The Obama administration has invited a senior delegation from the Khartoum regime to visit Washington for high-level discussions, just after the State Department criticized Sudan heavily in its annual country reports on human rights.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry first announced Tuesday that senior officials from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had been invited to Washington for consultations. Sudan Tribune, an émigré newspaper based in Paris, paraphrased a Sudanese official citing the "mere presence of diplomatic missions in both countries and meetings of ambassadors" as representing "some degree of dialogue between Khartoum and Washington."
Sudan is among the most-sanctioned countries in the world. President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, Sudan has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, and the United States imposed additional sanctions in 1997 and then again in 2003, following the outbreak of government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Sudan advocacy-group leaders were quick to criticize the administration's decision to invite the NCP officials to Washington, where they are expected to discuss ongoing tensions with South Sudan, the upcoming referendum in the contested region of Abyei, and the ongoing violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"United to End Genocide believes that the delegates of Sudan's National Congress Party (NCP) do not deserve to be rewarded by the United States government and invited to Washington, D.C. until they stop committing crimes against the civilians throughout Sudan," said Tom Andrews, the president of the group. "It is imperative that in his new term, President Obama evaluates his previous diplomacy towards Sudan, sets strong policy with clear measures that can help end the suffering of the people of Sudan, and hold the perpetrators accountable before offering rewards."
At Tuesday's State Department press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the invitation but gave few details about why the administration believes it's a good idea to host the Sudanese delegation at this time. He said that presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie will lead the delegation, but the exact timing has not been finalized.
"We've planned to receive this delegation for a candid discussion on the conflicts and humanitarian crises within Sudan, including in Darfur and the two areas -- Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, counterterrorism, human rights and other issues of concern to the U.S. government," Ventrell said. "We've also continued to express our deep concern about another -- a number of other issues. While we've had some progress here, you have ongoing aerial bombardment of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and some other areas in terms of Darfur that we're still concerned about. So we've seen some progress, but we still have some concerns and we'll raise them directly with the government."
The delegation announcement comes in the same week that the administration announced it was relaxing some sanctions against Khartoum. The Treasury Department announced April 22 that it would now authorize some professional and educational exchanges with Sudan that had previously been prohibited.
Only three days before relaxing sanctions, the Obama administration heavily criticized Sudan in its annual country reports on human rights practices, released April 19, which documented extreme government-sponsored atrocities and human rights violations.
"The most important human rights abuses included: government forces and government-aligned groups committed extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; security forces committed torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment; and prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening," the State Department report said. "Except in rare cases, the government took no steps to prosecute or punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who committed abuses. Security force impunity remained a serious problem."
Other major abuses in Sudan, according to the State Department, included arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference with the judiciary and denial of due process; obstruction of humanitarian assistance; restriction on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; harassment of internally displaced persons; restrictions on privacy; harassment and closure of human rights organizations; and violence and discrimination against women. Societal abuses including instances of female genital mutilation; child abuse, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; denial of workers' rights; and forced and child labor were also reported.
That report prompted a call from the Sudan advocacy community for the administration to employ stronger pressure mechanisms against Khartoum, rather than offering more incentives like visits to Washington or rewards like an easing of sanctions.
"These atrocities and abuses stem from the many conflicts in Sudan, and point to the need for a comprehensive approach to all of Sudan's conflicts," a group of Sudan advocacy organizations wrote in a letter to Obama April 22. "In addition, given the scale of the atrocities perpetrated by the regime, international donors should not provide significant assistance or debt-relief until real and verifiable steps towards peace and democratic transformation are taken."
These groups, along with several members of Congress, also lament that the president has yet to appoint a special envoy to Sudan to replace Amb. Princeton Lyman, who stepped down late last year. The administration is said to be circling around a couple of candidates, but there's been no announcement as of yet.
"This vacancy is symptomatic of a president that has all but forsaken the people of Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said in a March floor statement. "Candidate Obama purported to be deeply concerned by the crisis in Sudan and committed to bold actions. Have we seen a fraction of that concern or anything close to bold action since he became president?"
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Lawmakers and Africa hands rallied Thursday behind President Barack Obama's decision to nominate Robert Godec to be the next U.S. ambassador to Kenya.
If confirmed, Godec would follow Obama confidant J. Scott Gration, who resigned in June ahead of a scathing internal report that rated him among the worst ambassadors in the diplomatic corps (Gration insists he was a great ambassador).
Unlike Gration, a political appointee, Godec is a career Foreign Service officer who has previously led an embassy -- in Tunisia -- and has diplomatic experience working in the Nairobi embassy as well. Godec is the charge d'affaires at the Kenya embassy now, and served as the State Department's principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism from 2009 to 2012.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, told The Cable that he will push to confirm Godec as quickly as possible when the Senate returns for a lame-duck session following the November elections.
"Ambassador Godec is a smart choice and I hope the Senate will move quickly to advance his nomination," said Coons. "Given the emerging threats in the region, his background in counterterrorism and career in the Foreign Service -- even being stationed in Nairobi earlier in his career -- make him unquestionably qualified for this critically important role. One of the United States' top priorities, certainly in the short term, will be helping ensure Kenya's elections in March are free, fair, and peaceful. These elections are critically important not only to Kenya, but to the stability of the region."
The upcoming elections and the potential for explosive political violence are a key focus of Kenya watchers in Washington. Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that politicians seeking office have been complicit on both sides of the growing violence in Kenya's coastal region, with the central government doing little to hold them accountable.
"I'm very pleased to see President Obama officially nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Kenya, particularly a Foreign Service officer with regional and country specific experience like Ambassador Godec. That's going to very important in order to reverse what's been a worrisome U.S. policy of neglect and drift," said Sarah Margon, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Kenya Working Group. "What he's going to need to do is make a clear commitment to a U.S. policy based on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, particularly given the upcoming elections. And he needs to address lack of accountability for the political violence in Kenya."
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.
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The State Department inspector general's office released its scathing report on the leadership of former ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration Friday, saying that Gration ranked dead last among dozens of ambassadors reviewed in recent years.
Gration resigned suddenly June 29 after viewing the report, but he did not offer a written response to the report released today.
"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."
The assessment of Gration goes downhill from there.
"The Ambassador has damaged the cohesion of Embassy Nairobi's country team by underscoring differences between offices working directly with Kenya and those with regional responsibilities. Country team members, particularly those from other agencies, relied on the recently departed deputy chief of mission to maintain a sense of common purpose at Embassy Nairobi. Unless corrected there is a risk that the country team will become dysfunctional," the report stated.
Gration consumed his staff with what he called "mission essential tasks" that provided "almost no value" to the State Department or the rest of the U.S. government working on Kenya, the IG found. Gration made it clear he disagreed and would not implement U.S. government decisions, insisted on using his personal email for official business, and refused to even read the cables coming from Washington, the report said.
"Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite," the report said.
The IG reported that Gration refused to meet with most prominent Kenyans, journalists, and even his senior embassy staff, who would try unsuccessfully for months to get in touch with him.
Gration's big project was one he started called Let's Live, which set the goal of reducing Kenyan infant mortality by 50 percent in one year, but the program was never funded and confused everyone in Nairobi working on the Global Health Initiative (GHI) programs in Kenya, including the Kenyans.
"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 report said.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Gration disputed the report and said using his commercial e-mail was not a security issue. "I did rock the boat. I made changes in priorities, and changes can be very hard," he said.
