Carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and militia violence all are on the rise in Libya, prompting the State Department to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from the North African country, nearly a year after Libyan rebels seized the capital Tripoli from Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces.
Ironically, the State Department resumed full consular services for travel to and inside Libya today, but simultaneously advised Americans the country was too dangerous to visit. Militias are rounding up foreigners with little regard to the actual law or due process and the State Department has little influence with them, the department is warning.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Libya," reads the new travel warning issued today. "The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem. In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
The warning is the first the State Department has issued since September 2011 and the first since the July 7 elections in Libya, which saw the Transnational National Council, which has been running the country since Qaddafi's fall, replaced this month by the General National Congress. Those elections were deemed to be free and fair, but now political uncertainly has been replaced by insecurity on the streets of Libya's major cities.
"Despite this progress, violent crime continues to be a problem in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other parts of the country," the travel warning said. "In particular, armed carjacking and robbery are on the rise. In addition, political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country."
The State Department noted the kidnapping of 7 members of the Iranian Red Crescent delegation by an Islamic Libya militia late last month. The delegation had been invited by the government but was being questioned by the militia "to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam," a Libyan official told AFP.
Islamic extremists are also blamed for a string of attacks on historical and sacred religious sites over the past days aimed at Muslims of the Sufi sect and conducted in some cases with the help of uniformed members of Libya's Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al resigned due to the scandal Sunday night.
Militias are also apprehending foreigners for "perceived or actual violations of Libyan law," and the State Department might not be able help because the militias may not be sanctioned or controlled by the government.
The Obama administration decided Tuesday to allow Americans to send hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Iran to help with earthquake relief in a rare relief of tight financial sanctions imposed on the country in response to its controversial nuclear program.
The Treasury Department issued a 45-day general license to allow officially registered NGOs to send up to $300,000 to Iran for humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities related to two Aug. 11 earthquakes that struck northern Iran and killed more than 250 people. Food and medicine aid is already exempted from sanctions against Iran. The George W. Bush administration took a similar action in 2003.
Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough explained on the White House blog that the Iranian government had refused to accept offers of official help for earthquake victims from the U.S. government, so the administration decided this was the best way to facilitate aid to the disaster area.
"In a disappointing decision, the government of Iran has chosen not to accept our offer of humanitarian assistance," he wrote. "This step allows the American people to support organizations providing humanitarian relief activities, including the distribution of emergency medical and shelter supplies, as well as those pursuing broader efforts to rebuild affected areas."
McDonough emphasized that the move was a temporary one and does not alter the administration's approach to sanctioning Iran writ large.
"We remain committed to rigorously implementing the measures and sanctions in place to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime, and to continue increasing the costs of Iran's non-compliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program," he said.
Iran watchers have noted the delay in issuing the license, which came 10 days after the earthquake. When the Bush administration took a similar action, it did so just 4 days after the 2003 Bam disaster. Sources close to the administration told The Cable that there was significant debate about whether or not to issue the license.
State Department officials argued in favor of granting the license, while the White House resisted the move, worried about how even a temporary and limited relief of sanctions against Iran would play in the media so close to the presidential election. Eventually, with the support of top State Department officials, the White House was persuaded to agree to the move, these sources said.
The National Iranian American Council, a group representing Iranian-Americans, was also heavily involved in pushing for the issuance of the license. NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi told The Cable that his organization mobilized parts of the Iranian-American community, which sent more than 3,000 letters to the White House asking officials to allow more earthquake relief.
"Last time Bush did it, the U.S. won a tremendous amount of goodwill. And every time humanity trumps politics, the entity that takes the initiative wins a lot of soft power and political capital," Parsi said.
The obstacles facing NGOs who want to send cash to Iran are daunting, Parsi cautioned. He said that NIAC contacted 15 banks about wiring the money into Iran and 14 of them resisted the idea because working with Iranian banks is too risky, even when dealing with transactions that are exempted by sanctions.
"From their perspective, it's not worth the risk," he said. "We hope the banks will take note of this and start doing things that are permissible, because otherwise this general license may have no effect at all."
There is also some concern, including on Capitol Hill, as to whether the money sent to Iran might somehow find its way into the wrong hands. "While all Americans support the Iranian people in this time of distress, we need to make sure assistance sent to Iran is not diverted or misused by the Iranian government," a senior Senate aide said. "When you allow cash transfers rather than monetizing aid, that's a recipe for disaster."
Parsi said the best way to prevent the money from getting into Iranian government hands is to work through respected NGOs that are based in the United States and have a presence in Iran.
There are some checks on the aid, Treasury officials say.
"The license specifically forbids any dealings with entities on the OFAC SDN list such as the IRGC," Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan told The Cable, referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. "There is also a mandated report to the Treasury and State Departments so we can make sure the money does not end up in the wrong hands."
President Barack Obama is a socialist, was raised by communists, and wasn't born in the United States, according to the former Navy SEAL who founded the group Special Operations Speaks (SOS), which aims to portray Obama as anti-military in this election season.
Earlier this week, a different group of former Navy SEALS calling themselves the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund rolled out its campaign to criticize Obama for leaking national security information and taking what it believes as undue credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden. That group claims to be non-political.
But the founder of SOS, a similar group with the same mission and the same tactics, says he has no problem admitting that he is against Obama's politics, personality, and believes that America's current president is lying about his origins.
"I have to admit that I'm a Birther," said SOS founder Larry Bailey, a retired 27-year veteran of the Navy SEALs, in an interview. "If there were a jury of 12 good men and women and the evidence were placed before them, there would be absolutely no question Barack Obama was not born where he said he was and is not who he says he is."
Bailey, who is part of the leadership of SOS's effort to mobilize thousands to take to the streets to denounce Obama's treatment of the military through an SOS project called Operation Street Corner, doesn't only believe that the president is a foreigner. He also believes that he is not actually the son of Barack Obama, Sr. Bailey trumpeted the conspiracy theory that the president is actually the love child of Ann Dunham and writer Frank Marshall Davis.
"In his books, Obama said his mentor was a fellow named Frank Marshall Davis. Frank Marshall Davis was a member of Communist Party USA, he wrote for the communist party's Hawaii newsletter, he was a close friend of Obama's mother, and there's a strong case that Frank Marshall Davis rather than Barack Obama, Sr. was Barack Obama, Jr.'s father and that Barack Obama, Sr. was just an administrative father of convenience," Bailey said.
Bailey isn't shy about his dislike of Obama personally and admits freely that his extensive efforts to mobilize special operations veterans and their supporters around the country is rooted in his personal dislike of the president and his desire to see him replaced.
"Barack Obama's a born red-diaper baby. He's a socialist. His beliefs are the very antithesis of my beliefs. As far as I am concerned he is one of the most unlikeable and unprepared politicians we've ever had," Bailey said. "I don't like him because he believes that America is responsible for most of the problems in the world and he wants to cut her down to size."
Bailey is also a veteran of efforts to portray Democrats as anti-military during previous presidential election cycles. He was involved in the 2004 effort called Vietnam Vets for the Truth, an organization that was separate from but worked with Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth to attack John Kerry's military record. Together they organized a "Kerry Lied" rally on Capitol Hill that had 5,000 attendees.
Bailey said he came up with the idea for SOS earlier this year and organized some fellow former special operations guys, mostly in their 60s and 70s, with the mission of helping Obama's opponent win.
"I had an idea that we could lend a hand to the effort of getting the White House expunged of what's there now and elect someone more to my liking," Bailey said.
The group has a Facebook page with more than 22,000 likes, and "Operation Street Corner" now has 30 coordinators spread out across 20 states to encourage and enable people to get out on the street and set up displays attacking Obama's handling of national security.
"What we're doing right now is establishing an infrastructure that will put us in good stead to influence the outcome on Nov. 6," said Bailey. "You can expect some television ads but we are more focused on prosecuting the ground war rather than the air war."
SOS now has former Army Rangers, Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, Air Commands, Marine Special Operations Commands, and representatives from other special operations groups as well. The group has set up a quasi-military command structure Bailey calls a "Joint Task Force" to manage its operations. SOS has already raised thousands, but aims much higher.
"I want somebody to give me $1.5 million. We think we're going to get $1.5 million," said Bailey. We're going to be so effective with that $1.5 dollars getting the message out that people will be standing in line to help us help them."
Bailey wears his views on his sleeve and wants anyone who's interested to know he is fighting not only for the special operations community but also against an ideology he views as dangerous.
"The Obama administration and the liberal progressive path that our country is going down is going to be nothing less than disastrous for our civilization," he said.
But in an interview with The Cable, Gration insisted that his one-year tenure as the U.S. envoy in Nairobi was a success despite the criticism aired in the report, published Aug. 10 by the State Department's inspector general, and in the press.
Gration disputed the litany of complaints documented in the 67-page report, which criticized Gration's management of the embassy, his leadership style, his fights with Washington, his poor relationships with his own staff, and his reluctance to work through official channels and insistence on working outside of the State Department systems.
"The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission," read the report. "Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador's leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective."
But Gration told The Cable that the inspector general was flat-out wrong and that he was never given a fair chance to defend his actions and his record in Nairobi.
"I have a record of leadership and my leadership in the embassy was strong," Gration said. "I have no regrets and I'm extremely proud of the accomplishments of my team."
"This report does contain an egregious number of statements that are categorically false," he said. "A lot of these decisions were made before I had an opportunity to give my responses... [The report] doesn't characterize my leadership style, it doesn't characterize my management techniques, and it doesn't characterize my ability to put strong teams together."
Gration told The Cable that the State Department offered him the opportunity to resign after seeing the draft of the IG report. He appealed to the highest levels of the department but his repeals were rejected, so he resigned before the report was published, he said. He did not speak with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama.
"The senior leadership made a decision based on a report that had not been vetted and that did not include my response," Gration complained. "I did not have a chance to give my side of the story."
Gration said he did use his personal e-mail account in addition to his secure State Department account, but he doesn't think he did anything that would compromise the security of sensitive government information.
"I did all my official business on the State Department communications system. I supplemented it with my personal e-mail, but it was never a security issue," he said. "I have a background in secure communications. I know what is right and what is wrong. I did everything correctly, and I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide."
He also admitted that he set up a second office in a bathroom next to his main office.
"I set up an office in a room that was adjoining my office because my office was a secure space. I needed an unclassified area. That room was never used as a bathroom although it had the facilities in there. It was converted into an office where I could have unclassified communications," he said.
Gration said he always followed instructions from Washington although he sometimes did disagree with headquarters. For example, the State Department cut Gration's security staff by 50 percent amid rising violence in Kenya, something that Gration complained about to Washington, he said. He was also firmly against the State Department's direction about how families of U.S. personnel would be "safe-havened" in case of evacuations, but he said he followed the State Department's policy nonetheless.
"Every time that the State Department gave me a definitive policy I followed it to the ‘T' and there was never daylight between me and the State Department on policy," he said. "There was a difference on priorities."
Gration said the people in the Nairobi embassy and the IG staff who criticized him just didn't appreciate his blunt, no-nonsense approach.
"It was probably a clash of somebody who was very results-oriented," he said. "If you look at my background, you will see that if you want a job done and you want it done right, then you will choose Gration."
Gration trumpeted the "Let's Live" program to curb infant mortality, the very program the inspector general heavily criticized as conflicting with the embassy's health programs under the Global Health Initiative (GHI).
"At the Ambassador's initiative, the embassy has spent considerable time and effort on Let's Live without advancing the GHI. At the same time, Let's Live has damaged mission morale and negatively affected relations with senior Kenyan health officials," the IG report said.
