantsuit," a reference to Clinton's signature wardrobe choice. After a few cheers and short speeches, the crowd dispersed, their point made.
"Ready for Hillary" student leader Avery Jaffe, a GW undergrad who worked as an Ohio field organizer for President Barack Obama's campaign in 2012, told The Cable the rally was just the beginning of what will be a concerted effort to both urge Clinton to get into the race and to raise money for her prospective campaign in advance. His student group is working together with "Ready for Hillary PAC," which has already raised significant funds, he said.
The group launched its web page Tuesday and the effort already has 50,000 Facebook likes, 40,000 Twitter followers, and 30,000 Instagram followers, according to Jaffe. The rally was organized around Clinton's first public speech since leaving office, Jaffe said.
The PAC is being run by Clinton friend Allida Black and long-time supporter Adam Parkhomenko, who started his first "Draft Hillary" campaign in 2003 and worked for Clinton until 2008. The group will raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists of supporters over the next two years while Clinton mulls over whether to run, according to Dave Weigel over at Slate.
"[Black]'s so dedicated to the cause that she's willing to sever all ties to Hillary in order to chair the Super PAC," Jaffe said.
The group hopes to raise seven figures, and numerous bundlers from Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign have already signed on with Ready for Hillary PAC, Seth Bringman, the communications director for the PAC, told The Cable. Their first public financial disclosure will be filed in July.
But what if Clinton doesn't run? Her longtime spokesman Philippe Reines told CNN this week, "I think people aren't just getting ahead of themselves; they're getting ahead of her."
"We hope that she will run and we believe she will run," Bringman said. The Super PAC can also use the money to support other candidates if Hillary demurs, but that's not something the group is thinking about right now.
"She's going to be convinced by people like the 100,000 people who have already signed up with Ready for Hillary," he said. "Even if she doesn't want it, we believe she's going to be convinced by her supporters."
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo shut down its Twitter feed Wednesday following a public fight with the Egyptian Presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood over the arrest of an Egyptian television star.
"Sorry, that page doesn't exist!" reads the banner atop the site where the @USEmbassyCairo Twitter feed sat until this morning. A cached version of the page shows that the last tweet was a link to the Daily Show's Jon Stewart talking about the Egyptian government's arrest of Stewart's Egyptian doppelganger Bassem Youssef, who was detained and fined by the Egyptian police on the charge of insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsy.
"It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda," the official Twitter feed for the Egyptian presidency said on their own feed Tuesday. The Egyptian presidency tweet was directed at the Cairo Embassy, the Daily Show, and Youssef himself.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has been lashing out at Embassy Cairo repeatedly on its own Twitter feed.
"Another undiplomatic & unwise move by @USEmbassyCairo, taking sides in an ongoing investigation & disregarding Egyptian law & culture," the FJP tweeted Tuesday.
A State Department official told The Cable Wednesday that the decision to take down Embassy Cairo's Twitter page was made by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson without the consultation of the State Department in Washington. Foggy Bottom is urging Embassy Cairo to put the page back up, lest it appear that the United States is caving to the online pressure.
"This not a permanent shutdown. Embassy Cairo considers this to be temporary. They want to put new procedures in place," the official said.
This is not the first time Embassy Cairo has courted controversy via its Twitter account. On the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2012, Embassy Cairo put out a series of tweets seeking to calm the protests outside their walls. The campaign of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, seized upon those tweets to accuse President Barack Obama of apologizing for American values because the tweets referenced an anti-Islam video that contributed to the unrest.
The main Embassy Cairo tweeter at that time, Larry Schwartz, was blamed for the Sept. 11 tweets and subsequently recalled to Washington. But the combative character of the embassy's Twitter account continued.
The FJP also took issue with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's criticism of Youssef's treatment during an April 1 press briefing. Referring directly to Nuland's remarks about Youssef, the FJP said they are outraged at her "unreserved audacity" and her "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt on an issue that is still under investigation" and is being dealt with through the Egyptian legal system.