Gration, a retired Air Force general, was one of the first senior military figures to openly support and actively campaign for President Barack Obama in 2007 and was embraced by the team that would eventually form the president's closest national security inner circle. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough once described Gration as one of the top three national security advisors to Obama, along with former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. He was rumored during the transition to be a candidate to lead NASA.
He took over as ambassador to Kenya in February 2011 following a controversial two-year stint as Obama's special envoy for Sudan.
UPDATE: Gration sent the following statement on the IG report to The Cable:
The State Department Office of the Inspector General's report on the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya released today contains an egregious number of categorically false statements.
Since I announced my resignation, I've been flooded with letters of support from members of all branches of government, Kenyan leaders and the international community. These letters are testaments to my effective leadership, superb job performance, unyielding loyalty to U.S. government decisions and relentless efforts to promote American ideals and best interests.
Most of all, I've been deeply disappointed by the State Department's decision not to give me the opportunity to refute the report's false statements.
While I seek to clear my name against the report's baseless allegations, I remain committed to improving human conditions and promoting American values wherever I can make a positive difference.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in South Sudan and Uganda on Friday with Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, and Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills. Clinton met with President Salva Kir and Foreign Minister Nhial Deng in Juba, South Sudan, before meeting with President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala, Uganda.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa through August 10. She is accompanied by Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, and Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa through August 10. Wednesday, the Secretary met with Senegal President Macky Sall in Dakar. She is accompanied by Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, Assistnat Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, and Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made his administration's successes against terrorist groups -- above all last year's killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- a central plank of his re-election campaign.
But according to the State Department's latest annual counterterrorism report, al Qaeda affiliates are gaining operational strength in the Middle East and South Asia, even though terrorist attacks worldwide are at their lowest level since 2005.
The report cited 2011 as a "landmark year" due to the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and other key al Qaeda operatives, and noted that the terrorist group's "core," largely based in Pakistan, had been weakened.
"I would not say that we are less safe now than we were several years ago, because the al Qaeda core was the most capable part of the organization by quite a lot, and was capable obviously of carrying out catastrophic attacks on a scale that none of the affiliates have been able to match," Coordinator for Counterterrorism Dan Benjamin said Tuesday at a briefing introducing the report.
Democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa also testified to the terrorist organization's decline, he said, though he offered a few cautionary notes.
"We saw millions of citizens throughout the Middle East advance peaceful, public demands for change without any reference to al Qaeda's incendiary world view," Benjamin said.
"This upended the group's longstanding claim that change in this region would only come through violence. These men and women have underscored in the most powerful fashion the lack of influence al Qaeda exerts over the central political issues in key Muslim majority nations."
Though AQAP benefited from the long and tumultuous political transition in Yemen, Benjamin said he expects the trend lines to go "in the right direction" under new president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Syria, on the other hand, remains a major cause for concern with no solution in sight. The New York Times reported Sunday that Muslim jihadists are "taking a more prominent role" in the resistance.
"We believe that the number of al Qaeda fighters who are in Syria is relatively small, but there's a larger group of foreign fighters, many of whom are not directly affiliated with al Qaeda, who are either in or headed to Syria," Benjamin said.
Iran remains the preeminent state sponsor of terrorism, according to the report, as its Lebanese client, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, is engaging in the most active and aggressive campaign since the 1990s.
Of the more than 10,000 attacks carried out in 70 countries, 64 percent occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but both Afghanistan and Iraq saw a decrease in the number of attacks from 2010.
In Africa, there was an 11.5 percent uptick in attacks, a result of Nigerian militant group Boko Haram's more aggressive strategies and tactics. Despite criticism from Congress, the Obama administration has refused to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization on the grounds that its attacks are not representative of its general ideology, though the State Department did designate three of its leaders terrorists in June.
The report also mentions the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated group attacking NATO troops in Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously to pass a resolution urging the State Department to add the network to the list of terrorist groups, which would become effective with President Barack Obama's signature.
Deputy Secretary Bill Burns discussed the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship and opportunities for international cooperation with Mexican government officials Sunday in Mexico City. Today Burns is in Bogota, Colombia, to lead the U.S. delegation in the third round of the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue, where he will be joined by Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Affairs Carlos Pascual, and Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez. Discussions will cover democracy, human rights, energy, economic opportunities, climate change, culture and education, and science and technology.
The impending release of a highly critical report by the State Department's Inspector General's office prompted the sudden resignation Friday of U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration, according to administration and congressional sources.
The report was described to The Cable by multiple people briefed on its contents as one of the worst reviews of an ambassador's performance written by the IG's staff in several years. The bulk of the criticisms focused on Gration's terrible relationship with embassy staff since he took over as ambassador in February 2011 following a controversial two-year stint as President Barack Obama's special envoy for Sudan. The report is complete, but Gration still has the opportunity to write a formal response before the report is publicly released, these sources said.
Gration, a retired Air Force general, was always a contentious figure inside the Obama administration. After becoming one of the first senior military figures to openly support and actively campaign for Obama in 2007, he was embraced by the team that would eventually form the president's closest national security inner circle. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough once described Gration as one of the top three national security advisors to Obama, along with former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. He was rumored during the transition to be a candidate to lead NASA.
Gration's roots in Africa run deep. He grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya to missionary parents and speaks fluent Swahili. As Sudan envoy, he took a stance widely seen among activists as too solicitous to the Khartoum regime, focusing more on incentives than pressures -- or, as he infelicitously once described them, "cookies" and "gold stars." That stance caused friction between Gration and other top Obama officials, especially U.N. ambassador Susan Rice.
By mid-2010, Gration's relationships with various groups working on Sudan had also deteriorated, and by late in the year, Gration was lobbying internally to be appointed to the Kenya post, arguing that his years of ties to that country would serve him well. Following the reasonably successful January 2011 referendum that ratified Sudan's split into two countries, Gration got his wish and was given the job he sought.
But Gration's independent streak and insistence on doing things his own way, outside of the interagency policy process, ran afoul of the embassy staff in Nairobi almost immediately. Multiple sources familiar with the disputes confirmed reports Friday that Gration preferred to use his Gmail account for official business and set up private offices in his residence -- and an embassy bathroom -- to conduct business outside the purview of the embassy staff.
Other sources close to the embassy who worked with Gration related several anecdotes circulated by current and former embassy staff that are meant to highlight Gration's erratic, controlling, and sometime bullying behavior.
Gration is said to have, upon entering the embassy, ordered that all heights of all the tables be adjusted and that all the clocks in the embassy be recalibrated, an indication of his eccentric style of micromanagement.
At one point in his battles with his newfound employees, Gration told embassy staff he would "shoot them in the head" if they didn't follow his instructions, and the staff formally complained about that remark, according to one unconfirmed account.
Gration often bragged about his close ties to the White House and to the president himself, although the White House stopped returning his phone calls after the IG's investigation results became known inside the administration. Gration was twice disciplined by the State Department for making public statements that did not comport with administration policy, although the exact details of those statements is unclear.
E-mails sent to Gration's State Department account seeking comment were not returned. The State Department declined to comment on the above allegations, but also declined to deny them.
Some in Washington had the perception that Gration was performing well as ambassador and maintained close ties to the Kenyan government leadership. Congressional aides said that they were waiting for the report and reserving judgment on Gration until all the facts became clear.