Gration said Let's Live was a model for GHI and at the Nairobi embassy Let's Live "is" GHI, meaning that they are one in the same as far as he is concerned. Besides, with only 13 people working on that program out of an embassy with a staff of 1,300, he doubted that could have been the reason his leadership was called into question.
"Let's Live is a wonderful program," he said. "It did not lower morale throughout the embassy because 95 percent of the embassy staff were not even involved in it. Plus, it made major gains and we were able to refocus our priorities on mission-essential tasks that will cut premature mortalities in Kenya."
Gration's roots in Kenya and the region run deep, and he feels a personal and emotional connection to the land and its people. He first went there 60 years ago as the son of missionaries, later fleeing to Kenya from the Congo and settling in the East African country. His wife was born in Kenya. He flew with the Kenyan air force as an instructor. He worked in northern Kenya building roads and orphanages. He speaks Swahili at a native level.
"I probably knew more about the culture and the language ... [my wife and I] have such a background and knowledge and a Rolodex in Kenya that is unmatched by anybody in the State Department. That's why it's such a deep disappointment," he said. "As Kenya is coming to the most critical time in its history, to have an ambassador who understands the nuances of Kenyan politics and understands how to build a relationship that is built on respect and is built on a common understanding of where Kenya and the U.S. have to go together, it's a big loss for our country."
"It's unfortunate for America, it's unfortunate for Kenya, and it's certainly unfortunate for me," he said.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Top State Department officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been working behind the scenes to assuage Indian anger following the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin over the weekend by an Army veteran and alleged former white supremacist.
Indian government officials and Sikh leaders across India were outraged by the attack that left 6 dead, including 4 Indian nationals, at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee and called on the U.S. to do more to protect Sikhs living in the United Sates. Clinton called Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna from her stop in South Africa Monday after Krishna criticized the U.S. for failed policies and a growing trend of violent incidents against religious minorities.
"I have seen messages of condolence from President Obama and others. They've emphasized protection of all faiths. The U.S. government will have to take a comprehensive look at this kind of tendency which certainly is not going to bring credit to the United States of America,'' Krishna said.
Protests broke out in several Indian cities in response to the news of the attack, some calling for stricter U.S. gun laws. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wrote to India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to urge the Indian government to press the Obama administration to do more to protect Sikhs living in the U.S.
"The government of India must get more actively and vigorously involved in getting the U.S. administration to address the issue in right earnest," wrote Badal.
"That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,'' Singh, a member of the Sikh community, said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell met with Indian government and Sikh community leaders over the weekend to express U.S. government condolences and pledge a thorough investigation. She also visited a Sikh temple in New Delhi to pay her respects.
Back in Washington, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman spoke with India's ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao to condemn the attacks and offer condolences.
"Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the Sikh community. This is a tragic incident, especially because it happened in a place of worship. Religious freedom and religious tolerance and fundamental pillars of American society," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at Monday's press briefing.
Following three prominent defections this weekend, the State Department declared today that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is "crumbling," but can't say how, when, or what comes next.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Monday that the State Department is confident that reports are accurate that Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, a Sunni, has resigned his post only two months after being appointed and has fled to Jordan on his way to Qatar.
Combined with the defection of top Syrian intelligence official Colonel Yaraab Shara and the first Syrian cosmonaut, Major General Mohammed Ahmed Faris, who announced his defection from the Syrian army on YouTube on Sunday evening, all signs point to a regime collapse, Ventrell said.
"These defections ... indicate that the Syria regime is crumbling and losing its grip on power," Ventrell said. "We encourage others to join them in rejecting the horrific actions of the Assad regime and helping the Syrian people chart a new path for Syria, one that is inclusive, peaceful, democratic, and just."
Ventrell, who is filling in for regular spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who is traveling in Africa with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, didn't have any information on whether U.S. officials have been in contact with Hijab or any of the other defectors.
But a State Department official speaking on background said that it was the State Department's understanding that Hijab was not fired by Assad, as the Syrian government claimed, but rather that the Assad regime had "retroactively" fired him "to save face" after he escaped Damascus with his family.
"We don't have a crystal ball. We don't whether it's going to be days or week or how soon," the Assad regime will fall, Ventrell said, but he emphasized that the State Department was working hard to contribute to Syrian opposition-led planning for "the day after" the regime falls.
Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has completed his meetings in Cairo over the weekend with 250 opposition representatives to discuss that planning. And Clinton has added an Aug. 11 stop in Istanbul, where she will meet with Turkish leaders to coordinate next steps on Syria. Meetings with Syrian opposition leaders and civil society representatives in Turkey are possible but not yet finalized, a State Department official said.
Reporters at the briefing pressed Ventrell to say whether the administration still plans to adhere to the plan agreed upon by world leaders last month in Geneva, which calls for a transitional government established by "mutual consent" between the Assad regime and the opposition.
A new transitional authority to govern Syria after the Assad regime falls could include Assad regime members, both political and technocratic officials, but "those hardcore group of people, Assad and his cronies with blood on their hands, would not be part of that transition," Ventrell said. Beyond that, the transitional government should be formed by Syrians, he said.
The administration is not yet supporting the idea of "safe zones" inside Syria, as many in Congress are calling for, but Ventrell referred to Clinton's July 24 comments, when she said that safe havens are coming but declined to say whether the U.S. or the international community should have a role in establishing or defending them.
"We have to work closely with the opposition because more and more territory is being taken, and it will eventually result in a safe haven inside Syria, which will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition," Clinton said.
"And so the opposition has to be prepared. They have to start working on interim governing entities. They have to commit to protecting the rights of all Syrians -- every group of Syrians. They have to set up humanitarian response efforts that we can also support. They've got to safeguard the chemical and biological weapons that we know the Syrian regime has," she said.
"And there's a lot to be done, so we're working across many of these important pillars of a transition that is inevitable. It would be better if it happened sooner," she continued, "but we know we have some hard times ahead of us."
Before leaving town Thursday evening for their five week August recess, the Senate confirmed a series of ambassadors. Here's the list:
James B. Cunningham, of New York, to be Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Gene Allan Cretz, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Ghana.
Deborah Ruth Malac, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Liberia.
Thomas Hart Armbruster, of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
David Bruce Wharton, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Zimbabwe.
Greta Christine Holtz, of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Sultanate of Oman.
Alexander Mark Laskaris, of Maryland, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Guinea.
Marcie B. Ries, of the District of Columbia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Bulgaria.
John M. Koenig, of Washington, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cyprus.
Michael David Kirby, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Serbia.
As the Diplopundit blog pointed out, two nominations that didn't go through Thursday were s Carlos Pascual, nominated to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources), and Richard Olson, nomination to be ambassador to Pakistan.
The Obama administration must do more to help the nephew of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, Chen told lawmakers on a visit to the Capitol building Wednesday.
Chen, who was imprisoned and then harassed for years due to his work exposing abuses of China's one-child policy, was allowed to move with his wife and children to New York following his daring April 26 escape from unofficial house arrest and six days of intensive diplomacy while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Beijing in May. He met with more than a dozen lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about the Chinese government's record on human rights and to plead for help to save his nephew, who remains in prison for allegedly stabbing a thug who broke into his home after Chen's flight to safety.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) hosted Chen at the Capitol and held a press conference along with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), the congressman who held two hearings on Chen's case in the middle of his May ordeal.
"His example humbles us and reminds us why we cherish freedom so much and why we work so hard to protect it," Boehner said at the press conference after the meeting. "We cannot remain silent when fundamental human rights are being violated ... The Chinese government has a responsibility to do better, and the American government has a responsibility to hold them accountable."
"I am hopeful that the members here with me today will consider how to take action against China. Equality, justice and freedom do not have borders," Chen said through a translator.
In a Thursday interview with The Cable, Smith said that behind closed doors, Chen asked the lawmakers to press the Obama administration to speak up publicly and work actively to secure the release of his nephew, Chen Kegui, who was arrested on the night Chen escaped for stabbing an intruder with a kitchen knife. Chen Kegui has not been heard from since, though he has been accused of attempted murder.
"Chen asked us with the greatest sincerity to work for the release and protection of his nephew," Smith said. "The Obama administration on human rights in general globally has been a failure ... This is just another manifestation of a very weak if not non-existent human rights policy by this administration."
"This charge against my nephew for intentional homicide is totally trumped up. To be charged with this in his own home when defending against intruders is totally irrational and unreasonable," Chen said over the phone when he called into the second congressional hearing in May.
Smith said that Chen will continue to speak out publicly to pressure the Obama administration and the rest of the world to confront China on abuses of the one-child policy, which includes forced abortions. Millions of Chinese were outraged when a picture of a woman next to her forcibly aborted fetus went viral on the Internet last month.
"Chen wants Washington to work for human rights, the rule of law, and protection of women from the one child policy, and speak out against the Chinese government's human rights abuses persistently and consistently with knowledge and depth and not just generic statements that bounce off the Chinese like water off a duck's back," Smith said. "I think you're going to hear a lot more about that from him going forward."
The Obama administration very publicly signaled a shift in its approach to dealing with the Syria crisis after negotiations broke down at the United Nations in mid-July.
But the actual details of that shift are still being debated internally and the administration's rhetoric has gotten out ahead of its policy, according to officials, experts, and lawmakers.
Those details are being discussed among a select group of top officials in a closed process managed by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, multiple sources told The Cable. Within that group, some officials are arguing for more direct aid to the internal Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, that would help them better fight the Syrian military.
Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is pushing for such stepped-up measures and his team at the State Department is maintaining close contact with internal opposition groups, multiple administration sources said, including in meetings with opposition leaders this week in Cairo.
Other top officials at State, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Senior Advisor Fred Hof, are focusing more on developing diplomatic strategies with the external opposition and regional players such as Turkey.
At the Pentagon, the Syria and Israel teams have been working overtime to plan against contingencies and tackle the challenge of tracking Assad's chemical weapons and potentially responding to an instance of their use. The Washington Examiner reported July 21 that the Pentagon has set up a "Crisis Asset Team" to prepare for the regime's collapse and officials told The Cable that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is preparing worst-case scenario planning.
All this activity is taking place within guidelines handed down from the White House regarding the limits of what U.S. agencies can do inside Syria.
Two administration sources confirmed that the president has issued a finding allowing non-lethal assistance to non-violent groups inside Syria, which opens the door to more communications and intelligence help for the local councils, but closes the door on the idea of providing the Free Syrian Army with direct arms, military training, or other deadly assistance. It also closes the door on the idea of providing safe havens inside Syria using U.S. assets.
The White House wants to try to limit U.S. involvement in the crisis before the election, these administration sources said, in what one official said amounts to a "political lid," and the agencies are trying to come up with strategies to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad within those boundaries.
The CIA, for instance, is reportedly aiding in the flow of arms from Gulf countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia by helping to vet arms recipients, as allowed by the non-lethal finding. The Washington Post's David Ignatius also reported that the finding allows the CIA to help the rebels with "command and control."
But some inside the administration are pushing for more.
"We're helping the rebels just enough to survive and maintain a level of momentum but not enough for them to combat the regime writ large," one U.S. official told The Cable.
The end of diplomacy
On July 19, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice declared that the Security Council "utterly failed" and that the United States would begin to work "with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council" to pressure the Assad regime and increase aid to the Syria people. A front-page story July 22 in the New York Times subsequently reported that the administration had decided to abandon its quest for a new Security Council resolution instead boosting its direct aid to the internal Syrian opposition and focusing on strategies to "forcibly bring down" the Assad regime.