UPDATE 12:20 : The Embassy Cairo Twitter feed is back up and running, although the controversial tweet in question has been deleted.
UPDATE: 1:00 : Nuland said at Wednesday's briefing that the Embassy viewed the tweet as a mistake but she defended the State Department's criticism of the Egyptian government on the issue.
"We've had some glitches with the way the twitter feed has been managed. This is regrettably not the first time. Embassy Cairo is looking at how to manage these glitches," she said. "They came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
Two months into Secretary of State John Kerry's tenure, a large number of senior State Department positions remain vacant, and the process to fill them seems indefinitely stalled, officials inside the department tell The Cable.
When Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came into office, she negotiated for herself 100 percent control over State Department appointments and largely kept Obama campaign officials at arms' length. Kerry has no such deal with the White House, and his office is only one voice in a White House-managed appointment process that is moving as slowly as molasses, several State Department officials and insiders say.
As Kerry prepares to travel to East Asia next week, his third major overseas adventure in his short time in Foggy Bottom, the most glaring opening at State is the post of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs (EAP), which was vacated by Kurt Campbell in February. NSS Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel has been long assumed the leading contender, but Kerry is said to prefer a non-White House staffer. Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun has been running the EAP shop.
But the EAP is only one of nearly a dozen bureaus that are working without politically appointed leaders and there are several reports of angst that the vacancies are being left unfilled for so long.
"We must report rising anxiety at senior policy levels at what players characterize as virtual indifference by Sec. St. Kerry and his inner-circle to moving on the Asst. Secretary appointments needed to properly run the Department's many bureaus," reports Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, an insider's newsletter on Asia policy.
All of the regional bureaus are now being run by acting assistant secretaries or assistant secretaries that come from the Foreign Service ranks, Nelson notes.
"In short, neither White House nor Kerry people are now running the store," he writes. "The system isn't designed to work that way. No matter what the White House may think, it and the NSC can't run everything... Unsurprisingly, some folks now speculate this means Obama and his team are determined to control it all."
Our State Department sources report that there is increasing concern that Kerry is spending so much time out of the building (although his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry has been spotted in the Truman Headquarters on several occasions), leaving the day-to-day management to a select group of senior officials.
The handful of people who are running the show at State these days is largely limited to the very few senior staffers Kerry brought in with him: Chief of Staff David Wade, Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Danvers, Policy Planning Director David McKean, and senior communications advisor Glen Johnson, along with the few holdover senior officials who have regular direct access to Kerry: Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Nuland especially is said to have risen in influence since Clinton, and her longtime communications aide Philippe Reines, departed. A power struggle inside the State Department's public affairs office between Nuland and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Mike Hammer, along with his deputy Dana Smith, has largely been won by Nuland, several State Department sources said.
Although Hammer is technically the head of the bureau, Nuland runs the daily meetings, often travels with Kerry, takes the lead on forming the messages and talking points, and has emerged victorious in several internal battles, including a dispute over who would be on the plane with Kerry during his first trip as secretary. Smith wanted her own people to travel but Nuland insisted on choosing the traveling personnel and got her way.
Nuland, who was recently elevated to the status of career ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service, is expected to be nominated to replace Philip Gordon as assistant secretary of state for Europe. Hammer is expected to be given an ambassadorship soon. Smith is known to want Hammer's job, but the model of having an assistant secretary who is not also the spokesperson is under review, and incoming spokesperson Jen Psaki could be tapped for both jobs.
Psaki was a White House and Obama campaign staffer, but also has longstanding ties to Kerry. Stephen Krupin, the head speechwriter for Obama for America, has begun work as Kerry's chief speechwriter, and the rumor is that the White House is seeking to place more Obama campaign hands at State -- potentially bad news for the Kerry staffers left waiting over at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, a host of State Department offices and bureaus are functioning with temporary leadership.