In his note announcing his resignation, Gration highlighted his differences with his Obama administration interlocutors. "Differences with Washington regarding my leadership style and certain priorities lead me to believe that it's now time to leave," Gration said.
For the community in Washington that follows U.S.-Kenya relations, the focus going forward should be on finding a new envoy who can hit the ground running, as Kenya's political system faces severe risks in the wake of an explosion of ethnic and tribal violence following the December 2007 election.
Kenya is also in the front lines of the battle to stabilize Somalia, as the Kenyan military's campaign to oust that country's al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants from their southern stronghold has been met with fierce resistance and threats of terrorist retaliation.
"In light of the potential for violence in Kenya during the run-up to the 2013 national elections, and the challenges of sustaining full implementation of constitutional reform, we urge President Obama to immediately nominate a senior individual with deep conflict prevention expertise to replace Ambassador Scott Gration," read a statement Friday by the Kenya Working Group, a team of experts organized by the Center for Strategic Studies and the Center for American Progress.
"The President's nominee should understand Kenya's complex history and the current political landscape - as well as that of the surrounding region. Given the crucial but delicate transition underway in Kenya, the nominee must also understand the critical role the U.S. government can play supporting Kenyan efforts to realize a successful democratic transition, and have the ability to work productively with all U.S. agencies and key international partners present in Kenya."
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33 senators unveiled a new resolution on Wednesday in support of the effort to capture the head of the Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony, the subject of the "Kony 2012" viral video, which garnered over 80 million views before its creator was arrested following a mental breakdown and was subsequently hospitalized.
"Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army have burned a path of destruction through Uganda and its neighbors in central Africa for the last 25 years," Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said in a statement about the bill. "Joseph Kony represents the worst of mankind, and he and his commanders must be held accountable for their war crimes...The broad and bipartisan backing of this resolution demonstrates that we strongly support ongoing efforts to capture or kill Joseph Kony."
Coons, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, is leading the drive to pass the resolution with Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the self-appointed "official Senate point man for Africa."
"Having made over 120 country visits to the continent of Africa, I have long worked to end the LRA's activities," said Inhofe. "In order to combat terror and prevent further devastation caused by the hands of Joseph Kony, it is imperative that he is found and the LRA is finally disarmed. Only then, will we be able to bring stability to Africa."
The resolution expresses Congress's support for the efforts of countries in the region to end the threat posed by the LRA, encourages the U.S. government to strengthen regional militaries' capabilities to go after the LRA and to enhance military cooperation with those militaries, encourages the U.S. government to increase assistance to local populations affected by the LRA, and calls on President Barack Obama to work with Congress to bring Kony and his top commanders to justice or kill them.
Last October, the president sent 100 military advisors to central Africa to join the hunt for Kony. That action was a follow-on to the passage and implementation of the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which established the goal of going after Kony and the LRA as official U.S. policy.
The other original sponsors of the bill are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Carl Levin (D-MI), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dan Coats (R-ID), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), John Boozman (R-AR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Begich (D-AK), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Al Franken (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
UPDATE: Four more senators have signed on: Tom Coburn (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN).
Fourteen people were arrested last Friday on the walkway outside the Sudanese embassy. While George Clooney stole all the headlines, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) was also arrested and recounted the experience in an interview with The Cable.
"Sometimes no matter how serious the issue, unless you keep the public focused on it, really bad things can keep happening and even get worse," Moran said about what he called an act of "civil disobedience" to protest the Khartoum government's violence against innocent civilians in the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.
"The North has conducted a scorched earth strategy. They've wiped out all their fields, they've forced them up into the mountains. They've got no food," Moran said. "And once the rainy season starts, which will be in about a month, that will be it, because you won't be able to get any convoys in. So they will starve to death. And that is kind of the idea."
Moran said the plan was always to get arrested, and the group alerted the DC metro police of their plan ahead of time. First, Clooney and others made speeches in front of the embassy. Then they proceeded up the walkway, which constituted trespassing. After refusing three police instructions to leave the embassy grounds, those who were willing to be arrested held their ground.
"We're just trying to say, look, these are hundreds of thousands of innocent people who should not be forced to suffer and die because of an irresponsible ruler and because of a world that looks away from it, that refuses to get engaged," Moran said. "I think it was the right thing to do, to try to bring the world's attention to a serious situation."
Along with Clooney, nine activists and four Congressmen were arrested. That group included Moran, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. John Olver (D-MA), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Martin Luther King III, former head of the NAACP Ben Chavis, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Nick Clooney, activist Dick Gregory, former congressman and leader of United to End Genocide Tom Andrews, and Director of the Religious Action Center Rabbi David Saperstein, Moran said.
They were carted off in paddy wagons, processed and fingerprinted, stripped of their personal belongings, and put in a cell together for about 5 hours. They all pleaded guilty to trespassing, disturbing the peace, and refusing to obey a police order. They each paid a $100 fine and were released.
"We needed to get arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy, and since George was willing to do that we knew we would get some media coverage," Moran said.
That was the first time Clooney had been arrested, but Moran was arrested once before protesting on behalf of the people of Darfur, he said. Overall, he considered the mission a success.
"I think it worked," he said. "If we can get some attention focused on this real humanitarian crisis, then spending a few hours in jail and coming up with $100 in cash to bail ourselves out was well worth it."
So what do four congressmen, five activists, and a Hollywood star do in prison for 5 hours?
"We enjoyed talking about everything," Moran said. "There's nothing to read, so we talked, and we all got to know each other pretty well."
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The State Department weighed in on the Invisible Children campaign to stop Joseph Kony Thursday, explaining that it is aware of no plan to pull U.S. advisors from the hunt, as the viral video suggests.
"In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in," says the narrator of the video "Kony 2012," produced by the grassroots NGO Invisible Children. The clip has been viewed more than 55 million times on YouTube.
"But in order for the American advisors to be there, the American government has to deploy them," the narration continues. "They've done that, but if the government doesn't believe the people care about Kony, the mission will be cancelled. In order for the people to care, they have to know. And they will only know if Kony's name is everywhere."
Freelance Journalist Michael Wilkerson pointed out in a blog post for FP this week that this fear of some imminent withdrawal of the U.S. advisors doesn't seem to be based on any actual statements from the Obama administration.
"So the goal is to make sure that President Obama doesn't withdraw the advisors he deployed until Kony is captured or killed. That seems noble enough, except that there has been no mention by the government of withdrawing those forces -- at least any I can find," Wilkerson wrote.
At Thursday's State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked directly if there was any internal consideration of withdrawing the 100 or so U.S. military advisors that President Barack Obama deployed to Africa to aid the fight against Kony's Lords Resistance Army only 5 months ago.
"I don't have any information to indicate that we are considering that," Nuland said, noting that the Pentagon is in charge of the advisors. "As you know, they've only been in for a couple of months, and we consider them a very important augmentation of our effort to help the East and Central African countries with this problem."
Nuland said the Invisible Children effort was helpful but she noted that the cause the group is supporting has been something the U.S. government has been active on and aware of for years, although she noted that State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was made aware of the video yesterday by his 13-year old daughter.
"Well, certainly we appreciate the efforts of the group Invisible Children to shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA. As you know, there are neighboring states, there are NGO groups who have been working on this problem for decades," she said. As you know, thousands of people around the world, especially the young people, have been mobilized to express concern for the communities in Central Africa that have been placed under siege by the LRA. So the degree to which this YouTube video helps to increase awareness and increase support for the work that governments are doing, including our own government -- that can only help all of us."