The Times reported that the White House was holding daily, high-level meetings focused on how to "manage a Syrian government collapse," but administration officials have been reticent to describe exactly how they intend to bring about Assad's downfall.
When pressed on the issue on July 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not say if the United States would start providing the Syrian rebels increased assistance such as battlefield intelligence or logistical support.
"We are certainly providing communications that we know is going to people within Syria so that they can be better organized to protect themselves against the continuing assault of their own government," she said.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell also declined to specify any new initiatives to aid the internal Syria opposition when pressed repeatedly to identify the elements of the administration's new approach.
"We said from the day of that U.N. vote onward, we would accelerate every other part of our strategy and continue to work to get [Assad] to step aside so that this violence can stop. So all elements of that -- as I mentioned, these four tracks that include the accountability track, the support to the opposition, the humanitarian track, all of these have continued apace," he said.
"The next big leap"
The administration's shift in approach is more of a quantitative increase in the types of aid the U.S. was already providing, rather than a qualitative change that would see new categories of U.S. assistance inside Syria, analysts said.
"Thus far it's a creeping policy. It's now getting closer to giving lethal assistance to the internal opposition but still short of that. That would be the next big leap," said Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Tabler warned that the administration's caution risks alienating the rebels.
"A non-lethal finding means that you can find out what's going on with these groups and help them but you can't do anything to actively help them overthrow the regime," he said. "But it's the guys with the guns who are going to control things on the ground, so you need to affect those groups, and that's hard to do that if you're not helping them and if they are angry that we didn't help them in their hour of need."
There are some signs that the administration is taking steps to aid the rebels indirectly. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued a license for the Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based opposition group, to send money to the internal Syrian opposition
Rob Malley, Middle East director at the International Crisis Group, cautioned that there is still no appetite at the top levels of the administration for crossing the line into lethal assistance, even though the administration is happy to let others arms the rebels.
"It would be a greater sense of responsibility if U.S. weapons were in the wrong hands," he said. "It may be a distinction without a difference, but one that they are holding on to."
What the Syrian rebels really want are anti-aircraft weapons like Stinger missiles, but those are exactly the weapons the administration doesn't want to provide, said Malley. NBC's Richard Engel reported Tuesday that rebels in Aleppo had acquired a small shipment of MANPADS from Turkey.
The lack of direct U.S. support is creating a perception among the armed rebels that the United States is not on their side, Malley said.
“It’s certainly a perception among the Syrian people and the opposition that the U.S. and the West are content too see a weakened Syria without the regime being overthrown. The perception is almost iraguably false, yet the feeling is growing inside Syria that that’s an outcome that the west can live with,” he said. “For some in the Arab world Syria will be another argument in the case that American hasn’t done enough.”
That issue is at the heart of the argument made by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who said in a statement July 27 that the U.S. should be providing weapons, intelligence, and training to the Free Syria Army.
"Years from now, the Syrian people will remember that -- in their hour of desperation, when they looked to the world for help -- the United States stood idly by as brave Syrians struggled and died for their freedom in a grossly unfair fight," the senators wrote.
"If we continue on this path of inaction, a mass atrocity will surely unfold in Aleppo, or elsewhere in Syria. We have the power to prevent this needless death and advance our strategic interests in the Middle East at the same time. If we do not, it will be a shameful failure of leadership that will haunt us for a long time to come."
Mitt Romney's foreign trip showed that he can't handle sensitive diplomatic situations, can't even handle relationships with friendly countries, and therefore is failing the commander-in-chief test, according to Obama campaign representatives Robert Gibbs and Colin Kahl.
"He offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region in the world. He certainly didn't prove to anyone that he passed the commander in chief test," said Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Gibbs said the Romney campaign set extremely low expectations for the trip -- and then didn't even meet those expectations. The former Massachusetts governor did not visit any warzones or meet with any U.S. troops, Gibbs observed, as then Senator Barack Obama did when campaigning in 2008.
"Many were surprised that Mitt Romney did not take the opportunity to meet with any members of our armed forces on this trip," said Gibbs.
Gibbs also noted that Romney only took three questions from the reporters traveling with him, sparking frustration between the Romney campaign and the press corps that boiled over with profane comments from one of Romney's aides to reporters in Poland. Obama took 25 questions on his campaign trip abroad, Gibbs said.
"He repeatedly took a pass on explaining his views on foreign policy to the American people," Gibbs said. "Romney's auditioning to be the leader of the free world and it's clear he is unable to represent America on the world stage."
Kahl, who served in the Obama administration for three years as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said that Romney's suggestion that London was not ready to host the Olympics was an unforced error.
"The trip was supposed to be an easy one for Governor Romney, but he couldn't even handle the low bar that his campaign set for him," said Kahl. "If Romney can't handle the special relationship with Great Britain on the eve of the Olympic Games, how can he handle our enemies?"
Kahl said that Romney's trip was devoid of specific policy proposals and that Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama's foreign policy without spelling out exactly what he would do differently.
"The world got to see what it would be like if Mitt Romney was in charge of American foreign policy and it's not a sight they will forget any time soon," said Kahl. "This trip casts serious doubt as to whether Governor Romney has the ability to handle the job."
Gibbs and Kahl also criticized Romney for intimating that culture had something to do with the disparity of wealth between in Israel and the Palestinian territories, comments described as racist by several Palestinian leaders.
"You have to choose your words very, very carefully and Governor Romney just didn't do that," said Kahl. "
"It's up to Governor Romney to explain why those comments would be helpful to resolving the conflict in the Middle East."
Kahl also defended the Obama administration's reluctance to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there, as Romney promised to do when he was in the Jewish state.
Kahl said that the current policy that the status of Jerusalem is an issue to be negotiated between the two parties represents bipartisan consensus going back decades.
"[Romney] disagreed with past democratic administrations like Bill Clinton's and past Republican administrations like Ronald Reagan's," Kahl said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Romney surrogate and rumored candidate to be Romney's running mate, defended the former governor's comments on culture and wealth in a brief interview Tuesday with The Cable.
"I think that certainly you look at the success of some countries and you wonder why are some nations that are right next door to other nations and more successful. I think America has benefited from being a melting pot of cultures," Rubio said. "There's no way you look at Israel and not marvel at what they have accomplished -- their commitment to democracy, their commitment to free enterprise, their commitment to upward mobility -- and I think you find a lot of that in their culture, absolutely."
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
The State Department's flagship program in Iraq to train police officers is failing and is being further scaled back to 10 percent of the original plan, according to a new audit report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).
The massive program, which has cost more than $8 billion since 2003, was meant to employ over 350 police training advisors but now will be scaled back to just 36 U.S. advisors, 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil.
That means that this year each advisor will cost the U.S. taxpayer $2.1 million and next year that number will jump to $4.2 million, the report said. The police development program in Basrah is also being shut down and the overall future of the program is in jeopardy, SIGIR reported.
"The State Department wisely has reduced the scope of the program in light of the level of Iraqi interest," said SIGIR Stuart Bowen in an interview with The Cable. "It's an unfortunate consequence of poor planning and a lack of Iraqi buy-in."
State Department officials had touted the program as one of their premier efforts in Iraq following the departure of all U.S. military forces last December, but they never figured out how they were going to handle the task and were always on a different page than the Iraqis.
"The U.S. wanted a large program, but the State Department didn't have any inherent capacity to carry out this program when they took it over and the Iraqis were never clear what they wanted, which was apparently much, much smaller," Bowen said.
Even the drastically scaled-down program as it stands has little chance of fulfilling its mission to help the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) train a modern police force that can maintain security and be part of a functioning law enforcement scheme, according to the report, mostly because the Iraqi government never wanted it and never committed to it in the first place.
"Without the MOI's written commitment to the program, there is little reason to have confidence that the training program currently being planned will be accepted six months from now," the report said.
What's more, the State Department has closed the brand-new, $108 million facility is built for the program, called the Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX), which it couldn't use because of security concerns. It simply costs too much for security to get U.S. personnel and contractors from the embassy compound to the new facility, so the whole complex was just handed over to the Iraqis. They may use the fields there for sports, Bowen said.
"Although BPAX's facilities will be given to the Iraqis, its closure amounts to a de facto waste of the estimated $108 million to be invested in its construction," the report stated. "In addition, DoS [the State Department] contributed $98 million in PDP funds for constructing the Basrah Consulate so it could be used for PDP training. It too will not be used because the MOI decided to terminate training at that location. This brings the total amount of de facto waste in the PDP-that is, funds not meaningfully used for the purpose of their appropriation-to about $206 million."
The program's problems are not new. In SIGIR's last audit of the police program last October, the oversight group said that State had not done an adequate assessment or proper strategic planning for the program, and that State had not determined what the Iraqis actually wanted or needed.
One main reason for the problems is that State can't handle the security needs of implementing the police program since the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq last December. Ninety-four percent of the money spent on the program is spent on overhead, mostly security, Bowen said.
Another problem was that the Iraqis didn't like the training they were receiving, as SIGIR explained in its April 2011 quarterly report. Bowen said those criticisms were still being heard one year later.
"We did learn from Iraqi government reporting that they were dissatisfied with the quality of the training they were receiving," Bowen said. "Some of the training they were receiving was low quality."
As of June 30, 2012, there were 15,007 people supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq -- 1,235 U.S. government employees and 13,772 contractors. The size of the overall mission is expected to go down dramatically in the coming months.
More than 40 local punk-rock and arts community activists braved the sweltering Washington heat on Friday afternoon to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in support of Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested and jailed in February after performing a punk-rock prayer in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ of the Russian Orthodox Church lambasting President Vladimir Putin.
Amnesty International, which organized the protest, has deemed Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tokokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevitch "prisoners of conscience," since they have been charged with hooliganism and denied bail. The three women face up to seven years in prison and are scheduled to go on trial Monday in Moscow.
"We are very concerned not only for these three young women in their twenties who have been kept away from their families and their kids, but that this is a very chilling sign of what's happening in Russia in terms of freedom of expression, and also that they have been denied due process rights," Amnesty's chief of campaigns and programs Michelle Ringuette told The Cable. "It has stark implications for what kind of message is being sent."
The event began in front of the embassy, an imposing Soviet-style compound, with a rousing megaphone call of, "We won't stay quiet, set free Pussy Riot," while participants marched around in circles holding fluorescent signs and photos of the three women to the beat of Washington punk-rock band Brenda's Leah Gage drum.
Protesters, some wearing Pussy Riot's signature brightly-colored balaclavas, were disappointed when federal authorities informed them that they had to stay off the brick driveway in front of the embassy and limit their activities to the sidewalk.
There were nonetheless speeches from Amnesty representatives, Brenda member Dave Lesser, and Mark Andersen of local punk activist group Positive Force, who rallied the protesters with his rousing indictment of Putin and the Russian government.
"The people who are inside this building need to understand that people are watching around the world, and if Vladimir Putin wants to pretend to be a royal leader worthy of recognition or respect, he should act like it," Andersen shouted into the megaphone. "I have to say, I think it's very strange that I have to stand in front of the Russian embassy to talk about something like this. I'm old enough so that I know all about what happened in the Soviet Union. That was supposed to be in the ashbin of history."
After Andersen's speech, authorities moved in and told participants to move to a small park across the street, where local punk bands were supposed to stage a concert as part of the event. According to the protest's Facebook page, however, some last-minute pushback from the Washington city government forced them to cancel it. After the move to the park and some more megaphone preaching, the fledgling protest died down as people began to disperse as Amnesty workers continued to circulate petitions.
