The Cable has reported lots of appointment news the past few months. Now we've got a new Cable reporter coming aboard: Josh Rogin, previously foreign policy and defense reporter at Congressional Quarterly, takes over the Cable keyboard September 14. Your founding Cable chronicler Laura Rozen is heading to Politico next week, to report on the foreign policy beat.
Thanks, everybody, I've had a terrific time reporting this column with your tips, guidance, and readership, and the great coverage will continue and expand with Josh.
The White House has responded to Israeli media reports today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to approve a wave of settlement construction before any settlement freeze comes into place. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement:
We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction. Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel's commitment under the Roadmap.
As the President has said before, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop. We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.
We do appreciate Israel's stated intent to place limits on settlement activity and will continue to discuss this with the Israelis as these limitations are defined.
The U.S. commitment to Israel's security is and will remain unshakeable. We believe it can best be achieved through comprehensive peace in the region, including a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.
That is the ultimate goal to which the President is deeply and personally committed.
Our objective remains to resume meaningful negotiations as soon as possible in pursuit of this goal. We are working with all parties - Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states -- on the steps they must take to achieve that objective.
U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who met with Netanyahu in London last week and with Netanyahu advisors in New York this week, had been due to go to Israel this coming week for more meetings. It's unclear if Mitchell would delay or cancel the trip.
Mitchell briefed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the status of his talks in a meeting yesterday. "I think the United States is looking to create the conditions that allow negotiation, formal negotiations, to begin," spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We hope to reach that point and the end of this particular phase of the process in the next few weeks. But beyond that, where we are in the process, I think we ... have made progress. But, obviously, there is still work to be done."
UPDATE: The latest settlements dust up took up the bulk of the State Department press briefing today, with spokesman Ian Kelly emphasizing frank and open discussions with Washington's Israeli partners.
Kelly: "What I'll say in response to that is that we have had a very open dialogue with our Israeli partners. And Senator Mitchell on multiple occasions has had a thorough discussion of all of these issues. We've made our position quite clear. Our position is that all sides have to abide by their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlement activity; for Palestinians, it means increasing confidence in their ability to handle their own security; and for the Arab states, it means taking steps towards normalization of their relationship with Israel. And you saw the statement out of the White House that we regret that they are planning to do this."
Kelly said that Mitchell still plans to travel to Israel to discuss the issue further towards the end of next week.
After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya today, the State Department announced that Clinton has decided to terminate U.S. assistance to Honduras. Clinton had previously suspended U.S. assistance to the Central American state in the wake of the June 28 coup.
Negotiations led by Costan Rican President Oscar Arias under the auspices of the Organization of American States broke down last month, after Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Michelleti rejected efforts to allow Zelaya to return to power before Honduras' November elections.
The State Department further said that it was in the process of revoking the visas of identified members and supporters of Michelleti's de facto regime.
"Restoration of the terminated assistance will be predicated upon a return to democratic, constitutional governance in Honduras," the State Department said.
At stake for Honduras, approximately $18 million in U.S. assistance, reports estimate.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen plan to brief the press at 2pm from the Pentagon, the White House has informed its press list. Gates' opening statement is going to deal with Afghanistan, an official told The Cable. Asked if they would announce a plan for more troops, he said he didn't think there would be any news there. Asked the last time the Secretary and Chairman did a press briefing together, a Pentagon press officer said perhaps a month ago.
Update: Gates suggests he's mulling his Afghan commander's request for more troops in Afghanistan.
With the arrival Monday of the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Spencer Boyer whose portfolio includes press relations, the State Department bureau of Europe and Eurasian affairs has sent out an email blast introducing its new front office personnel and principals. Working under Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon are new Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Nancy McEldowney, most recently U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, and five DASes: Boyer; former U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Tina S. Kaidanow; former Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw Pamela Quanrud; former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and European and Balkans specialist Stuart Jones; and Russia specialist Daniel A. Russell, who previously worked as chief of staff in the office of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns. Vincent J. O'Brien serves as special assistant in the Europe bureau.
Separately, sources tell The Cable that career Foreign Service Officer and former Director of Russia Affairs Mary Warlick is expected to be named as U.S. ambassador to Serbia.
As Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns arrived in Frankfurt for the next round of international talks on Iran's nuclear program, news reports Tuesday suggested Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to respond to the Western offer for nuclear talks during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly due to take place the week of September 21 in New York.
Diplomatic sources tell The Cable that the Obama administration has recently said it saw signs that the Iranian government plans to issue some sort of response to the West's offer to engage on its nuclear program. But, diplomats said, the Obama administration anticipates that the response when tested will not prove meaningful, and is likely at most to only stretch for a short time an anticipated effort to start pushing for international sanctions in the coming weeks and months targeting Iran.
The Obama administration has given Iran until September 15 to respond to the talks offer, or face an increased international sanctions effort.
Reports from Tehran further said that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili announced Tuesday that Iran "has prepared a new nuclear proposal and is ready to resume talks on its nuclear program." The reported Jalili announcement on Iranian state TV came as Iran's Supreme National Security Council met, a day before Washington, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China are due to hold the next round of the so-called P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program in Frankfurt Wednesday.