As for the campaign's goal that Kony be arrested by the end of 2012, that just might not be possible, the U.S. military is warning. At a congressional hearing late last month, AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham said that there was no way to tell when the LRA might be defeated.
"The Lord's Resistance Army is an organization that creates through violence a tremendous amount of instability in a four-country region of east and central Africa," Ham said. "Initially beginning in Uganda but now extending their efforts into South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, they've displaced many thousands of African citizens and brought terror and fear to families across the region."
"To date, what we have found is that presence of the U.S. mostly special forces advisors that are working with the armed forces of those four nations are having a very positive effect," said Ham, but added that the effort is "not yet to the point where we see the end in sight."
In a Feb. 22 briefing with reporters, Navy Rear Adm. Brian Losey, commander of Special Operations Command Africa, said that the LRA is on the run and is down to about 200 core fighters.
"Now they are only a small percentage of their former strength," Losey said.
MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images
In private phones calls this week, a top State Department official has been sending the message that the Egyptian military leadership is not behind the recent raids on NGO organizations and the prosecutions of aid workers, including American citizens.
According to three NGO officials with knowledge of the conversations, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns has been calling around to various stakeholders to keep them informed on the ever-worsening saga involving charges against 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, who stand accused of fomenting anti-government protests in Cairo. Part of Burns's message has been that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took executive power last February after ousting President Hosni Mubarak, may not ultimately be behind the raids or necessarily in favor of the prosecutions that resulted.
"We are keeping the affected NGOs apprised of our efforts to resolve this situation," a State Department official told The Cable. "There is a vacuum of authority. We have been directly pressing the authorities in Cairo, including the SCAF, although they may not be the driving force behind this."
The American Embassy in Cairo has claimed in similar discussions that the SCAF was surprised by the Dec. 29 raids on several NGOs, including the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House, the NGO officials said. The raids were reportedly conducted by Interior Ministry forces, not army soldiers.
The Obama administration has an interest in drawing a distinction between the actions of the SCAF, with which the United States has maintained a multi-decade alliance, and other parts of the Egyptian government, including the judiciary and the Ministry of International Cooperation, run by Fayza Abul-Naga, a longtime Mubarak loyalist suspected to be driving the effort to prosecute the aid workers.
For the NGO officials, the distinction is less important because they believe that the SCAF should exert more influence over Abul-Naga to stop the prosecutions and harassment of NGO groups, even if military leaders are not personally responsible for them.
"The SCAF is running the country, and whether they knew about the raids or not is beside the point. They bear ultimate responsibility for what is going on," one NGO official said. "She's the public face of this campaign and if they want to they can put pressure on her."
The United States' annual $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt is now under intense scrutiny in Washington. Many in the NGO community and on Capitol Hill believe the State Department is trying to defend the aid as a means of preserving what's left of the U.S.-Egypt strategic relationship, which has been a linchpin in maintaining U.S. influence in the region and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was dispatched to Cairo to confront the Egyptian government about the raids. He told the Egyptian media during that trip, "The administration has continued to make a very strong case for our assistance to Egypt."
That was before the Egyptian judiciary refused to let aid workers leave Cairo and decided to charge them with criminal offenses, including Sam Lahood, the Cairo head of IRI and the son of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jake Walles led a classified briefing for lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday, after which senators who participated complained that they had heard no real plan to end the crisis. Those same lawmakers said the administration was working valiantly on the issue, but with no measurable success.
Lawmakers could propose legislation to immediately cut off assistance to the SCAF, rather than wait until the administration is required to certify that Egypt has met new, more stringent conditions placed on the annual aid package, but Congress isn't quite there yet.
"The Egyptians ought to know what they're doing charging and detaining Americans on what I believe are trumped-up charges is endangering the aid we are giving them," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) told The Cable Tuesday. "We have a real interest in having good relations with Egypt because they have a central role in the region. On the other hand we can't just sit back and let them do what they're doing with the NGOs."
In a stream of statements Tuesday, a drumbeat of top lawmakers threatened to support withholding aid to Egypt if the NGO situation isn't resolved. "Congressional support for Egypt -- including continued financial assistance -- is in jeopardy," Lieberman said in a press statement along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte and John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the board of IRI.
"Yesterday's prosecutions are frankly a slap in the face to Americans who have supported Egypt for decades and to Egyptian individuals and NGOs who have put their futures on the line for a more democratic Egypt," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) said Tuesday.
"This is not the way an ally should be treated. I believe that we should re-evaluate the status of our bilateral relationship during this transition period," said SFRC member Ben Cardin (D-MD).
"The Egyptian government's actions cannot be taken lightly and warrant punitive actions against certain Egyptian officials, and consideration of a cutoff of U.S. assistance to Egypt," said House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
"Continuing down this path will make it increasingly difficult for Congress to provide military and economic assistance to Egypt and for the Administration to certify legal requirements necessary for aid to move forward," said House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY).
For its part, the Egyptian government is projecting calm. In a news conference Wednesday, Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri said that the prosecutions will go forward. "Egypt will apply the law... in the case of NGOs and will not back down because of aid or other reasons," he said.
If the State Department truly believes that the judiciary and international cooperation ministries are solely to blame for the NGO crisis in Egypt, it's possible U.S. diplomats got that information directly from the Egyptian government.
At last weekend's meeting of the 2012 Munich Security Conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr professed that the executive branch in Egypt had no role and no influence over the NGO cases. "We are doing our best to contain this but…we cannot actually exercise any influence on the investigating judges right now when it comes to the investigation," he said, eliciting scoffs of disbelief from the audience.
Responding to a call from advocacy groups, Mitt Romney's campaign has released a statement promising to protect "innocents" and prosecute human rights abuses by the Khartoum government in Sudan and what is now South Sudan.
"Mitt Romney recognizes that for too long far too many Sudanese have been victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed by the government in Khartoum and its proxies," the Romney campaign said in Tuesday statement. "In Southern Sudan, millions died as a result of ethnic and religious targeted killings during the long civil war. Among those brutally targeted were Christians and adherents of traditional African religions, Dinka, Nuer, and members of other ethnic groups. In Darfur, non-Arab populations have been and continue to be victims of a slow-motion genocide. And since independence of the Republic of South Sudan, Khartoum has committed a range of atrocities in border regions that have claimed countless lives and displaced hundreds of thousands."
The Romney campaign accused the Khartoum regime, led by President Omar al-Bashir, of inciting and arming rebel groups with the objective of undermining the South Sudanese government, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of South Sudan's oil money, and impeding the flow of humanitarian assistance.
"Governor Romney is committed to protecting innocents from war crimes and other atrocities, ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need, holding accountable those leaders who perpetrate atrocities, and achieving a sustainable peace for all who live in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan," the statement said.
The Romney campaign was responding to a call for support from the organization Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations. Last December, the group sent a list of questions related to the events in Sudan to all the presidential candidates. So far, only the Romney campaign has responded.
In November, Act for Sudan sent an open letter to President Obama that was signed by 66 organizations, urging him to ramp up administration efforts to protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief for the people of Sudan and South Sudan.