No Russian authorities appeared on the scene at any point during the demonstration, but some drivers honked their horns, and onlookers across the street whipped out their cameras. It was unclear whether any of them actually knew what Amnesty was protesting, as most seemed bewildered by the young crowd wearing ski masks and demanding the band's release. Even the members of Brenda had no idea who Pussy Riot was until they were invited to the protest.
"First, it all of it was we got a show, and then as we started to learn more about Pussy Riot and how much it sucks that you can be detained with the threat of seven years in prison, it became about supporting them," band member Dave Lesser told The Cable. "I think this process has been transformative, realizing that music isn't necesssarily a right, it's a privilege."
Even a few Russian citizens eventually showed up.
"I think Russia is a country that still struggles with the separation of church and state, and this is one of the cases that I think is very indicative of that," a Russian citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Cable.
According to Amnesty's Ringuette, the protest was only a part of a larger campaign to free Pussy Riot. She said the NGO is encouraging people to sent letters to the Russian embassy through its website.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was criticized Tuesday for giving a national security speech light on details, and today a top Republican pundit called on him to stop downplaying the importance of national security on the stump.
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called out Romney today for what he sees as the candidate's unhelpful statements on national security priorities. Kristol references a Wall Street Journal article in which Romney is said to quote former Secretary of State James Baker saying that President Ronald Reagan decided not to have any national security meetings in his first 100 days as president, after Baker convened one meeting related to Latin America.
"And after the meeting, President Reagan called me in and said, ‘I want no more national-security meetings over the next 100 days-all of our time has to be focused on getting our economy going,'" Romney recalled Baker saying, according to the Journal.
Kristol actually reviewed the archives of Reagan's meetings from the Reagan Foundation records and said the anecdote was either false or that Reagan's comments were never meant to be taken literally.
"In fact, I'll buy Jim Baker a very good dinner next time he's in Washington if he or anyone else can find a 100-day stretch (or a 10-day stretch) of the Reagan presidency in which President Reagan was involved in no national security meetings," Kristol wrote. "To say nothing of the fact that he ran for the presidency highlighting national security issues, and was a historic president in large part because of his national security accomplishments.
"So, reminder to Mitt Romney: With respect to the presidency, national security isn't a bug; it's a feature," Kristol said.
Romney's use of the anecdote also upset former Bush advisor Marc Thiessen, who wrote on the website of the American Enterprise Institute that Romney's use of the anecdote shows a misunderstanding of the presidency and the world the next president will inherit.
"But the fact that Romney thinks it would be desirable to ignore the world for his first 100 days is troubling," Thiessen wrote. "Yes, the American people are focused on the economy -- and understandably so. But Romney isn't running for Treasury secretary -- he is running for commander in chief. And those responsibilities begin on Day 1 of his presidency."
As the crisis in Syria deepens, top senators in both parties are unable to explain presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's policy on dealing with the country's deepening civil war.
Romney, who leaves Tuesday evening on a three-nation foreign trip, barely mentioned Syria in his foreign-policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, and then only as a criticism of President Barack Obama's "reset" policy with Russia.
"I don't know what it is," said Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) when asked to comment on Romney's Syria policy. After The Cable explained it to him, Cornyn said he needed more time to study the issue. Other top senators were similarly befuddled.
On his campaign website, Romney criticizes Obama for reaching out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the past but stops short of calling for any direct action to force Assad from power such as directly arming the opposition, as his surrogates like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are demanding, or establishing "safe zones" for the Syrian opposition, as many of his campaign's foreign policy advisors are calling for.
"Mitt Romney believes the United States should pursue a strategy of isolating and pressuring the Assad regime to increase the likelihood of a peaceful transition to a legitimate government. We should redouble our push for the U.N. Security Council to live up to its responsibilities and impose sanctions that cut off funding sources that serve to maintain the regime's grip on power," the campaign website reads.
But the Obama administration is already pursuing a more aggressive strategy than that, announcing this week that it is abandoning the diplomacy track at the U.N. and ramping up various levels of support to the Syrian opposition. CIA teams are also reportedly vetting rebels fighters and aiding in their efforts to get weapons from countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Administration officials say that increased communications and intelligence assistance is also on the way.
Romney has said repeatedly that the United States should "work with partners" to arm the Syrian opposition but has stopped short of calling for Washington to give the rebels direct, lethal aid. On July 19, after the U.N. Security Council again failed to impose punitive measures on the Assad regime following Russian and Chinese vetoes, Romney again criticized the administration's policy without saying what he would do differently.
"Russia's veto again shows the hollowness of President Obama's failed ‘reset' policy with Russia and his lack of leadership on Syria," Romney said. "While Russia and Iran have rushed to support Bashar al-Assad and thousands have been slaughtered, President Obama has abdicated leadership and subcontracted U.S. policy to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. Under this President, American influence and respect for our position around the world is at a low ebb."
On Monday, Romney told CNBC, "I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria... America should've come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. ... The world looks for American leadership and American strength."
On Capitol Hill, senior Republicans and Democrats alike were at pains to describe Romney's policy on Syria, much less say whether they supported it or not.
"I think we need to have a robust discussion about that," Cornyn said. "There's also the concern that Syria is much more difficult than Libya was, for example. So I think the discussions need to continue about what the appropriate response is. I'm interested in learning from others what their response is."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who admitted last week that he didn't know what Romney's Afghanistan policy was, couldn't name any specifics of Romney's Syria policy Tuesday and instead launched into a monologue about America's role in the world.
"Syria is a really complicated problem in a really complicated part of the world and anybody who says you can have a Syria policy separate and apart from the rest of your foreign policy doesn't know what foreign policy is made of," Kyl told The Cable. "I know that Governor Romney sees the complexities of the world and appreciates the need to have a strong America that has the flexibility to act in complicated and difficult and very troublesome situations like Syria."
Kyl declined to say whether he supported arming the Syrian opposition or establishing safe zones inside Syria, or whether he believed that Romney was supporting either option.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said he supported the administration's efforts to facilitate the movement of arms to the Syrian opposition and he believes the United States should work with Turkey and NATO to establish safe zones for Syrian civilians.
But Levin could not say what Romney's Syria policy was or whether it was substantively different from what the administration is doing now.
"I don't know what his position is and his positions change so frequently, it's hard to keep track," Levin said. "That doesn't mean that he doesn't have one, or that he doesn't have two or three for that matter."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told The Cable he has very specific criticisms of the Obama administration's Syria policy and very specific requests, namely that the administration use American military power to protect Syrian civilians and directly arm the opposition to help topple Assad.
"I'm pained every day that goes by and more and more Syrians get killed. We may be doing something through the CIA, but not a lot. Now the Syrians are using fighter plans and threatening to use gas," said Lieberman. "What I'd like to see is the Obama administration lead the coalition of the willing to go after the Assad regime directly, and I think that would end this pretty quickly."
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The top Kurdish representative in Washington on Friday pushed back against Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempt to encourage U.S. President Barack Obama to stop U.S. oil companies -- particularly ExxonMobil -- from investing in the Kurdish area of Iraq following Chevron's recent purchase of 80 percent of two blocks in the autonomous region.
The Kurdish representative, Qubad Talabani, the Kurdish Regional Government's representative in Washington and the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, was responding to Maliki's claim that Obama had sided with Baghdad in the escalating dispute in a recent letter.
"We would like to confirm that the letter was positive and convincing and stresses its respect for the constitution and Iraqi laws, in the same manner as the Iraqi government is seeking," read a statement from Maliki's office on Thursday.
On Friday, in a short interview with The Cable, Qubad Talabani shot back: "Every U.S. company that is working in Kurdistan today is working under the Iraqi constitution, so the notion that Obama has sent a letter to Maliki supporting his position on Exxon is misleading because the U.S. reaffirmed their support for the Iraqi constitution, and expressing their support is not contradictory to ExxonMobil working in Kurdistan."
But the dispute is not simply a legal matter. Baghdad is concerned that the KRG's cooperation with oil companies threatens its authority, since Article 112 of Iraq's constitution states that the management of the country's oil and gas fields and Iraq's energy policy are responsibilities of the federal government. "Firstly, the prime minister of Iraq should know that private U.S. companies ... don't act on the behalf of the U.S. government," Talabani said, "and they certainly don't take their orders from the U.S. government."
Baghdad banned ExxonMobil from bidding at a recent auction for exploration blocs after the company signed a 25-year exploration deal with the KRG last year. The KRG drew the ire of the Iraqi federal government earlier this month when it announced that it had exported some crude to Turkey, which gave the KRG refined product in return.
"This is an illegal and unconstitutional business that we will take the right decision against," a spokesman for Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, said at the time. "The [Iraqi government's] oil ministry solely reserves the right to export crude oil, gas, or oil products to other countries."
American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin told The Cable on Monday that KRG president Massoud Barzani had also raised the issue with President Obama, which The Cable was unable to confirm.
"It's my understanding that Barzani walked away with the perspective that Obama was favoring Maliki's claims over Barzani's, so it seems already that the U.S. is siding with the Iraqi central government on this issue at least," he said. "We can't pressure Iraqis because we have no leverage left."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
The Palestine Liberation Organization has denied recent reports that the White House issued a notice threatening to cut all aid to the Palestinian Authority if it launches a renewed drive for recognition at the United Nations.
"This is absolutely not true," PLO representative to Washington Maen Rashid Areikat told The Cable this week. "We do not know what they are saying. It's unfounded."
According to numerous online sources, Palestine National Council political chairman Khaled Mesmar, an Obama administration envoy issued the threat during a recent visit to Ramallah, and Areikat's comments come just days after senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced that the Palestinian Authority plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize Palestine as an observer state. Last year's bid for statehood membership was blocked by the United States, and the top foreign aid leaders in the House of Representatives issued a similar threat in August 2011.
On Capitol Hill, the Palestinian Authority has faced increasing scrutiny since it sought U.N. recognition last September. House Foreign Relations Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has spearheaded congressional efforts to prevent federal budgetary allocations to the Palestinian Authority -- which have averaged nearly $600 million since Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 -- from being released, along with House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX). In March, Ros-Lehtinen agreed to release $88.6 million of $147 million slated for Palestinian development aid in the West Bank and Gaza that Republican lawmakers had placed on hold in August 2011, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton overruled the decision and notified Congress in April that the entire package would be disbursed.
"On the congressional level I think that what we are facing is a total ignorance and lack of understanding of the political dynamics and variables that are involved in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians," Areikat said in a short interview. "We are shocked to know that these members of Congress don't even have the minimum knowledge or understanding of Palestinian positions or the impact of U.S. assistance on improving the living, economic, and humanitarian positions of the Palestinian people. Resorting to this tool to try to influence Palestinian leaders into changing their political position is something that has proven in the past to be counterproductive, and it will not lead to a change in the Palestinian political position."
As Ros-Lehtinen continues to place holds on FY2012 funds, however, the Palestinian Authority is facing financial collapse. Saudi Arabia transferred $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority after Israel applied for a $100 million International Monetary Fund loan on its behalf and was refused, but the PA's budget deficit for the current year has already surpassed the $1 billion mark. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said Monday that the PA is unable to pay about 150,000 of its employees.
The House's stance on foreign aid to the Palestinians has drawn the attention and ire of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA).
"House Republicans want to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority," he said during a speech at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's annual conference on Tuesday. "I can't imagine anything that would tumble the Middle East more rapidly into a radical tailspin."
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), a co-signatory of the Cohen-Yarmouth-Connolly letter, which stresses the importance of American leadership to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, agrees.
"No, I do not support cutting off funds to the Palestinian Authority," he said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "I oppose them unilaterally seeking statehood, the deal should be bilateral, but cutting them off would lead to more conflict not less."
Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, worry increasingly about corruption within the Palestinian government, as a committee oversight hearing last week about the Palestinian Authority's "chronic kleptocracy" demonstrated.
"As a major political donor to the Palestinians, we need to be extremely concerned that our aid will be construed as support for a corrupt regime," House Foreign Relations Committee senior member Gary Ackerman (D-NY) said during the hearing. "If they unintentionally wind up enriching loathsome regime figures ... then we have a hard choice as our support for the people is outweighed by unintended, undesirable consequences of that flow."
Areikat dismissed the hearing as a politically motivated smear tactic.
"By holding these hearings all the time, the House Foreign Relations Committee is ignoring an important fundamental principle in the U.S. system, which is giving the other party the chance to present its case," he told The Cable. "They have been holding all these hearings on the Palestinian Authority while the Palestinian Authority and its representatives are absent, so it's only a charade. It's a politically motivated campaign that has nothing to do with transparency and accountability."
House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier (R-CA) announced last week during a visit to Tunis that he intends to head an initiative to propose a free trade agreement between the United States and Tunisia, which experienced a popular uprising in 2010 and held democratic elections in October.
"One of the most effective ways the United States can offer support to the Tunisian people as they work to solidify democratic gains is by expanding trade and commercial ties," Dreier, who is also the founding chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, said in an emailed statement yesterday. "Spurring economic growth through increased trade would ... help to create the resources necessary for sustainable democratic development and prosperity in Tunisia."
According to congressional sources, Dreier first discussed the topic with Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali at the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum in March, just months after Dreier introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for a free trade agreement with Egypt and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative relaunched Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with Tunisia. Even though Dreier's proposal has yet to gain a substantial congressional base, he is partnering with House Committee on Foreign Affairs senior member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN).
As Brookings Institute Saban Center on the Middle East director Tamara Wittes noted, there's a growing feeling of congressional support for Tunisia.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of support on the Hill for Tunisia," she told The Cable. "I think members of Congress understand how important it is to have a successful model in North Africa for the other countries struggling with democratic reform."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president of Middle East and North Africa affairs Lionel Johnson agrees that Tunisia has a lot of potential.
"The Tunisian government is the one in the region that shows the most promise," he told The Cable. "We'd like to see talks begin in early 2013."
Washington has already pledged to help Tunisia with short-term economic problems like debt and unemployment. In March, it was announced that the United States would transfer $100 million to Tunisia, which faces a $25 billion debt, and in June the parliament in Tunis voted in favor of a bill allowing for a $400-450 million sovereign bond issue "with up to 100 percent of the principal and interest guaranteed by the U.S. government," enabling Tunisia to "borrow at almost risk-free rates." The State Department's Middle East Transitions office is pursuing a series of "smaller but important steps."
"There are investment regulations, border controls, and other regulatory changes that could help facilitate trade between the U.S. and Tunisia," Middle East Transitions program director William Taylor told The Cable. "What we're hoping is that by taking some of these steps earlier on, they might get some of these trade benefits sooner than if they were wrapped into one large negotiation for a free trade agreement."
Ultimately, though, a free trade agreement stands to make a significant economic impact on Tunisia, which counted the United States among its top five trading partners in 2010.
"There's a lot that the U.S. is already doing with economic and technical assistance to support the growth of the private sector in Tunisia, so an FTA would complement that because it would be mutually beneficial," Wittes explained. "Over the long term, we know that Tunisian economic health is going to come through a robust private sector that will help to cement a democratic transition. This is not an FTA that's going to have a massive impact on the U.S. economy. It will, however, have an important impact on the Tunisian side."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) says he thinks Tunisia will become a strong economic partner for the U.S.
"Most successful middle-income countries want deeper bilateral trade relationships," he said at an event on Wednesday. "Countries that undergo successful transitions often ... become our best allies and trading partners."
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday he is lifting the investment ban on Burma, allowing U.S. companies to enter Burma's lucrative energy sector, above the objections of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma," Obama said in a Wednesday statement. "President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms. Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma."
Obama said that that entities owned by the Burmese armed forces and the ministry of defense will not be covered by the general licenses to invest in Burma that the administration is issuing to U.S. companies today.
"Burma's political and economic reforms remain unfinished. The United States Government remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in Burma's investment environment and the military's role in the economy," he said.
He also noted that U.S. companies will be required to report on their new activities in Burma and adhere to international corporate governance standards. The president signed a new executive order expanding sanctions against human rights violators in Burma at the same time it repealed the investment ban, which has been in place since the Clinton administration.
Wednesday's announcement comes after an intense internal debate over whether to include Burma's energy and natural resource sectors in the new general licenses. Industry groups such as the U.S.-ASEAN business council, working with oil companies like Chevron, lobbied hard and successfully for a full repeal of the investment ban. They were supported by some lawmakers, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim Webb (D-VA).
Human rights groups and other lawmakers, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), cautioned the administration to go slow and issue only a partial repeal of the investment ban. They especially wanted the administration to retain bans on U.S. companies working with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) the state controlled entity through which all energy sector business flows, which they say is still heavily influenced by the Burmese military.
"We share Aung San Suu Kyi's concerns that MOGE's operations lack transparency, that it remains overly influenced by the Burmese military, and that the large amounts of foreign investment flowing into MOGE are not sufficiently accountable to the Burmese people or its parliament," the senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a July 3 letter.
"We are not opposed in principle to U.S. investment in Burma's oil and gas industry. However, it is critical that foreign investment in Burma be carefully structured to benefit the Burmese people and strengthen the political and economic reforms that are at last underway there."
Suu Kyi, who was elected to Burma's parliament in April after more than two decades of house arrest, last month specifically asked foreign governments not to allow their companies to partner with MOGE at this time.
"The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) ... with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present," she said June 14 in a speech in Geneva. "The [Myanmar] government needs to apply internationally recognized standards such as the IMF code of good practices on fiscal transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner [with] MOGE unless it was signed up to such codes."
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it would follow Suu Kyi's lead while cautiously opening up to closer ties with the Burmese regime. The new U.S. ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell arrived there today.
But in this case, supporters of a more cautious path of easing Burma sanctions inside the administration lost out. They included the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), let by Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, and those in the National Security Staff focused on human rights, such as Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power, according to sources familiar with the internal discussions.
Following a Deputies Committee meeting last week, the side that advocated for a broader repeal of the investment ban won out. That side included the State Department's East Asian and Pacific affairs bureau (EAP), led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, the economics office at State led by Undersecretary Robert Hormats, and the Treasury and Commerce departments. Hormats is set to travel to Burma next week with a contingent of business leaders in tow.
Human rights experts saw today's move as a change from the administraion's original promise to pursue targeted easing of the investment ban. Administration officials promised a sector-by-sector approach whereby the administration would have begun by focusing on sectors of the economy most likely to help the Burmese people, rather than the country's military.
The idea was to encourage development of tourism, banking, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors, while maintaining investment bans on industries such as natural gas, mineral extracting, and timber, which are mostly controlled by the military.
"The pro-industry lobby convinced the administration to back off from the sector-by-sector approach and issue the general license which allows companies to go into any sector, including oil and gas," said Human Rights Watch Washington director Tom Malinowski.
He said that U.S. companies understandably don't want to lose out on market share due to the influx of European corporations now set to do business with Burma's energy and mining sectors, but opening up MOGE to vast new sources of financing could have a negative effect on Burmese political reform.
"All the money the Burmese military uses to finance their wars in the ethnic areas and their procurement of illicit materials from North Korea comes from MOGE. If the military wants to hold on to power and resist civilian oversight, this is what would finance their ability to do that. It represents the bulk of the regime's hard earnings," Malinowski said.
Once corporations make long-term investments in Burma's energy sector, it will be almost impossible to get those countries to abrogate those agreements if the tide turns in Burma and the U.S. government decides it wants to reinstate the investment ban. Chevron's stake in Burma was grandfathered in when the investment ban was originally instituted.
Overall, the concern in the human rights community is that the U.S. government is now making diplomatic decisions about Burma policy based on economic considerations, and not national security or the desire to see the Burmese people live a better life.
"For the last 20 years or so, U.S. policy on Burma was focused on promoting a democratic transition and nonproliferation. The desire of U.S. based companies to get contracts was never on the table until the last couple of months. The fact that is now being balanced against longstanding U.S. interests in Burma really does represent a shift in priorities," Malinowski said.
"The bottom line here is that you have Aung San Suu Kyi asking the administration to hold up on allowing unfettered investment in Burma, and the administration went with Chevron over Aung San Suu Kyi."
NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable that the administration shares concerns about MOGE and views MOGE as meriting closer oversight than other firms in Burma. U.S. investors must alert the U.S. government within 60 days of entering into any contract with MOGE, he said
"We are working very hard with MOGE and the wider Government of Burma to quickly improve its operations. We have been pleased with MOGE's and the Government's commitments in this regard, which include engagement with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)," Vietor said. "While we share these concerns we believe that there will be benefits both to the people of Burma and to U.S. investors in allowing U.S. companies, in a careful, calibrated and responsible manner, to engage with MOGE."
Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, told The Cable today that Obama's action has freed the Burmese regime and military from any fear of being substantively sanctioned going forward.
"I am sure Obama will be appreciated by the Burmese generals, cronies and U.S. corporations, but not by the people of Burma," he said.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
The Pakistani military is entitled to the $1.1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money that the Pentagon is asking Congress to approve giving them, according to top Senators from both parties.
The Obama administration has told Pakistan it will release $1.1 billion of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to the Pakistan military now that Islamabad has reopened the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) through which the U.S. supplies troops in Afghanistan. The funds are reimbursement money that Pakistan has already spent in the joint effort to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban that were already authorized by Congress.The U.S. government has been holding up the money over the past six months while the supply lines were closed.
Pakistan had closed those supply lines after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in November, but opened them this week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally, publically, said "we're sorry" for the mistakes that led to those killings. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) could hold up the funds, but its leaders say they don't plan to do so.
"I would approve it," SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable on Tuesday in a short interview. "They've presumably earned it by the money they've laid out in terms of their anti-terrorist activities and protecting our flow of oil."
There are costs incurred by Pakistan in facilitating the movement of oil and training and equipping their own forces engaged in the fight againstinsurgents, Levin said.
"This is not supposed to be a gift, this is supposed to be a reimbursement," he explained. "That's the theory."
But Levin is still not satisfied with Pakistan's level of cooperation when it comes to combatting terrorist safe havens on their soil and protecting their side of the Afghanistan border.
"I think they've done an adequate job in some areas, a spotty job, a job that is not consistent. I wouldn't give them a grade A, I would give them a grade C on the work that they've undertaken," he said. "But the deal was therewould be reimbursement for their costs and that's what's been held up."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, told The Cable today that he also believes the CSF money should go through.
"The money's been stuck in a pipeline and the reason it hasn't flowed faster is that we can't be sure it's going to be spent wisely. If our commanders believe releasing the funds helps the war effort, I don't want to second guess them," Graham said in a short interview.
He said the biggest beneficiary of the opening of the supply lines were U.S. and international troops on the ground and he said the money is one of the only bargaining chips Washington has left when dealing with Islamabad.
"Pakistan on a good day is very hard. They are an unreliable ally. You can't trust them, you can't abandon them," Graham said. "But if you cut the money off, what leverage do you have? There may come a day when we do that, but not yet."
The Pentagon said they have been working with Congressional leaders and they are hopeful the funds will be released. "We look forward to working closely with Congress to process these claims," Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week.
