Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was briefly hospitalized Monday with stomach problems but did not suffer another heart attack, a close friend of his told The Cable.
"He had some stomach problems, he was in the hospital for a half an hour. He did not have a heart attack," Ziad Asali, President of the American Task Force for Palestine, said in a short phone interview.
Asali spoke with Fayyad directly Monday and said that rumors to the effect that Fayyad had suffered a heart attack were not true. Fayyad did suffer a heart attack during a May 2011 trip to see his son graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.
"He's had some problems with his stomach before," Asali said. "I have been told by him that he did not have a heart attack and he is home already."
Fayyad is reported to be in a power struggle with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. President Barack Obama praised both Abbas and Fayyad as "true partners" for peace in his visit to Israel and the West Bank last month.
The White House on Friday called on the Egyptian government to combat a wave of sexual assaults, and urged President Mohammed Morsy's administration to avoid blaming the victims for the violence sweeping the country.
The White House was responding to reports of alarming increases of sexual assault and gang rape in Egypt over the last few weeks, including this March 25 New York Times report stating that in Cairo's famed Tahrir Square, where the 2011 revolution began, "the sheer number of women sexually abused and gang raped in a single public square had become too big to ignore."
The issue first came to the widespread attention of the American media in 2011, when CBS news correspondent Lara Logan was violently sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square while covering the protests. Opposition party leaders blame the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, some of whose members have made comments that appear to blame the victims. Some attackers have said they were paid by the Brotherhood to intimidate women protesters.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday that the Obama administration was "deeply concerned" about the rise in sexual violence in Egypt and called on the Egyptian government to do more to prevent the rapes and bring the attackers to justice.
"Sexual violence, including gang rape, has occurred during recent demonstrations in Egypt, and this is a cause of great concern to the United States, the international community, and to many Egyptians. These victims are the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of Egypt," he said. "The Egyptian government has a responsibility to take legal measures to prevent sexual violence and to prosecute people who are involved in such crimes. The idea that some Egyptians are blaming the victims for being raped and assaulted is abhorrent. We strongly condemn these views and reaffirm the rights of women to express themselves in public squares alongside men, as well as the responsibility of the Egyptian government to protect them."
Separately on Friday, the State Department alerted Americans in Egypt, particularly women, to be careful.
"Political unrest, which intensified prior to the constitutional referendum in December 2012 and the anniversary in 2013 of Egypt's 25th January Revolution, is likely to continue in the near future," the State Department said in a Friday travel alert. "Of specific concern is a rise in gender-based violence in and around protest areas where women have been the specific targets of sexual assault."
Several major cities have now been the sites of violent clashes between police and protesters, and while U.S. citizens are not necessarily targeted, Westerners are sometimes caught up in the melee, the State Department alert said.
"The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse," the alert stated. "U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
The United States and Russia are engaged in a new diplomatic war of words following Russian government raids on several international NGOs this week -- and the battle is set to escalate.
Following this week's raids of dozens of international organizations by the Russian police, several countries have condemned the actions of President Vladimir Putin's government as dangerous assault on civil society and another step backwards in Russia's path toward open and democratic governance. Harsh statements of condemnation have come from the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the top levels of the German government, the French Foreign Ministry, and numerous international organizations.
The State Department entered the fray on Thursdayaccusing the Russian government of conducting a "witch hunt" as it seeks to implement a new law placing new restrictions on NGOs and what the Russians call "foreign agents" on their soil.
"The sheer scope of these inspections now -- which are now, as I said, targeting not just NGOs who are subject to the changes under Russian law but also targeting civil organizations that are not subject to those laws, like religious organizations, educational organizations -- really gives us concern that this is some kind of a witch hunt," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We think that these laws are extremely restrictive, that they are chilling the environment for civil society, which is taking Russian democracy in the wrong direction."
The offices of several U.S. NGOs were raided in recent days, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul has raised American concerns about the raids with several Russian officials and met on March 26 with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also placed a call to her Russian counterpart on the issue.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday defending the raids as "a common practice in Russia and in other countries."
Rachel Debner, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told The Cable that the raids are not at all a common practice in Russia or anywhere else for that matter.
"This is wave of inspections the scale of which is utterly unprecedented in Russian contemporary history. In the past 20 years there's been nothing like it," she said. "Putin has made clear that he sees the whole idea of the internal monitoring of a country's human rights record by foreigners as an assault on Russian sovereignty, which contradicts decades of how the human rights infrastructure has been functioning. The question now is whether the international community is going to let Putin shift the terms on which human rights accountability is based."