"We believe the United States is not doing enough to uphold its responsibility to protect innocent civilians from atrocities perpetrated by the Sudanese government," the letter stated. "We, therefore, respectfully request that your administration make it a top priority to provide the necessary protection and change the ruthless political calculations of the National Congress Party."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a trip to West Africa this week to promote and encourage new African democracies, while two of her top aides fan out to two countries where democracy is teetering -- Russia and Afghanistan.
"2011 was a good year for democracy in West Africa, as it was for many places across Africa," a senior administration official told reporters on the plane ride to Liberia on Sunday, the first stop before Clinton moved on to Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, and Cape Verde.
"The administration, since it has been in office, has placed a high priority on strengthening democratic institutions, promoting good governance, holding good, free, fair elections, and encouraging conflict reconciliation and post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. This trip is about all of those agendas and trying to promote them," the official said. "All three of the countries that we are visiting are countries that are now a part of Africa's democratic success story."
On Monday, Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the swearing-in ceremony for the second term of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the only female president in Africa and the shared winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. The large U.S. delegation at the event also included Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham, and many others. Clinton last visited Liberia in April 2009.
Clinton visited Cote d'Ivoire, another West African country struggling with democratic transition, on Tuesday. It was the visit by a secretary of state to Cote d'Ivoire since George Shultz visited in 1986. Clinton is there to show support for Alassane Ouattara, who took power following the forced removal of Laurent Gbagbo, who is now on trial at The Hague for fomenting violence following his refusal to step down after last year's elections. The official who briefed reporters called Ouattara "one of Africa's newest and most dynamic presidents."
Clinton also attended a post-conflict reconciliation event and met with Ouattara, Foreign Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, civil society groups, and U.S. embassy staff before spending the second half of the day in Togo -- the first-ever visit by a secretary of state to the country. While there, she met with President Faure Gnassingbe and U.S. embassy staff.
The U.S. official who briefed reporters offered cautious praise for Faure, who took power in flawed elections that were mired in violence after his father died in 2005. New elections in 2010 were better, the official said.
"President Faure is determined to break away from the history of his father. He is determined to put in place a strong reform-minded government -- one that is democratic, multiparty, and which opens up the country," the official said.
The official also revealed another motive for their newfound attention from the State Department.
"Equally important for us.... Togo became a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. It will be on the council for approximately two years. It's an opportunity to develop stronger relations with them as they serve their tenure on the Security Council," the official said.
On the way home to Washington, Clinton stopped in Sal Island, Cape Verde, and met with Prime Minister José Neves.
Special Representative Marc Grossman also left Sunday on a trip that will take him to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Qatar, where he reportedly will be finalizing the arrangements for the next step in peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Back in Washington, the State Department has been left in the capable hands of Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, who has a very full day of meetings, including with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, British Ambassador-designate Sir Peter Westmacott, Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Japanese Minister Goshi Hosono, Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter, and others.
That leaves Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman to represent State at President Barack Obama's Tuesday afternoon meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, where the two leaders are expected to discuss the crisis in Syria.
The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy "unconvincing," "unacceptable," "a broken record," and "condescending."
The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers to questions posed over Twitter following each Friday press briefing in January, is an experiment in State's ever-evolving strategy that it has dubbed "21st Century Statecraft."
Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations, suggested one of the five tweets that was chosen and answered by Nuland, but the group is unhappy with the result.
The tweet, sent by @ObSilence but identical to the tweet suggested by Act for Sudan, was: "Why doesn't @StateDept support regime change in #Sudan where government-led genocide continues? Why Syria+Libya but not #Sudan?"
"Well, first of all, ObSilence, each country and each situation is different," Nuland responded. "But I will say that in Sudan, for many years, we have continued to press for concrete, meaningful, democratic reforms and accountability and an end to the violence. We have pushed hard for an end to the fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and a full resolution of the Darfur conflict. Those responsible for crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable."
Nuland went on to say that normalization between the United States and Sudan could only progress when violence ends, and she called on the government to work with civilians to resolve their issues. She also acknowledged that "deplorable human rights conditions and unacceptable practices of bombing innocent civilians and denying humanitarian access continue."
Act for Sudan put out a release today saying that several of its members were wholly unsatisfied by that answer, and believed that Nuland sidestepped the question in a way that downplayed the tragedy of the human rights situation in Sudan.
"Of course, we realize that all countries and situations are different, but does the United States of America have no standards regarding its responsibilities in the face of genocide and crimes against humanity?" said Eric Cohen, an Act for Sudan spokesman.
"In Libya, with thousand of civilians in danger, President Obama rightly authorized limited military action to help protect them, and publicly called for Libya's brutal dictator to step aside," said Cohen. "Why then, with millions of civilians endangered in Sudan by their own government, is the U.S. not leading the international community in its responsibility to protect the people of Sudan, by all means necessary, including military options? Why are we not leading the call for the ouster of Sudan's president and his cronies, who are indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes?"
Act for Sudan coordinated an open letter in November signed by 66 organizations to President Barack Obama asking the United States to urgently address civilian protection and humanitarian assistance for Sudanese under attack by their own government. Among other recommendations, the letter asked Obama to instruct the National Security Council to accelerate decisions regarding protection of Nuba, Blue Nile, and Darfuri populations from air attacks and to seriously consider the destruction of offensive aerial assets and the imposition of a no-fly zone. It also requests the immediate initiation of a cross-border emergency aid program to the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, Blue Nile and Abyei regions.
The Obama administration may be experimenting with unique ways to engage with the world through this Twitter press conference, but as this latest scuffle shows, social media remains a two-way street. And the Twitter world can now experience what reporters have known all along - answers given during press conferences rarely fully answer the question, much less satisfy the questioner.
The death of Muammar al-Qaddafi today shows what's in store for the leadership of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which will probably be the next group of tyrants to be thrown out of office and potentially killed, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), told The Cable.
"If you're the leaders of Syria, you're looking at today's events as a preview of what your future may hold," Rubio said in a Thursday interview.
"I believe that dictators in that region are unsustainable," he said. "The Syrian regime is doomed and it's just a matter of time, whether it's weeks, months, or even a year, their position is unsustainable. The people there want a better life. They're tired of living under this ineffective, incompetent, and repressive regime. And so, I think their days are numbered."
He called on the Obama administration to ratchet up the pressure on the Syrian government and redouble its efforts to convince other countries to do the same.
Rubio wasn't ready to endorse the idea of an internationally imposed no-fly zone over Syria, as his colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), did earlier this month in an interview with The Cable.
"There are major differences between Syria and Libya," Rubio said, claiming that the Syrian regime isn't using planes to attack its people and the Syrian opposition hasn't asked for an international military intervention.
"I think it's important that if you're assisting someone that you know who they are and that they are asking for your help," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Rubio told Fox News that the bulk of the credit for the success of the military effort in Libya belongs to the British and the French, and that if President Barack Obama had acted faster, Qaddafi's death would have come months ago.
"It's the French and the British that led on this fight and probably even led in the strike that led to Qaddafi's capture and death," Rubio said."[President Obama did] the right things but he just took too long to do it and didn't do enough of it."
The Cable reported yesterday that President Barack Obama waived penalties on several countries that recruit child soldiers for the second year in a row. Today, lawmakers moved to ensure that the administration won't keep funding governments that use child soldiers next year.