There's only one hurdle left for the funds to cross over. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) plans to attempt to force a vote to cut off all aid to Pakistan later this month and will try to include the CSF funding in that effort.
Echoing the laments of pundits like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood argued Saturday that China outpaces the United States in building major transportation infrastructure like high-speed rail because of its authoritarian system and because the Chinese don't have the Republican Party holding up progress.
"The Chinese are more successful [in building infrastructure] because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million," LaHood said in a short interview with The Cable on the sidelines of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30. "In a country where only three people make the decision, they can decide where to put their rail line, get the money, and do it. We don't do it that way in America."
LaHood said that despite this, democracy is still preferable. "We have the best system of government anywhere on the planet. It is the best. Because the people have their say," he said.
During his conference session at the festival, LaHood blamed Republicans in Congress, especially the Tea Party freshman class elected in 2010, for the relative lack of progress in moving forward with high-speed rail even though the administration has obligated more than $11 billion to the effort.
"Two years ago, between 50 to 60 Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives to come to Washington to do nothing, and that's what they've done and they've stopped any progress. Those people don't have any vision about what the government can do. That's been a real inhibitor in our ability to think outside the box and think big," he said.
"We used to be No. 1. We're not No. 1 anymore. We're No. 23," he continued. "Previous generations have always left something to the next generation. We owe it to the next generation to leave them something. We shortchange the next generation if we don't leave them high-speed rail. That's our obligation."
LaHood boldly predicted in his remarks at the conference that 80 percent of Americans will be connected with passenger rail within the next 25 years. He said that this will be accomplished through a series of commitments by the federal government, state governments, and the private sector.
"That's how they did in Europe, that's how they did it in Asia, and that's how we will do it in America," he said. "There's no turning back on this. We're not going to turn back. And you know why? Because that's what the people want. That's why... there's no stopping high speed rail."
LaHood heavily criticized the governors of Wyoming and Florida, who have rejected federal attempts to move forward with high-speed rail in their states, and he fought off a heckler from California who said that high-speed rail was not a wise investment of taxpayer money.
"Doing nothing is not acceptable. Don't be coming here and telling me it's not acceptable if you don't have an alternative. It's coming to California," LaHood exclaimed. "All the studies show, if you build it they will come."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, mismanaged his office, harassed and bullied his senior staff, and overall failed in his leadership of the Pentagon's largest program, according to a previously undisclosed internal report obtained exclusively by The Cable.
O'Reilly "engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with standards expected of senior army leaders," in violation of Army regulations on ethics and leadership, according to a May investigation and report by the Defense Department's Inspector General's office that was never released to the public. The IG's office is recommending that Pentagon leadership take "corrective action," against O'Reilly.
The report found that O'Reilly regularly yelled and screamed at subordinates, often in public, demeaned and belittled employees, and behaved in such a way as to result in the departure of at least six senior staffers from MDA during his tenure.
"We determined that LTG O'Reilly's behavior and leadership were inconsistent with the [Joint Ethics Regulation's] emphasis on primary ethical values of fairness, caring, and respect for all DOD employees and with [Army Leadership regulations'] requirement to treat subordinates with dignity, respect, fairness, and consistency," the report stated.
The IG's office gave O'Reilly a chance to respond and in March, O'Reilly told the IG that he disagreed with its conclusions and denied several of the specific allegations in the report. But O'Reilly couldn't deny that senior staff have been fleeing his command. The IG's office said in the report that it stood by its findings.
"We recommend the Secretary of the Army consider appropriate corrective action with regard to LTG O'Reilly," the IG said.
The IG's office interviewed O'Reilly and 37 other witnesses to his behavior before issuing the scathing report. The inspectors determined that although O'Reilly has had a distinguished, multi-decade career in the military and is known to be a hard worker who gets things done, his management of the MDA office has been nothing short of disastrous.
Here are some of the descriptions of his leadership given by subordinates and highlighted in the report:
- The worst manager I've worked for in 26 years of public service;
- As a leader, as a director, whatever, he's the worst;
- In terms of leadership, bottom;
- Absolutely last, out of all the generals I've served under;
- Without a doubt... the worst leader I've worked for, the worst;
- He has probably been 100 degrees out from everything I've learned about leadership;
- How not to act;
- What doesn't kill you makes you stronger; and
- Not the command climate I would have set.
In one incident, O'Reilly screamed at an employee for 10-15 minutes in a hotel lobby because the employee booked a hotel with the word "resort" in its title. O'Reilly was afraid of news stories that would make MDA seem like it was living it up on trips. The employee reported that O'Reilly forced him/her to curse in admitting the mistake, even though that employee didn't want to use profanity.
"You fucked up, you tell me you fucked [up], admit you fucked up," O'Reilly screamed at the staffer, according to the witness. "This is fucking unacceptable. I want you to tell me you fucked up."
"I fucked up," the staffer finally said, after trying to explain him/herself in a more nuanced way.
Other witnesses said that O'Reilly often screamed and yelled during video conferences and staff meetings, which discouraged staff from speaking up at meetings for fear of being berated. One witness described O'Reilly's personality as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Other witness statements about O'Reilly's leadership described it as "condescending, sarcastic, abusive," "management by blowtorch and pliers," and one senior official compared the senior staff's predicament to "beaten wife syndrome."
A senior MDA official told the IG that "LTG O'Reilly would ‘berate you, make you feel like you're the dirt beneath his feet,' then pay a compliment to rebuild the employee, and later repeat that cycle," the IG report stated.
O'Reilly reportedly also at one time or another called various employees, "a bunch of god damned idiots," "just a moron who he'd gladly choke," "a dumb fuck," and an "ignorant ass." O'Reilly told the IG office he didn't remember making those comments.
The names of the senior officials who fled O'Reilly's command were redacted from the report, but some of their titles weren't. They served as the former program director for sensors, the former director for operations, the former director of quality, safety, and mission assurance, and the former program director for target and counter-missions.
One senior staffer who left under duress was Katrina MacFarland, MDA's acquisitions chief, who is now the assistant secretary of defense for acquisitions following an interim stint as president of the Defense Acquisitions University.
In his response to the IG, O'Reilly wrote that the witness testimony amounted to "subjective perceptions," and "extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents."
He is scheduled to retire this November but the IG office is recommending disciplinary action now. MDA spokesman Rich Lehner declined to comment on the report.
The Missile Defense Agency received $8.4 billion in fiscal 2012. In 2011, MDA was ranked 228 out of 240 in the list of best places to work in the federal government, as compiled by the Partnership for Public Service.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf told an audience of American officials and experts that he will return to Pakistan next year to help save the failing Pakistani state, as he compared his 2001 military coup to the actions of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
Musharraf was a featured speaker June 30 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival and sat for a 30-minute interview conducted by Atlantic Media Company owner David Bradley. Over the course of the interview, Musharraf defended the idea of military coups, claimed that the Pakistani people were fleeing back to the military due to the failure of Pakistan's civilian government, and declared that he tried valiantly as president to convince Iran to make peace with Israel and abandon its nuclear ambitions.
His main message was to defend his actions and those of the Pakistani military over the decades as in the interest of the Pakistani people and the survival of Pakistani democracy.
"When the state is going down, people run to the Army to save the state," he said. "We had a dilemma: save the state in order to save the Constitution. Unfortunately, the military takes over to save the state, in order to save the Constitution."
"This was the view of even President Abraham Lincoln," Musharraf continued. "I know that he had violated the Constitution because his responsibility was to protect the state and therefore protect the Constitution. So this has been the dilemma of Pakistan all through its history."
Musharraf said the Pakistani Army today faces a similar choice.
"The state is being run into the ground at the moment... and the people are again running to the military to save the country. So it is a dilemma for the current Army chief: Should we do something unconstitutional to save the state or should we let the state go down and uphold the constitution?" he said.
At one point, Musharraf proudly declared that his life in exile from Pakistan was actually pretty great, as he gets to travel around the world and give speeches to enthusiastic audiences, but he would nevertheless risk his life to return to Pakistan out of a sense of duty.
"You loved leading Pakistan and you love Pakistan and now you're in exile and you're in legal risk if you go back. Is this hard?" Bradley asked him.
"I'm quite comfortable out living in London and Dubai and being called up by lecture circuits around the world," Musharraf responded. "But I must go back to at least try to recover from this malaise that it is suffering from... I will go back even to the peril of my life."
Musharraf also regaled the crowd with the tale of how he was flying back to Pakistan from Sri Lanka in 2001 when the bloodless coup that brought him into power erupted. Initially, his plane was not allowed to land and all the airfields were blacked out and air traffic control was telling the plane to leave Pakistani airspace.
The plane was unable to do so due to a lack of fuel. Eventually, an unnamed general whom Musharraf knew personally contacted the pilot from the air traffic control center and told the pilot to return to Karachi, where the plane could now land because the military had taken control of that airport.
"I was in charge of the country when I landed," Musharraf said.
"That was a fine evening," Bradley responded.
Musharraf, who lives in London, brought his wife to Aspen, along with their son, their daughter-in-law, and their two grandchildren. At the end of the interview, Bradley praised Musharraf's pledge to return to Pakistan.
"Whether you would vote with or against the president, you have to admire somebody who says ‘OK, it's been seven attempts on my life, let's give the dice one more roll,'" Bradley said.
On Iran, Musharraf spoke about his 2006 "peace effort" to bring about reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. Iran was not involved, so Musharraf flew to Iran to visit President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said he tried to get Iran to pursue a path to peace with Israel and move away from nuclear weapons development, but he made no progress.
"They are determined to develop a nuclear arsenal... I did not succeed," he said. "But Iran is not posed any threat, so they need not go nuclear."
On Afghanistan, Musharraf said the country can't be ruled by the current government and said that without an international force left behind by the Americans, the country is likely to descend into even worse violence. He also claimed that "India wants to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan."
Bradley then pressed Musharraf on the U.S. administration's argument that Pakistan is not doing all it can to clamp down on Taliban near the Afghan border and that its top intelligence agency, the ISI, might even be aiding the Taliban and other insurgents in some capacity.
"One can't 100 percent say there is no rogue element within an organization which may be doing something underhanded," Musharraf said. "However, I can't even imagine that as a policy the ISI or the government would be encouraging the Taliban to attack the American troops or the coalition. That is not even a possibility."
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty is crucial to protecting U.S. economic interests, senators and industry leaders argued during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.
"On rare earth minerals, on oil and gas, on whatever unknown minerals or products may be findable under the ocean, we have a choice," said committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). "We can either join the major industrial nations ... and secure the benefits of the Law of the Sea Treaty for our businesses and our industries, or we can remain on the outside."
The European Union and 161 countries belong to the treaty, which came into force in 1994 and created rules for determining mineral and other rights beneath the ocean floor. Senator Kerry has led the push for ratification, while critics argue that the treaty erodes American sovereignty and diverts royalties to an international seabed authority. Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have voiced their support for accession, which they say would codify U.S. rights to use international shipping lanes and lay underwater cables, level the playing field for mineral rights, and result in more jobs and revenue.
"Today ... China controls about 97 percent of the production market for these [rare earth] minerals," Kerry said. "Can anybody in their right mind suggest that the U.S. is safer ... in a situation where we're sitting on the outside?"
Ratifying the treaty would significantly increase the potential scope of U.S. domestic energy production by expanding the definition of the outer continental shelf, top industry representatives told the committee.
"It would secure an additional 4.1 million square miles [of ocean floor] under U.S. jurisdiction," said American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard.
But to reap the benefits, Kerry added, the United States needs to act quickly so that U.S. energy companies can compete with foreign firms.