The NGO raids are the latest in a series of similar moves by the Russian government, including Moscow's unilateral withdrawal from the Nunn-Lugar nuclear threat reduction initiative, its expulsion of USAID from Russia, and its new ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will travel to Russia next month, but that trip is expected to focus heavily on the administration's push to entice Russian into a new round of negotiations over further reductions in nuclear weapons arsenals.
Meanwhile, the current tensions with Russia are expected to heighten in mid-April, when the State Department is required to release its list of Russian human rights violators in accordance with the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability and Rule of Law Act of 2012, which seeks to name and shame Russian officials who are guilty of human rights violations and subject them to visa bans and assets freezes. The list is due April 13.
"In some ways, we're seeing retaliation for something the U.S. hasn't done yet," one human rights official said.
BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images
Your humble Cable guy joined Jake Tapper on CNN's The Lead Thursday afternoon to discuss our exclusive story about how the White House declined to approve the NSC recommendation to provide non-lethal military assistance to the Syrian opposition.
Take a look:
The National Security Council (NSC) recommended that the United States give non-lethal military assistance such as body armor and night vision goggles to the Syrian rebels last month, but U.S. President Barack Obama did not approve the recommendation, The Cable has learned.
Just before Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Rome last month to attend a "Friends of Syria" meeting, the principal officials who sit on the president's NSC came together and sent an "interagency recommendation" to the president advising him to make it U.S. policy to provide the armed Syrian opposition with items like body armor, night-vision goggles, and other military-related items that are not technically lethal, two administration sources said.
Obama did not approve the recommendation, which remains on his desk as one option for helping the Syrian rebels, among many that multiple parts of the U.S. government have seen shelved by the White House - though he has not explicitly rejected it, either.
The president's move, experts and lawmakers say, shows the extent of the president's unwillingness to move past the administration's standing policy of limiting U.S. support to the Syrian opposition to humanitarian, medical, and communications assistance.
"The principals all agreed to this and from the president it came back as Band Aids and halal happy meals, which is far less than we can do," said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Tabler views the president's move as a de facto rejection of the idea of providing the Free Syrian Army with anything it could use to turn the military tide against the army of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
"I think it's pretty clear that the White House is rejecting this," said Tabler. "If that recommendation comes to the White House and it gets dialed back, it tells us that the president doesn't want to go in that direction but the rest of the bureaucracy does. The rest of the government has to deal with Syria the way that it is, which is that it is melting down."
The interagency recommendation represented a general consensus of the NSC, which includes Kerry, Vice President Joseph Biden, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Last summer, Panetta, Dempsey, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then CIA Director David Petraeus all supported directly arming the Syrian rebels, but the White House rejected that idea.
A Feb. 26 Washington Post article just before Kerry's first trip as secretary of state portrayed the idea of providing body armor and night-vision goggles to the armed Syrian opposition as a "major policy shift" that had "not yet been finalized."
By the time Kerry arrived in Rome for the Feb. 28 meeting, following stops in Britain and France, he could only offer an additional $60 million in humanitarian aid. The Syrian opposition coalition, meanwhile, threatened not to attend the Rome meeting out of frustration with what it perceived as a lack of international support. The administration subsequently decided to send the Free Syrian Army 200,000 Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs, most of which are set to expire in June.
Meanwhile, the British and French have been pushing for an end to the European Union's arms embargo on Syria and have successfully carved out exceptions for non-lethal military items such as body armor and night-vision goggles.
"This is what some Europeans are doing. We had the option of doing that. We didn't do that. The Europeans are ahead of us in that regard," Tabler said.
In response to questions from The Cable, NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to confirm or deny the interagency recommendation but defended the administration's actions on behalf of Syrians in need.
"I'm not going to discuss our internal deliberations. As the president has said, we are constantly reviewing every possible option that could help end the violence and accelerate a political transition," she said. "We are focusing our efforts on helping the opposition become stronger, more cohesive, and more organized."
U.S. assistance to the Syrian opposition has totaled $110 million, Hayden noted, and U.S. humanitarian assistance related to the Syria crisis now totals $385 million, making the United States the largest single provider of humanitarian aid.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both parties have become increasingly critical of the White House's Syria policy as the death toll mounts and the refugee problem worsens. There are now an estimated 80,000 deaths from the two-year conflict, according to the U.N., and the number of external refugees has topped 1 million.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) last week came out in favor of a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone over parts of northern Syria using Patriot missile batteries currently stationed in Turkey.