The administration waived penalties mandated under the Child Soldiers Protection Act (CSPA) against Yemen, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The administration didn't provide a justification for not penalizing South Sudan, because the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which was released on June 27 and triggers the penalties, names "Sudan," not "South Sudan," as an abuser. South Sudan was declared independent on July 9, 12 days after the report came out.
"South Sudan wasn't a country during the reporting period and isn't subject to the CSPA; there are no penalties to waive under the law," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable.
That explanation struck several congressional aides and human rights activists we spoke with today as too clever by half. After all, the TIP report was referring to use of child soldiers by the government of "Southern Sudan" and the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which hasn't stopped the practice and will receive $100 million of U.S. taxpayers' money this year.
"They're using a legal and technical loophole to continue to build up partnership with a government that needs to be reminded how serious this problem is," said Sarah Margon, associate director for sustainable security and peace building at the Center for American Progress. "It's exactly how not to establish the message that they need to set up their government with full respect for human rights and transparency."
"At the time the TIP report came out, it was obvious South Sudan was going to be an independent country so any responsible person would have taken that into consideration," one senior House aide told The Cable. "Apart from the law, the White House still had discretion to address the issue as a policy matter and it chose not to condition any of the aid on the SPLA completing its demobilization of child soldiers."
The administration made the case that Chad has made sufficient progress on the child soldiers issue, and is no longer subject to penalties. "We've seen the government take concrete steps over the last year to implement policies and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent future government or government-supported use of child soldiers," Vietor said.
"The U.N.'s Chad Country Task Force has reported no verified cases of child soldiers in 2011, and Chad has put in place safeguards to prevent further use or recruitment of child soldiers. The president's reinstatement of assistance to Chad reflects this progress," he explained.
But several activists noted that the United Nations and State Department both kept Chad on their list of countries violating international standards for child recruitment this year, and that international monitors' limited access in Chad calls into question anybody's ability to verify whether the government has stopped using child soldiers.
Several aides and activists were angry at the administration for failing to adequately consult or even inform them of the waivers before they were announced. Administration officials briefed congressional staffers and NGO leaders yesterday, and journalists not at all.
"It also says something about the State Department's willingness to engage with civil society actors," said Margon. "It's a black mark on them in their ability to work with friends and allies on these issues. Why alienate the people who want to work with you on this stuff? It just doesn't make any sense."
Congress has no intention of letting this scenario play out again next year. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, successfully added an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorization bill today that would force the administration to give Congress 15 days notice before issuing waivers for the child-soldier penalties.
The amendment would also expand the law to include peacekeeping funds given to violator countries (such as Somalia), and force the White House to show that countries are making progress toward eliminating the use of child soldiers before receiving a waiver. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and John Boozman (R-AR) have already introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Not all Capitol Hill staffers were completely unsympathetic to the administration's arguments, however.
One Senate aide referred to the progress noted by the Obama administration in Chad and the partial cut of U.S. military assistance in the DRC as "welcome steps -- steps that might not have occurred without the force of the Child Soldier Prevention Act," noting that they "will require serious follow up attention."
But overall, the administration's roll out of the decision was panned by the NGO and human rights communities, which see the administration's action as undermining the intent of the legislation.
"At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I've ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children," said Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy advisor for children in crisis. "This is a very weak decision by an administration paralyzed with inaction. And the worst part is that thousands of children around the world -- not the politicians in the White House or the State Department -- are the ones who will suffer."
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is on a plane right now on the way to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he will be touring areas affected by the worst drought the region has seen in over six decades.
"I'm going to Kenya and Ethiopia to visit with heads of state and senior leadership as well as to pull together the humanitarian and NGO communities to assess progress on the challenges that the drought has brought to the Horn of Africa," Shah said in an interview with The Cable on his way to the airport.
He won't be going to Somalia, however, which has been ravaged by a famine that shows little sign of abating. Shah said there are good reasons why Ethiopia and Kenya are doing better than Somalia -- beyond the fact that the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia is getting in the way of delivering aid.
"In Kenya and Ethiopia, because of constructive investments in protecting communities dependent on livestock, we know more than four and half million people stayed in their communities and have weathered this drought.... In Somalia the opposite has taken place," he said.
Shah said that more than 30,000 people have died, mostly children, due to Somalia's failure to prepare for and deal with the crisis, and the State Department estimates another 750,000 are at risk over the next four to six months, Shah said.
The United States has provided more than $640 million to date in response to the Horn of Africa crisis, including a new announcement of $42 million late last month.
The focus of this trip will be to recommend policy reforms in Kenya and Ethiopia to better handle the crisis. Those governments are taking some steps, such as ensuring the safe passage of aid and making sure refugees are accepted and assisted, but the problem continues and more government action is needed, Shah said.
Shah will meet with the humanitarian organization leaders in both Kenya and Somalia to help coordinate emergency action inside Somalia. The State Department has removed some restrictions on contractors and aid workers in Somalia, in recognition of the fact that strict rules preventing interactions with groups like sl-Shabab were impossible to enforce in Somalia.
"We have made exceptions on a range of policies that have allowed credible partners to be aggressive in their efforts to try to save lives," Shah said. "At the same time, we've asked for all of our partners to track and monitor the flow of food and benefits, commit themselves not to pay bribes, and we continue to watch that."
"Unfortunately, though, that's not the key to saving lives inside Somalia. The key is actions taken by leadership inside Somalia and that's what we'll be talking about in this visit."
In Kenya, Shah will attend a health conference along with Ambassador and former Special Envoy Scott Gration and in Ethiopia he will attend an agricultural conference. Shah is traveling with Ertharin Cousin, ambassador to U.N. agencies for agriculture
The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.
Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.
"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."
Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.
Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.
"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."
"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."
What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.
"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."
A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.
At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:
The State Department has opened a brand-new office to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East.
William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to lead the new office, called the Middle East Transitions office, which began operations this week. His deputy is Tamara Cofman Wittes, who is now dual hatted, also continuing on deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Taylor's chief of staff is Karen Volker, who until August was director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is now directed by Tom Vajda. MEPI also falls under Wittes' portfolio. Taylor reports up to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
In a Monday interview with The Cable, Taylor said his office will begin by leading State Department coordination on policy toward Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the three Middle East countries that are trying to make the shift from dictatorship to democracy.
"The idea is we want to focus energy and policy attention on how we support these three transition countries," he said. "The idea is to be sure this gets top-level attention in the department."
Taylor's office will have about 10 to 12 people, and he said he hopes to soon add a resident senior advisor from both USAID and the Pentagon. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen -- if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition.
Taylor's first job will be to lead an effort to develop support strategies for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Then, his office will go about trying to implement those strategies by working within State, around the interagency process, and then with international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground. Taylor said he will attend National Security Council meetings on issues related to his brief.
In President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East, he promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy will "be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy -- starting with Tunisia and Egypt."
Taylor said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done.
"We're looking at the possibly of enterprise funds model as a possible model for these transition countries but we're going to need a lot of support from Congress," he said, adding that State would also ask Congress for authorizations and appropriations to support the new transitions initiative at State. New funding for diplomatic initiatives is a tough sell in this tight fiscal environment, but transition funding does have some support in both parties.
Taylor was chosen for the job in part because he played a key role in a similar diplomatic effort following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the State Department put together the Freedom Support Act Office, which managed relations with former members of the Soviet bloc.
That office was run by Ambassador Richard Armitage and reported up to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Taylor worked for Armitage in that office and eventually became its director, a position he held until 2001. The Freedom Support Act Office was combined with the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) office and still exists today.