"They want and need certainty in order to invest the billions of dollars required to develop the extended shelf, especially in the Arctic, where the Chinese and Russians are already laying claims," he noted.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas Donahue testified that the treaty is "critical to America's global leadership" and that the benefits of accession outweigh any negative criticism.
"The U.S. has more than any country to gain or to lose," he said. "The treaty is not perfect. It'll be changed like all treaties are, but we better be sitting at the table."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a bill to sanction human rights violators around the world, named after Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died after allegedly being tortured in prison by Russian officials.
The Cable has obtained the latest draft of the Senate version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act of 2012, which passed the committee unanimously Tuesday afternoon by a voice vote after a short debate. The bill imposes restrictions on the financial activities and travel of foreign officials found to have been connected to various human rights violations in any country. The House version of the bill, approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, targets only Russian human rights violators. That difference that will have to be worked out between the two chambers before the bill can become law.
"This bill is absolutely motivated by the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky, but it is universal in its application," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the main sponsor of the bill, after the vote. "The sponsors of the House bill have encouraged me to keep it universal, so I think it will not be difficult to get the House to go along with the universality."
The de-emphasis of Russia in the bill is ostensibly meant to tamp down Russian anger over the legislation. The Russian government has promised widespread retaliation, saying that passage of the Magnitsky Act could negatively affect Russian cooperation with Washington on issues ranging from Afghanistan and Iran to nuclear weapons.
Cardin said the bill will now be joined with legislation introduced earlier this month to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, needed so that U.S. businesses can take advantage of Russia's pending accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The PNTR bill introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) earlier this month and co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would also repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that sanctioned the Soviet Union for denying Jews the right to emigrate.
"When PNTR comes to the floor, that's the driving force behind the timing [of passing the Magnitsky bill in the full Senate]," Cardin said. He added that if it was done in July that would also coincide with pending action by the Russian Duma to formally join the WTO. Whether Baucus would join the two bills in his committee or on the Senate floor is still unclear.
The bulk of the debate inside Tuesday's SFRC business meeting focused on Cardin's amendment to adjust the way the list of names of human rights violators is managed. Cardin's amendment would impose some more requirements on the administration if it wants to keep the names of the human rights violated secret in a classified annex, rather than publish them publicly.
SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) was the lone vote against the Cardin amendment and unsuccessfully tried to get Cardin to withdraw the amendment during the hearing. He is working to preserve more administration flexibility in administrating the classified list of human rights violators and said that there would be more changes in the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.
"We need to be very mindful of the need for the United States not to always be pointing fingers ... in some ways we could be doing better ourselves on a number of things," Kerry said. "Nevertheless, human rights are in our DNA and we will always be a nation that stands up for and fights for human rights."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was set to offer an amendment that would sunset the penalties in the bill, meaning that they would expire after five years. Ultimately he decided not to offer the amendment because it was sure to fail, according to multiple Senate aides, but he might offer it at a later stage of the process.
The perception among Hill aides in both parties is that the administration is working hard behind the scenes to weaken the penalties in the Magnitsky bill and provide the State Department greater leeway to keep the names of the violators from becoming public. Kerry and Cardin tried to dispel that idea after the meeting.
"I want as strong a bill as possible," Kerry said, declining to go into specifics of what the administration was telling him about the bill.
Cardin said the administration is still not taking a public position on the Magnitsky Act or the changes being proposed by various senators as the bill moves forward.
"The administration chose not to comment and I think that's where they are," Cardin said.
Earlier Tuesday, McCain sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to use existing executive orders to sanction the Klyuev Group, a Russian crime organization alleged to be involved in Magnitsky's persecution.
In remarks Tuesday morning at a Freedom House event, McCain lashed out against the idea of keeping the names of the human rights violators subject to the Magnitsky bill secret.
"The fact is, our whole effort here is to make public the names and actions of the people that we think are engaged in these crimes, so I really have deep concerns about that," McCain said. "On the Magnitsky issue, the State Department has been less than enthusiastic... I think it's based on an unfounded assumption or optimism that things are going to improve between the United States and Russia. I have not seen that improvement."
Allison Good contributing reporting.
Six Republican senators, all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), have formally asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
The committee has set a vote on the McGurk nomination for June 19, but that vote is now in doubt.
The GOP senators' concerns include that McGurk does not have enough experience for the job, that he was a key part of the unsuccessful effort to negotiate a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq past 2011, that he isn't accepted by some Iraqi political groups, and that his judgment and conduct in Iraq as exposed in leaked e-mails with a reporter he was dating have hurt his credibility.
"Recent information has surfaced that calls into question the prudence of moving forward with the nominee at this time," wrote Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and James Risch (R-ID). "As members of the committee, with the responsibility of providing advice and consent, we write to respectfully urge you to reconsider this nomination. There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk's qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment."
The letter was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.
The senators wrote that McGurk, who has served in Iraq and in the White House in various capacities over the past 8 years, has "little direct management experience," leaving him unprepared to head up the largest U.S. embassy in the world, in the center of an extremely volatile region. His most recent position was as a senior advisor to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, focusing on the Status of Forces Agreement negotiations in 2011 that broke down over a dispute about legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq.
The senators also indirectly referenced a letter from Waheed Al Sammarraie, the D.C. representative of the office of former Iraqi prime minister and opposition leader Ayad Allawi, who wrote to Congress saying that his party would not work with McGurk due to the would-be ambassador's allegedly close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That letter was later retracted and most Iraqi political groups have said they would work with McGurk if he becomes ambassador.
The senators also referenced the revelation that McGurk's relationship with his current wife Gina Chon began while he was serving as a national security official in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal accepted Chon's resignation Tuesday, saying that she had improperly shared unpublished news articles with McGurk and failed to disclose their relationship to her editors.
"The public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee's credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve... Together these issues cannot be overlooked," the senators wrote. "The U.S.-Iraq relationship is of utmost importance to us, and we respectfully request that you withdraw this nominee and nominate someone with the qualifications necessary to ensure success in this position."
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also did not immediately respond.
The Democrats hold a majority on the committee and could approve McGurk's nomination over GOP objections. Then the nomination would then go to the floor, where it could face holds from any or all of the senators who signed the letter. McGurk also faces opposition outside the committee from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the McGurk nomination at his briefing today.
"The President has nominated Brett McGurk to be the ambassador to Iraq. We believe that our nation will be greatly served by his experience in Iraq, and we look forward to the Senate's advice and consent on his appointment," he said.
A new issue has emerged in the confirmation of Brett McGurk to become the next ambassador to Iraq and it has nothing to do with the intimate e-mails he sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2008.
One Republican senator is now making an issue out of McGurk's role in the case of Ali Musa Daqduq, the alleged Hezbollah commander who was transferred from U.S. to Iraqi custody last December and acquitted in an Iraqi court last month. He remains in Iraqi custody pending an automatically triggered appeal, but could be released thereafter.
The Daqduq issue is just the latest concern various Republican senators have raised over McGurk's nomination. Some GOP lawmakers want answers about his relationship in Iraq with reporter Gina Chon while he was negotiating the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement in 2008. The Wall Street Journal accepted Chon's resignation today. Others question McGurk's role in the failed negotiations to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq past 2011, and his overall qualifications for the job.
Daqduq, a Lebanese citizen whom U.S. military officials claim is a Hezbollah commander, was imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq and accused of leading a team that kidnapped and killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq in January 2007. Last December, 21 U.S. senators wrote a letter urging the administration not to hand him over out of concern that the Iraqi government might release him.
On Monday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent McGurk a series of questions demanding answers on the U.S. government's actions on the case as well as McGurk's personal involvement.
"How would you characterize your role in the transfer of Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq from U.S. to Iraqi custody?" reads the first question.
"Before the American withdrawal from Iraq last year, what steps, if any, did you take to stop the transfer of Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq from U.S. custody?" the next question reads.
Kirk asked McGurk if he will agree to provide Congress with copies of all State Department and National Security Council emails, letters, communications, telephone call readouts and readouts of meetings that mention Ali Musa Daqduq in all of 2011.
Kirk also wants to know what efforts are underway to get Daqduq back in U.S. custody, whether the U.S. government has formally requested his extradition, and whether McGurk would support the sale of military equipment to Iraq if the Iraqi government doesn't handover Daqduq.
Republican senators have also criticized McGurk for beginning his relationship with Chon, to whom he is now married, while he was simultaneously exchanging information with her regarding U.S. government activity.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) already cancelled a meeting with McGurk over that issue as well as over unconfirmed allegations that McGurk was caught on video engaging in improper sexual behavior on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace in 2004.
Now, Sen. James Risch (R-ID), who praised McGurk in his confirmation hearing last week, is also expressing reservations about his confirmation.
"Prior to these email revelations, I had reservations about confirming Brett McGurk as ambassador to Iraq," Risch told The Cable through a spokesman. "Now that additional issues have been raised, more information will be needed and I reserve final judgment until all the facts are brought to light."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the first senator to raise concerns about the McGurk nomination, was apparently unswayed by last week's hearing. "His concerns regarding Mr. McGurk's time in Iraq, particularly related to his failure to negotiate a residual force as everyone envisioned, remain," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
No senator can issue a formal hold on the McGurk nomination until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes to approve it, and no vote has been scheduled. But the concerns about McGurk's professional and private actions in Iraq are mounting and may reach a tipping point soon, Republican Senate aides say.
"Senator Kirk's questions touch on one of the most emotional issues involved in the McGurk nomination and several senators might have placed holds on McGurk for this reason alone," one senior GOP Senate aide said. "This, on top of McGurk's other problems, creates serious doubt as to the future of this nomination."
UPDATE: According to a State Department official, McGurk left Iraq on Oct. 22, 2011, was not involved in the negotiations with Iraq over the issue, and was serving as a senior advisor to the ambassador focused on other matters. "Simply put, Brett McGurk was not involved in the Daqduq issue in any way, shape, or form," the official said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up a bill today to punish Russian human rights violators, moving that bill closer to passage in conjunction with another bill to grant Russia privileged trade with the United States.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) convened her committee on Thursday morning to approve the House version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago. Her committee counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) said during the markup he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with a coming bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which would include a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, established to punish Russia for not allowing Jews to emigrate during the Soviet period.
"The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse," Ros-Lehtinen said at the markup. "Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless."
The Obama administration is publicly opposed to the Magnitsky bill, especially the effort to connect it to Jackson-Vanik repeal, and has been working behind the scenes with bill sponsors such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to alter the legislation. "From our point of view this legislation is redundant to what we're already doing," U.S. Ambassador Russia Mike McFaul said in March.
One of the administration ideas is to expand the Magnitsky bill to deal with human rights violators from all countries, but doing so wouldn't eliminate strong Russian objections to the bill. A short amendment added to the House version today by Ros-Lehtinen makes clear that the bill is directed only at Russia.Cardin even came up with a new draft version of the legislation in April. The Cable obtained an internal document showing exactly what changed in the bill. For example, the new version makes it more difficult to add names to the list of human rights violators that the bill would create, potentially softening the bill's impact on Russian officials
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed consideration of the Magnitsky bill in April, so that the details inside the bill could be ironed out. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has promised to take up the bill in that committee at their as yet unscheduled next business meeting. He has also said he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with legislation to repeal Jackson-Vanik.
In both chambers, the bill faces cross jurisdiction with the finance and possible judiciary committees, which means they would also have to approve the legislation, because it deals with financial sanctions and criminal prosecutions. The Senate Finance Committee under chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is where the Russian PNTR bill would begin as well, although it's not clear whether the PNTR bill, which would include the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, would be joined with the Magnitsky bill in committee or on the floor.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee also approved today a bill calling for the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 London games to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members in Munich. The IOC has thus far refused requests to hold a moment of silence, saying that it is unnecessary and would establish an unwelcome precedent. That drive is being led by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Steve Israel (D-NY).