In the Africa bureau, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson's last day was March 29. He had been hoping to retire in January but was asked to stay longer by Kerry's staff. That bureau is now being run by Acting Assistant Secretary Don Yamamoto, a Foreign Service officer who has been an ambassador three times. NSS Senior Director Gayle Smith is rumored to be in the running for Carson's job.
The related special envoy for Sudan job is also vacant since Princeton Lyman stepped down last December.There are some names being bandied about, such as former Ambassadors Tim Carney and Cameron Hume, although Sudan advocacy groups are warning the White House against choosing Carney, whom they see as too cozy with Khartoum.
There's also no special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, following the return of Amb. Marc Grossman to the private sector last December. Acting SRAP David Pearce is running the office but there's no word on whether Kerry intends to replace Grossman or when.
The position of assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs has been filled in an acting capacity by Foreign Service officer Beth Jones ever since Jeff Feltman departed for the U.N. last year. The rumor had been that Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson was in line for that job, but lately State Department sources report that there are no firm indications of who might get it.
Rose Gottemoeller is serving as acting undersecretary for arms control and international security while also technically still serving as the assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance. She will have to be nominated again for the undersecretary slot soon, but there's no schedule for what could be a very contentious confirmation process in the Senate.
Michael Posner has left his job as assistant secretary of state for democracy, leaving long time Foreign Service officer Uzra Zeya as acting head of that bureau. There's no word about his replacement, although we hear rumors that Human Rights Watch's Washington director, Tom Malinowski, may be in contention.
The Diplomatic Security Bureau has been leaderless since its top three officials were placed on paid administrative leave following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Greg Starr is the nominal official in charge.
Melanne Verveer, the ambassador at large for global women's issues, left the department Feb. 8. Sharon Weiner, a career Foreign Service officer, is acting ambassador, but the White House has announced its intention to nominate Cathy Russell to replace Verveer.
There's no word on who will replace Deputy Secretary for Management Tom Nides, who left the department in February to return to Wall Street. There's also no assistant secretary for legislative affairs, which could be a disadvantage for State in the upcoming budget fights.
The State Department also does not have an inspector general to oversee its operations, but that is not the fault of Kerry's team. The last time the State Department had a full-time inspector general was Feb. 6, 2008.
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood lashed out Tuesday against State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland after Nuland criticized the Egyptian government for stifling freedom of expression.
Nuland dressed down the Egyptian government for a series of actions against its domestic critics, including the detention and interrogation of Bassem Youssef, Egypt's answer to The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, on charges that Youssef had insulted Islam and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. Youssef was released after five hours of interrogation and fined 15,000 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to about $2,200.
"We are concerned that the public prosecutor appears to have questioned and then released on bail Bassam Youssef on charges of insulting Islam and President Morsy. This coupled with recent arrest warrants issued for other political activists is evidence of a disturbing trend of growing restrictions on the freedom of expression," Nuland said at Monday's press briefing.
"We're also concerned that the government of Egypt seems to be investigating these cases while it has been slow or inadequate in investigating attacks on demonstrators outside of the presidential palace in December 2012, other cases of extreme police brutality, and illegally blocked entry of journalists to media cities. So there does not seem to be an evenhanded application of justice here."
Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about human rights and freedom of the press with Morsy when Kerry was in Egypt last month, Nuland said. She also said that a new NGO law in Egypt "would have a chilling effect on the ability of Egyptian NGOs in the first instance, but also international NGOs to support the democratic process in Egypt."
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, took issue with Nuland's comments on their official Facebook page.
Referring directly to Nuland's remarks about
Youssef, the FJP said they are outraged at her "unreserved audacity"
and her "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt on an issue
that is still under investigation" and is being dealt with through the
Egyptian legal system.
Nuland's remarks suggest that the main concern is insulting the president, while in actuality the primary issue is ridiculing and contempt of religion, the FJP said. The party made clear its "severe and absolute condemnation" of Nuland's statements.