Taylor was U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, and before that served as Washington's envoy to the Mideast Quartet. In 2004 and 2005, he directed the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad, and from 2002 to 2003 he served in Kabul as coordinator of U.S. government and international assistance to Afghanistan.
The American victims of several terror attacks perpetrated by the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi are asking the State Department to break off some of Qaddafi's frozen assets and give it to them.
There are about $37 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the United States, some of which were Libyan government funds and some of which were the personal fortune of Qaddafi and his family. When Qaddafi made nice with President George W. Bush's administration, he agreed to pay the U.S. victims of his crimes $1.5 billion in restitution. But now, those victims are saying that isn't enough money to cover the cost of what they were promised, and they want the Obama administration to divert more funds to make up the difference.
"The State Department under President Bush didn't get enough money from Qaddafi to pay the awards. They are likely $200 million to $400 million short," Stuart Newberger, the lead attorney for victims of UTA flight 772, told The Cable. UTA 772 exploded in 1989 over the Sahara desert, killing 171 people, including 7 Americans, one of whom was Bonnie Pugh, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Chad, Robert Pugh. High-ranking members of the Qaddafi regime were implicated in the attack.
The families of the UTA 772 victims, like those of several other Qaddafi attacks, were engaged in litigation against Qaddafi before the State Department made a deal to settle all claims for $1.5 billion. The State Department transferred responsibility for doling out the money to a foreign claims settlement commission run by the Treasury Department in 2008, and dozens of victims are still waiting for their payments.
The victims are entitled to specific awards - such as $10 million if a family member died and $3 million if a family member suffered a severe injury - but their advocates always suspected that the $1.5 billion wasn't enough to cover the awards promised. They also said the State Department underestimated the number of victims of Qaddafi's crimes.
"The issue is how to make sure the awards are paid in full, the way the State Department and the Bush administration intended," said Newberger. "What we want is either the president, the secretary of state, or the Congress to use a very small portion of the frozen Qaddafi assets to be applied to make sure there is no shortfall. Otherwise, these American victims of Qaddafi's terrorism will get much less than was recommended."
Six members of Congress today asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do just that, in a letter obtained exclusively by The Cable.
"We are concerned that the amount of money not yet distributed from the $1.5 billion Libya Claims Program...may be insufficient to fairly compensate some victims," said the letter, spearheaded by Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress.
Other signers of the letter were Robert Hurt (R-VA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Jean Schmidt (R-OH). They want the State Department to confirm that there will be a shortfall, explain what they plan to do about it, and detail any legal obstacles to using the frozen Qaddafi funds.
The victims and their advocates became especially worried when several victims received a letter on Aug. 25 from the Treasury Department stating that some victims would only be given 20 percent of the money they were promised.
"Treasury is prepared to make an initial payment of $1,000. Treasury is further prepared to make a partial, pro-rata distribution totaling 20% of the unpaid balance that remains on your award," stated the letter, also obtained by The Cable.
Newberger said that paying pro-rata portions is a clear indication that the Treasury is aware there is not enough money in the fund to pay the victims. But he also acknowledged that the administration may not be able to peel off Qaddafi funds for the victims without some backing from Capitol Hill.
"The president probably only has limited legal authority for transferring some of this money," he said. "To make his authority stronger under U.S. law, he really needs Congress to pass a law. If the Congress does that, the president is in a much safer and stronger legal position."
In fact, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) were able to add an amendment to Sen. John Kerry's bill to authorize the Libya war that directed the administration to use the frozen funds to pay victims. But now that the war is mostly over, that bill has little chance of reaching the Senate floor, much less Obama's desk.
For the administration, it's a no-win situation. If it tries to take the money from the frozen funds, it risks upsetting the Libyan National Transitional Council, which thinks it should decide how to spend Qaddafi's money. If it doesn't act, it could appear to be abandoning the victims of Libya terrorism in the United States.
"They've been very careful not to take a position on this," Newberger said.
The State and Treasury Departments did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The victims involved in this effort include those who were part of several Qaddafi-inspired attacks in addition to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie and the bombing of UTA flight 772. They include:
The State Department is denying any knowledge or connection to the meetings this month between senior Qaddafi officials and former State Department official David Welch.
Al Jazeera reported today that files found in Muammar al-Qaddafi's intelligence bureau after the fall of the regime show that Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail, two top Qaddafi officials, met with David Welch, former assistant secretary of state under George W Bush, on Aug. 2, 2011, in Cairo. Welch was the man who brokered the deal to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya in 2008.
"During that meeting Welch advised Gaddafi's team on how to win the propaganda war, suggesting several ‘confidence-building measures', according to the documents," Al Jazeera reported, noting that the meeting was held at the Four Seasons hotel, only blocks from the U.S. embassy.
The minutes of the meeting also include Welch's purported advice that Qaddafi should feed the Obama administration damaging intelligence on the rebels by laundering it through allied governments and that Qaddafi should take advantage of the "double standard" in U.S. policy toward Libya and Syria.
"The Syrians were never your friends and you would lose nothing from exploiting the situation there in order to embarrass the West," Welch reportedly told Qaddafi's officials. Welch, who now works for Bechtel, did not return requests for comment. But Nuland confirmed that the trip occurred.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing that Welch was acting on his own. "David Welch, a former assistant secretary, is now a private citizen. This was a private trip. He was not carrying any message from the U.S. government," she said.
Al Jazeera also found a memo of a conversation between an intermediary for Qaddafi's son Saif Al-Islam and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-OH). The memo included a request from Kucinich to Saif asking for dirt on the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), such as evidence of corruption or links to al Qaeda.
"Al Jazeera found a document written by a Libyan bureaucrat to other Libyan bureaucrats," Kucinich said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable. "All it proves is that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post, and read there about my efforts to stop the war. I can't help what the Libyans put in their files."
Kucinich chief of staff Vic Edgerton would not confirm or deny that Kucinich did in fact have a conversation with a Qaddafi official.
"My opposition to the war in Libya, even before it formally started, was public and well known," Kucinich said. "My questions about the legitimacy of the war, who the opposition was, and what NATO was doing, were also well known and consistent with my official duties. Any implication I was doing anything other than trying to bring an end to an unauthorized war is fiction," Kucinich said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the State Department not to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which is struggling to stand up a government in the wake of the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi -- with either direct aid or by giving them access to frozen Qaddafi funds, unless it jails Megrahi.
"If the new Libyan government continues to shield this convicted terrorist from justice, then they should not get one more cent of support from the United States," said Schumer. "We put American lives and money on the line to help the Libyan people secure their freedom. It's time the Libyan government lives up to its commitment to create a free and accountable society by handing over al-Megrahi so that justice can finally be done."
Megrahi was released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds, because he was supposedly dying of cancer. He enjoyed a hero's welcome when he returned to Libya and has since stubbornly refused to die on schedule. Since the fall of Qaddafi, Schumer, along with several other senators and GOP presidential candidates, have been calling on the NTC to lock him up.
Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, said on Monday that the senators' request had "no meaning" and that the new Libyan government had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.
CNN's Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home this week, where he appeared to be slipping in and out of a coma and near death. But Schumer doesn't believe the video or the NTC's claims that Megrahi really is going to die soon.
"This would not be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was in a ‘near death' state. The American people deserve more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," he said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist."