Another bill approved today by the HFAC would express "sense of the House of Representatives with respect toward the establishment of a democratic and prosperous Republic of Georgia and the establishment of a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict with Georgia's internationally recognized borders."
The committee also approved a resolution expressing support for efforts to combat the Lord's Resistance Army and secure the imprisonment of Joseph Kony, a bill calling upon the Turkey to reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate's theological school at Halks, and the "Donald M. Payne International Food Assistance Act of 2012," which is mean to improve the quality and effectiveness of U.S. food assistance programs abroad.
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Right-wing Japanese lawmakers and activists have successfully rounded up more than 25,000 signatures for a petition on the White House website asking the Obama administration to force the state of New Jersey to take down a monument dedicated to the memory of "comfort women," the thousands of women kidnapped and raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The Bergen County executive dedicated a small monument in Palisades Park, New Jersey, in late 2010 that included the following inscription:
IN MEMORY OF THE MORE THAN 200,000 WOMEN AND GIRLS WHO WERE ABDUCTED BY THE ARMED FORCES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF IMPERIAL JAPAN. 1930's - 1945
KNOWN AS "COMFORT WOMEN," THEY ENDURED HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS THAT NO PEOPLES SHOULD LEAVE UNRECOGNIZED. LET US NEVER FORGET THE HORRORS OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
Ever since then, officials in the Japanese governmentand and elements of Japanese society that dispute the above facts related to the comfort women have been trying to get the monument, which is located in an area with a large Korean population, taken down.
Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park last month to ask local leaders to remove the monument. One of the delegations was led by the Japanese consul-general in New York, Shigeyuki Hiroki. Local officials in New Jersey refused to remove the monument, even when offered cherry trees and other goodies from the Japanese government.
Now, the Japanese comfort-women deniers have a new tactic -- to go straight to the White House. They started a petition on the White House's official website and have conducted a successful campaign resulting in over 28,000 signatures.
"We petition the Obama administration to: Remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan," the petition reads. "False accusations regarding the South Korean comfort women issue have disgraced the people of Japan for decades. Over the past few years it has come to light that many of the original charges were false or completely fabricated."
"Yet despite this new information, the United States continues to lend credence to the original false charges by memorializing the comfort women in a monument in New Jersey and a street name in New York. Not only is this perpetrating historical untruths, but it also leads unnecessary racial conflict and suffering of people of Japanese ancestry," the petition reads. "We strongly request President Obama to remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan."
According to the White House website, the administration must give an official response to any petition that receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days of when it was originally posted. The Japanese comfort women petition crossed that threshold more than a week ahead of its June 9 deadline.
The massive amount of signatures came mostly from Japan and due to the direct advocacy of several Japanese lawmakers and former officials. A Japanese resident in the United States, by the name of Yasuko R, created the petition. A supporter can sign for the petition once a day.
The petition was advertised in Japan on the websites of Japanese lawmakers Eriko Yamatani and Keiji Furuya, who were part of one of the delegations that visited New Jersey, which included family members of some of the 13 Japanese citizens that were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing Japanese organization, supported the petition's call to remove the monument, as did other organizations, including Nippon Kaigi Local Government (Pride of Japan), and The Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon Soshin To), which posted directions on how Japanese citizens could participate in the petition.
Major advocacy for the petition came from Toshio Tamogami, the former Japanese Air Force chief of staff who was fired in 2009 after creating an international incident by writing in an essay that Japan was "not an aggressor nation" in World War II. Tamogami not only called for petition signatures on his website, he gave instructions in Japanese for users to log onto the White House website so they could be part of the effort.
The comfort women issue and Japan's reluctance to come to terms with its wartime actions is still the No. 1 irritant in Japan's relations with its neighbors. For U.S.-based experts that are critical of Japan's handling of the issue, the petition and its underlying argument are doing great damage to Japan's ability to move past the events of the war.
"Is the Japanese right so strung out, so unpopular that it is reduced to these silly international stunts to get attention? Have they become so irrelevant that they have to prop up Comfort Women and Abductees of the North Koreans for attention? They have become as pathetic as their ideas," said Mindy Kotler, the founder of Asia Policy Point, a non-profit organization that does research on Japan.
She said one part of the problem is the failure of the U.S. government to connect its human rights and women's rights policies to Japan.
"We have built and demanded to build institutions around the world to address war crimes and human rights. In regard to historical war crimes, we have a bureau in the State Department on the Holocaust and even appointed an ambassador in the late 1990s to deal with German and Austrian war crimes," she said. "But we have done nothing that addresses the lingering, if not festering problems of Japan's reluctantly acknowledged war crimes. It eats away at our alliances and undermines our ‘shared values.'"
The White House petition response should be posted "in a timely manner," according to the website.
Don't expect any breakthroughs with Tehran at the six-power nuclear talks beginning Wednesday in Baghdad, the Obama administration's former top official for Iran Dennis Ross said Tuesday, despite a recent flurry of reporting suggesting otherwise.
"I don't believe that we should be looking at tomorrow as being a make-or-break meeting where if there isn't an unmistakable breakthrough then the process isn't a real process," Ross said on a conference call. "One doesn't need to see a breakthrough in these talks. That's unrealistic at this point. The idea that you have a breakthrough after only two rounds, I think, given everything going on, is just not realistic."
There isn't unlimited time to strike a deal with Iran, Ross cautioned. But in order for real progress to be made, he said, the talks have to continue on a regular, predictable schedule.
"There needs to be an indication that the talks really do have a kind of intensive ongoing character and they're meeting on almost what I would describe as nearly a continuous basis," he said.
Ross returned to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) last November after almost three years in the Obama administration, first with the State Department and then with the National Security Council as the senior director for southwest Asia, a portfolio that spanned a geographical region from Iran to Morocco.
The administration shouldn't announce any deadlines for the talks, which began last month in Istanbul, but should have a private time frame in mind, he said, emphasizing that any progress with Iran could take several months to achieve.
"If you're really into a process that's designed to produce understandings or become clear that that's not possible, month-to-month is simply not realistic. Look, in the past, oftentimes when proposals were given to the Iranians it took them months on end even to respond or to digest," he said.
"I think the key here is you want to send a signal that we're serious, but we're not desperate for an agreement ... we're not pushing prematurely to try to produce an outcome before you've had a chance to have the kind of discussions that are credible enough to determine whether such an outcome is possible."
Ross said that administration's basic approach to Iran has not changed and that the drive was still to find confidence-building measures that could halt Iran's forward progress on nuclear development and create space for a more comprehensive, mutually agreed solution.
"I think the administration's approach at this juncture is more a ‘let's go step by step, let's do confidence building because first we want to see if we can stop the clock' [approach]. Then it gives us time and space to try to deal more fundamentally with their program," he said.
Ross doubled down on his message of cautious optimism in a policy analysis posted today on the WINEP website, in which he listed several of the confidence-building measures under consideration.
"The challenge is to test the meaning of the talks without conveying either desperation or a rush to premature conclusions. The current approach of the P5+1 in the talks is guided by a confidence-building step-by-step logic that could work over time but runs the risk of letting Tehran play for time without revealing whether a real deal is even possible," he wrote, referring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
In Congress, there is bipartisan opposition to any interim agreement with the Iranians that includes the kinds of confidence-building measures Ross is proposing, as written in a Feb. 17 letter signed Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
"We would strongly oppose any proposal that caps or limits sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for anything less than full, verifiable, and sustained suspension of all enrichment activities, including both 3 percent and 20 percent enrichment," the senators wrote. "The time for confidence building measures is over."
FP researcher Allison Good contributed reporting.
Friday began an action-packed weekend for the Obama administration, kicking off with the G-8 meeting in Camp David and moving on to the NATO summit in Chicago.
In a briefing Thursday on this weekend's events, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon laid out the U.S. agenda in broad brushstrokes.
"The two summits really do underscore and are an embodiment of American leadership on a range of global challenges and advancing several over-arching U.S. interests: making the international architecture work effectively in a transformational world; second, revitalizing, as I said, our core alliances; and three, really advancing our strategies in the war in Afghanistan in a responsible fashion," he said.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah presided over the first major event of the weekend Friday morning, the rollout of the "New Partnership to Advance Food and Nutrition Security," a follow-on to the $22 billion food security initiative initiated at the G-8 in 2009. The announcement included setting a goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years; separately, USAID also announced Friday that private industry has already pledged an additional $3 billion toward the effort to improve agricultural sector performance and sustainability in Africa.
Obama went straight from that event to attend his first meeting with the new president of France, François Hollande, at the White House, where the war in Afghanistan and the drive to dissuade Iran from building a nuclear weapon was likely to be discussed. Clinton then hosted a lunch for Hollande and his delegation at Blair House, across the street from the White House.
On Friday evening, seven heads of state and one stand-in, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, will arrive at Camp David in what will be the largest gathering of world leaders in the compound's history. Each leader will have his or her own cabin, and there's likely to be a lot of side meetings between them, Donilon predicted.
"The summit is intended to be small and intimate, and the president made a conscious decision to host the G-8 meeting at Camp David for this reason," he said. "This is really a back-to-basics approach, if you will."
There will be a leaders-only dinner Friday night, where the topic will be "regional and political issues," according to Donilon. "There'll clearly be a discussion about Iran, and we expect to be advancing the international consensus around the P-5+1 approach to addressing the Iran nuclear issue," he said, referring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. He added that North Korea and Burma would probably also come up.
On Saturday morning, the focus turns to the economy and Obama plans to call for more robust U.S. involvement in the fixing of the European economic crisis, Donilon said, although he didn't specify exactly what that means. Thus far, the administration has generally watched from the sidelines as European leaders have struggled to devise a lasting solution to the fiscal woes of countries like Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
"The president looks forward to leading a discussion among the leaders about the imperative of having a comprehensive approach to manage the crisis and get on a sustainable path towards recovery in Europe," Donilon said.
There will be Saturday morning sessions on energy and climate, the Afghan economic situation, and food security, followed by a lunch with four African heads of states -- from Benin, Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia -- where food security will be discussed. Following that, there will be one more session on the Middle East.
On Saturday evening, Obama travels to Chicago to host the NATO summit, where 61 countries will be represented along with the EU, the United Nations, and the World Bank.
On Sunday, Obama will have his first meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will also be in Chicago, but Obama has no plans to meet with him as of now.
On Sunday evening, the 28 leaders of the NATO countries will have dinner together at Soldier Field. Each leader can bring only one advisor to that meal.
On Monday morning, the first major meeting will focus on Afghanistan and will include the 28 NATO countries as well as 22 other countries that are involved in the Afghanistan effort. Monday afternoon's session will include all of NATO's partners.
The focus, Donilon said, will be NATO's decision to shift in 2013 from "being in the combat lead to stepping back and getting into principally a train-and-advise mode, with the Afghans going into the combat lead all over the country."
Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama's ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.
"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.
"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does... And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."
It remains to be seen, however, whether those allies will be willing to stay in Afghanistan much longer. Hollande promised during his campaign to withdraw all French combat troops this year.
Donilon said that Obama understands the importance of campaign promises but also will emphasize the importance of NATO countries keeping their commitments and working with the other alliance members.
"He'll have to make his national decision with respect to that," Donilon said. "But we would look to allies to make their national decisions in the context of the overall alliance approach, which has us in as ISAF until the end of 2014."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.