"We've seen these press reports that they're developing a new proposal," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said at a press briefing Tuesday. "We have not received any proposal. We would review any proposal that they give us seriously, and in the spirit of mutual respect we would welcome the Iranian Government's constructive response to the P-5+1 to their April 2009 invitation to meet face-to-face."
Kelly later specified that Washington would consider a meaningful response from Tehran to be one that "that said 'we understand that we have certain obligations that we have to adhere to, and that they welcome a reengagement with us in the P-5+1 context to try and address some of these concerns that we have.'"
Burns is attending the talks accompanied by aide Elisa Catalano, a State Department senior advisor formerly assigned to office of Dennis Ross who is now serving as a liaison in Burns's office to the NSC. Diplomat David Bame and counselor Gamal Helal are still waiting to join Ross at the NSC, sources said, while Farsi speaking Iran expert Ray Takeyh is returning to the Council on Foreign Relations. It wasn't immediately clear if Ross or NSC senior director for Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar was also attending the Frankfurt talks with Burns.
"We hear rumors of a possible Iranian signal even before the Frankfurt P5+1 meeting" Wednesday, one Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity Tuesday. "State and NSC expect something from the Iranians at the U.N. General Assembly. But it won't be enough. ... They are smart enough to do something, to try to stretch the process a bit more."
There have been consultations between Washington, the British, French, and Germans in particular on possible further sanctions, the diplomat said. The Israelis were said to have seen the whole package of proposed possible international sanctions, which were described according to the diplomat as "big bang" sanctions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in meetings last week in London and Germany, told western leaders the military option was not his preferred route, a second western official apprised of the discussions said. The implication, the second official said, was that there was growing Israeli confidence in the possible effectiveness of the anticipated sanctions plan.
Senior administration officials also confirmed to Western diplomats previous reports that the Obama administration did receive a letter from the Iranian government before its June 12 elections responding to a reported Obama letter offering negotiations. They were excited they had got a response, the diplomat said of the Obama administration, but said the letter itself was pretty disappointing. It did not get into anything of substance and had nothing to build on.
UPDATE: An Iranian newspaper is reporting that Obama has sent another letter to the Iranian authorities, reiterating the talks offer. No details on when the reported letter was sent were available, and the administration has declined to comment on the reports. Previously, asked about earlier alleged letter from the Iranian leadership to Obama, the administration said it declined to comment on private correspondence.
When Dennis Ross went from Foggy Bottom to the NSC to become special assistant to the president and senior director for the Central Region earlier this summer, he was due to bring four aides from his State Department team with him over to Old Executive Office building, while others on his State Department team were expected to move elsewhere in the department. But so far, only Ross's special assistant Ben Fishman has gotten into place in the NSC's third floor, working out of the suite of offices that includes Puneet Talwar, the NSC's senior director for Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf.
Ross counselor Gamal Helal and diplomat David Bame are still waiting for the budget, staffing, and personnel issues and paperwork to be resolved to make way for their anticipated move to the NSC, sources say, while senior advisor and Iran expert Ray Takeyh is now expected to return to the Council on Foreign Relations, where he was a senior fellow before joining Ross's team.
The NSC declined to comment on the issue, and neither Takeyh nor Fishman could immediately be reached for comment.
Elsewhere in the NSC's revamped Persian Gulf team, veteran diplomat and former senior Coalition Provisional Authority official in Iraq Molly Phee is serving as the coordinator of a team of three Iraq directors at the NSC, reporting to Talwar. U.S. government Iraq hands have been involved in an intensive NSC-led exercise this month to try to map out affiliated-agency fiscal year 2011 budget needs for Iraq. The Office of Management and Budget has notified agencies that their FY11 budget requests are due next month, as Obama has promised to put the war costs into the regular budget.
President Barack Obama has signed a Presidential Study Directive authorizing a U.S. government-wide review of global development policy, according to sources briefed on the review by the White House. The review, expected to be completed by January, is being formally co-led by National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and chairman of the National Economic Council Larry Summers.
Development hands say the new PSD is important because it signals the intent to reach across government agencies to think through a more coordinated and strategic approach to development policy, to include (beyond the State Department and USAID) the Defense Department, Treasury Department -- which handles U.S. assistance to multilateral assistance organizations, the Overseas Private Investment Corps, agriculture departments, etc.
The State Department announced in July that it was launching its own major development strategy review, in the form of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review process, co-led by Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, with assistance from acting USAID coordinator Alonzo Fulgham.
The NSC's senior director for development issues, Gayle Smith, who reports to both Jones and Summers, is supposed to take a key role in the development review authorized by the new Obama Presidential Study Directive. Smith has recently been joined at the NSC by Jeremy Weinstein, who came on earlier this month as the NSC's director for democracy. Weinstein, previously at Stanford University (along with the NSC's Senior Director for Russia Michael McFaul and NSC Senior Director for Europe Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall), assisted Smith in coordinating the Obama campaign's expert advisory group on development and democracy issues. The White House didn't immediately respond to a query.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.