Syrian opposition coalition president Moaz al-Khatib publicly called for the same at this week's Arab League meeting in Doha. He also lashed out at the international community for failing to give the Syrian rebels the means to protect civilians from the Assad military and fight back against the regime's airpower.
"There is an international conviction for the revolution not to succeed," Khatib said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the United States and NATO have no plans to turn their Patriot missile batteries on Syrian regime airplanes or move toward any military assistance for the Syrian rebels.
"Well, we are aware of the request and at this time, NATO does not intend to intervene militarily in Syria," he said. "I think that a Patriot missile battery I think would fall within the definition of military assistance."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the White House's decision not to approve the interagency recommendation in a statement to The Cable.
"One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry," McCain said. "This would be a farce if it weren't so tragic. In what moral universe would the U.S. not want to provide body armor and other non-lethal equipment to the brave Syrians who are fighting against Assad? Once again, it seems the President is isolated even within his own administration."
While the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the constitutionality of same-sex marriages, over at the State Department, same-sex partners of employees and foreign diplomats have gotten a number of rights during the Obama administration.
At Thursday's State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland explained that beyond the provisions expanding rights for LGBT State Department employees and American passport seekers, over the last four years the State Department has also expanded the rights and services available to same-sex partners of State Department employees, Foreign Service officers, and U.S.-based diplomats from around the world.
For example, the State Department extends the "full range of legally available benefits and allowances" to same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers and considers them "official family members" with regard to such benefits.
"We are committed to doing everything possible within the law to ensure equality," Nuland said. "This includes on overseas postings issuing diplomatic passports for U.S. citizens, inclusion on employee travel orders to and from post of same-sex partners, use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation services, training at the Foreign Service Institute and consideration for employment in family-member jobs and other jobs available at post for domestic partners."
Same-sex partners of State Department employees in the United States are able to use their partner's benefits related to long-term care insurance, regular sick leave, which includes caring for a domestic partner following childbirth, access to information and referral services for things like long-term medical care, and the "Diplotots" child care.
"However, under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex domestic partners do not have access to federal programs like health insurance," Nuland noted.
Same-sex partners of foreign diplomats can also now qualify as an "immediate family member" of a foreign government official who is going to be posted in the United States for the purposes of getting a visa, so long as their home country recognizes the partner as an immediate family member first.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made LGBT rights a key initiative of her tenure in Foggy Bottom, and the State Department also has a webpage up giving short biographies of several LGBT employees in honor of the first official LGBT awareness month in 2010.
Clinton issued a statement that year saying, "Human rights are the inalienable right of every person, no matter who that person is or who that person loves."
President Barack Obama will travel to Mexico and Costa Rica in early May, the White House announced today, while Secretary of State John Kerry is set to go to East Asia in mid-April.
Obama spoke with Mexican President Pena Nieta over the phone Tuesday and will visit Mexico and Costa Rice May 2 to 4, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a Wednesday statement.
"This trip is an important opportunity to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America," said Carney.
In Mexico, Obama "welcomes the opportunity to discuss ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnership and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional, and global issues that connect our two countries," Carney said.
In Costa Rica, Obama will meet with President Laura Chinchilla and Chinchilla has invited a number of other Central Americans leaders to come to San Jose and meet with Obama at the same time.
Kerry will make his next overseas trip to East Asia, with stops in South Korea, Japan, and China from April 12 to 14, following a visit to London for the G8 foreign ministers meeting April 10 to 11.
"The secretary will continue to affirm the administration's commitment to further broaden and enhance US economic, security and strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said earlier this month, adding that Kerry was "very much looking forward to getting back to Asia."
Kerry will visit Southeast Asian countries in June in a trip centered around the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Brunei.
Wednesday, Kerry was in Paris and met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and discussed the crisis in Syria. The Paris stop was the last in Kerry's overseas trip, which included unannounced visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, following his joining of Obama's visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.
France and Britain have been pushing for an end to the EU arms embargo on Syria and are supporting the provision of non-lethal military articles to the armed opposition, including items such as body armor and night vision goggles. The Obama administration has not decided to provide those items to the Syria opposition, but is no longer opposed to other countries moving forward with such plans.
"I don't think we're characterizing it one way or the other other than to say that, you know, we've made our decision about our nonlethal assistance, and others are making their decisions," State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday.
Kerry's Syria diplomacy also comes as the president of the Syrian opposition coalition, Moaz al Khatib, accused the United States of wanting the Syrian revolution to fail. Khatib said in a speech at the Arab League conference in Doha Tuesday that Kerry denied his request to use Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to defend Syrian airspace.