In response to the FJP's Facebook post, Nuland held firm.
"We standby the position of the US government which I articulated yesterday," she told The Cable.
Outside experts see the Muslim Brotherhood's comments as similar to the way the Egyptian government defended its attacks on freedom of expression during the reign of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
"This kind of language from FJP is very similar to the language Mubarak's Foreign Ministers used to use objecting to human rights criticism from the U.S. government," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, now head of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center. "There is nothing new here except clear evidence of the FJP's lack of concern for the international human rights norms to which they have repeatedly claimed fealty."
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
The current negotiations with Iran to deal with its nuclear program are unlikely to succeed, a top former White House said Monday.
"I have such low expectations for what's going to come out of this next round of talks that I think it's a mistake to try to set the bar," said Gary Samore, who served on President Barack Obama's National Security Staff as the chief official for weapons of mass destruction from 2009 until January. "I mean, if they agree to another round of meetings that will be the process continuing, but I think that it really is unrealistic to expect that there be some kind of breakthrough in these talks."
The next round of the ongoing series of talks between six major powers and Iran is expected to take place in Kazakhstan later this month, although Iran is threatening to postpone or withdraw from the negotiations. So far, the talks have yielded little progress, Samore acknowledged.
"Look, both sides are using, you know, the diplomacy for their own purposes," he said. "I mean, the Iranians use diplomacy in an effort to try to show that there's progress and therefore no further sanctions are justified and to the extent that it looks like there's progress it helps maintain the value of the rial [the Iranian currency]. The U.S. and the P5+1 use diplomacy in order to demonstrate that Iran is being intransigent and unreasonable and therefore more sanctions are required. And that process is going to continue," Samore said, referring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
The two sides are very far apart, even when discussing basic confidence building measures that could lead to a more comprehensive agreement, Samore said. The P5+1 countries are asking for Iran to shutter the facility at Qom, halt uranium enrichment at 20 percent, and ship out the bulk of the 20 percent enriched uranium Iran already has -- all in exchange for modest sanctions relief. The Iranians want a full suspension of sanctions in exchange for a commitment to halt enrichment of uranium at 20 percent.
Samore spoke at a Monday-morning event at the Brookings Institution alongside Javier Solana, a Brookings fellow and former secretary general of NATO and foreign minister of Spain. Solana said the unity of the P5+1 countries, which include the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, is crumbling.
"I think that the level of consistency and coherence of the P5 is diminishing," Solana said. "It is diminishing first because of Syria. Remember that Syria, China, and Russia are not in the same place that the Americans and the Europeans, and that is an important issue... I'm very concerned that as time goes by the P5 are getting less concerted action in many issues, not only Syria."
The Obama administration has avoided intervention in Syria in part to keep the diplomatic track with Iran alive, Solana said, although that strategy is now being overtaken by events.
"I think that the United States has not taken a more active role in Syria from the beginning because they didn't want to destroy the possibility of -- I mean to give them space to negotiate with Tehran," he said. "They probably knew that getting very engaged against Assad... could contribute to a breaking in the potential negotiations with Iran. Nowadays the situation may be different because the situation within Syria is much worse than it was in the beginning."
Samore said that Assad's continued reign in Syria makes a breakthrough with Iran less likely and that the the Syrian leader's fall could have a positive effect on P5+1 countries' ability to convince Iran to come to terms with the international community about its nuclear programs.
"In the end I think the collapse of Assad makes a nuclear deal more likely because the supreme leader will feel more isolated, under greater pressure, and more likely to make tactical concessions in order to relieve further isolation and pressure," Samore said. "Of course, that's not going to change his fundamental interest in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. I think it will confirm for him that the best way to defend himself against countries like the United States is to have that capacity. But at least in terms of near-term tactical decisions, I think the more he feels isolated and threatened the more likely it is he'll make some modest concessions in order to have some kind of interim relief."
Marya Hannun contributed reporting to this article.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.