"There is an international conviction for the revolution not to succeed," he said.
Carney said Tuesday that the U.S. and NATO have no plans to turn their Patriot missile batteries on Syrian regime airplanes.
"Well, we are aware
of the request and at this time, NATO does not intend to intervene militarily
in Syria," he said. "I think that a Patriot missile battery I think would fall
within the definition of military assistance. The Patriot missile
batteries that are deployed in Turkey are for defensive purposes only, to
augment Turkey's air defense capabilities to defend its territory and people."
In Amman Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah II discussed the growing international refugee crisis due to the Syrian civil war. Back in Washington, the U.N.'s top refugee official spent the week pressing officials and lawmakers to do more to respond to the calamity.
"What we are facing now, today, obviously is an urgent need for international community to help in humanitarian assistance to catch up to the challenges that we are facing as the countries bordering Syria," Abdullah said standing alongside Obama in Amman. "And not only do we need to look at the ability to stockpile humanitarian supplies to the Syrian people inside the country, but also to be able to assist those that have fled."
Jordan has 460,000 Syrian refugees, about 10 percent of the country's overall population, and the Zaatari refugee camp is now Jordan's fifth-largest city. Obama announced Friday that the United States will provide Jordan with $200 million to help alleviate the pressure caused by the refugee crisis.
"This will mean more humanitarian assistance and basic services, including education for Syrian children so far from home, whose lives have been upended," Obama said. "And the international community needs to step up to make sure that they are helping to shoulder this burden.
In Washington, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres met with administration officials and lawmakers for several days this week in an effort to build more support for those fleeing the violence in Syria. There are now more than 1 million Syrian external refugees total and the numbers are spiraling upward, he said in an interview with The Cable.
"The U.S. can play a very important role by leading by example and at the same time, in its diplomatic contacts with many countries, helping to create the conditions for those in need of protection to get it, for borders to remain open, for people to be granted refugee status, and to see their rights respected," he said.
While in town, Guterres met with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, National Security Staff officials Gayle Smith and Steve Pomper, and Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). He also met with staffers from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, and the offices of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
"The key message was that not only Syria is today a dramatic humanitarian emergency with staggering escalation of the conflict and dire humanitarian consequences, but more than that, the Syrian conflict represents a serious risk for regional and even global peace and security," he said. "So, this justifies a wake up in the international community, a much stronger commitment to find a solution even if that solution has been difficult to achieve, but also to increase the solidarity with the refugees and the other victims."
Guterres said that the growing instability of neighboring countries like Lebanon and growing pressures on countries like Jordan are raising the risk of instability that would have cascading effects for regional and world security, furthering heightening the need for increased aid.
"That is not only a matter of generosity but it is vital to protect the interests and the security of the United States of America," he said.
The scale of the crisis and the long-term fallout means that existing humanitarian budgets are not sufficient to respond to the Syria situation while also addressing other crises around the world. Therefore, Guterres is calling on countries such as the United States to create special budgets for Syrian humanitarian aid this year. He said he was encouraged by his meetings on Capitol Hill on the issue.
There is a gap in the regional refugee program between the needs and the money received of about $700 million for just the first half of 2013, Guterres said. Three Gulf countries have pledged $300 million each, and if those pledges come through, that would at least meet needs until the second half of this year.
Some have criticized the U.N. for working in regime-controlled areas inside Syria and with NGOs that have some level of cooperation with the Syrian government. Guterres said that there are victims in both regime- and rebel-controlled parts of Syria and that the U.N. is committed to helping them all.
"To support those victims living in horrible conditions has nothing to do with supporting the regime," he said. "And the people displaced in government controlled areas are not necessarily government supporters."
Guterres also testified at a March 19 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that also featured testimony by Richard, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Limbourg, and experts including Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski.
Malinowski testified that the aid provided by the United States was not enough and was not recognizable because it was not branded, leading the refugees to wrongly conclude that America was on the side of the Syrian regime. He said the U.S. government should defer to aid providers on whether the aid should be branded, but added that the best thing the U.S. can do is work to stop the killing as soon as possible.
"Some aid was crossing, some of which I know the United States was paying for. Literally no person I met among the ordinary people in the north knew that the United States was providing that. And everybody asks, you know, ‘Why isn't the international community here? Why aren't they helping us?'" Malinowski said. "And that anger was directed particularly at the United States, partly because they knew I was American, but I think partly because they just see the United States as the driving force in world affairs, the most powerful country. They believe we can do a lot more."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.