Clinton travels to Paris on Thursday for a ministers-level meeting of the Libya Contact Group. The State Department won't say whether it will press the NTC on the issue but the Justice Department maintains that the Lockerbie investigation is still open and active.
Full text of Schumer's letter after the jump:
The U.S. government has issued a new policy that allows the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) to do business with U.S. organizations and financial institutions, one more step in helping the country establish a new government.
The United Nations agreed last week to let the United States release $1.5 billion of the $37 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets. The State and Treasury Departments are working with the United Nations on thawing more of the Qaddafi money, but that might take a while. In the meantime, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued a general license that would nullify the part of the executive order that prevents U.S. institutions from dealing with the "Libyan government," in order to allow the NTC to conduct new business with those institutions.
"All transactions involving the TNC are authorized," reads the new General License, signed Aug. 19. (The U.S. government still uses TNC to refer to the new Libyan leadership, though the rebel leadership council has officially changed its name to NTC.)The license explains that this new policy does not affect the frozen Qaddafi assets, but simply allows U.S. institutions conduct future transaction with the NTC.
"It was necessary because the executive order blocks all transactions with the ‘Government of Libya,' and now could impact the TNC" said Treasury Undersecretary David S. Cohen. "So we wanted to clear away that inadvertent technical problem by issuing this license, which says that any interactions with the TNC or any entity the TNC controls is permitted."
Recently, at least one transaction between the NTC and a U.S. institution was blocked, Cohen said.
Of course, the NTC's main goal -- to get its hands on the rest of the frozen Qaddafi assets -- is still a work in progress. The United Nations needs to take action to amend the U.N. Security Council's resolutions to unfreeze those funds, and the U.S. mission at the U.N. is working that issue hard now.
"The general license addresses new transactions, not the frozen assets," Cohen added, pointing out that some of the frozen assets are personal assets of the Qaddafi family and some are the assets of the Libyan government.
"We're going to continue to work through the issues with our colleagues at State and our allies both through the U.N. and the contact group to figure out whether there are additional funds that will be unfrozen and delivered up to the TNC, but that's the next step," said Cohen. "Right now we're focused on transferring over the $1.5 billion that's already been approved for release."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) denied that he promised to help Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi buy U.S. weapons in a late-night tent meeting between the two statesmen in 2009, as a WikiLeaked diplomatic cable implied.
"It's just outrageous," McCain told The Cable in an exclusive interview. McCain said that he never indicated to Qaddafi that he would help him get weapons in any way. "Of course not, that would have been ridiculous," he said.
The specific allegation made in the diplomatic cable sent by Joan Polaschik, the top U.S. diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli at the time, was that McCain had agreed to push Congress to allow the delivery of eight C-130 Hercules military transport planes that Qaddafi had purchased in 1972 but are still sitting in limbo at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Prior to sending her report on the meeting back to Washington, Polaschik said she did not have the opportunity to clear her cable with McCain and the rest of the delegation: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME), as is the custom with such reports.
Polaschik was at the meeting, but McCain denied Polaschik's account and gave a different version of his conversation with Qaddafi on that topic.
"[Qaddafi] asked me, 'Well, we'd like to get our C-130 upgrades.' I said, 'Well, that's what you want,' but I was noncommittal," McCain said. "I said, 'I understand that's your need,' but I never said anything and I never did a single thing to follow up."
"I knew his record and I'm certain that Collins, Lieberman, and Graham would corroborate my version of events," McCain said.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment on McCain's remarks.
So why would the head of the U.S. Embassy write a cable claiming that progress had been made on selling weapons to Qaddafi?
"At that time, the embassy was very interested in having a relationship with Qaddafi, but I can't imagine why that diplomat said the things they said. It's beyond me," McCain said.
He also said that the embassy asked him not to raise the case of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was about to be released by Scottish authorities. McCain ignored that request, however, and raised the issue of Megrahi with both Qaddafi and his son, Mutassim al-Qaddafi.
McCain also wanted to explain to The Cable his now infamous Aug. 15, 2009, tweet, in which he wrote, "Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his 'ranch' in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man."
"I thought it was interesting because I thought it was bizarre," McCain explained.
The entire experience was strange, McCain said, because the Libyans had postponed the senators' 4 p.m. meeting until 10 p.m. and then drove them out to the desert, where they spent most of their time interacting with Mutassim.
When Col. Qaddafi finally came out, he looked as if he had been sleeping and said several things that McCain said he found strange.
"One of the things he said to me was, 'If you had pulled all the troops out of Iraq, you would be president of the United States.' I've thought of a lot of reasons why I'm not president, but that wasn't one of them," McCain said.
"Overall, I thought it was a very strange and bizarre experience."
The cable was first released and reported on in May, but resurfaced in several news stories following Qaddafi's fall.
The U.N. sanctions committee struck a deal to release to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) $1.5 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets late on Thursday afternoon, but only a fraction of those funds will actually be placed in the TNC's hands.
Under the compromise between the U.S. -led members of the committee and South Africa, the lone holdout, the official document releasing the funds won't specify that the money is being released to the TNC -- it will only say that the funds are going to the "relevant Libyan authorities." A senior U.S. official said that this would have no practical effect, but explained that it allowed South Africa, which has not yet formally recognized the TNC, to sign on to the agreement.
The $1.5 billion represents about half of the frozen funds held in the United States and only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion of Qaddafi funds frozen worldwide.
$500 million of the newly-thawed assets will go to U.N. organizations involved in relief missions in Libya and will be disbursed directly to them. Another $500 million will be paid directly to fuel vendors, with $300 million of those funds reimbursing vendors for fuel that has already been delivered, leaving $200 million for future fuel needs.
The last $500 million will be placed in the hands of what's called the temporary financial mechanism, an account created by the Libya Contact Group, which is made up of countries supporting the TNC. The TNC will have to go to the Contact Group with specific bills or receipts to get the money, which will be given to them on a case-by-case basis for education, health, or humanitarian needs.
The TNC has assured the United States that none of the money will be used for military items, the senior U.S. official said.
"Today, we have secured the release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in the United States. This money will go toward meeting the needs of the people of Libya. We urge other nations to take similar measures. Many are already doing so," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"As funds are released, we look to the Transitional National Council to fulfill its international responsibilities and the commitments it has made to build a tolerant, unified democratic state -- one that protects the universal human rights of all its citizens."
Clinton also called on the TNC to prevent revenge and reprisal attacks against Qaddafi supporters , protect Qaddafi's weapons stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands, provide basic services, and move quickly to start the process of democratic transition.
A Reuters reporter found 30 dead Qaddafi loyalists Thursday in a military encampment in central Tripoli who appeared to have been executed.
"From the beginning, the United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, today in Istanbul, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns led the U.S. delegation to the political directors' level meeting of the Libya Contact Group, its first since the Qaddafi regime fell. Assistant Secretaries of State Jeffrey Feltman and Phil Gordon also attended. The issue of whether to introduce foreign troops in Libya was discussed.
"It is our understanding that the TNC is unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force, but it may need U.N. and international community help supporting its policing needs. And precisely what it may ask for remains to be determined," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Clinton will attend the ministerial level meeting of the contact group in Paris next week.
The Cable also asked the senior U.S. official why the U.S. government calls the rebel council the TNC, when the rebel council seems to refer to itself as the NTC (National Transitional Council).
"The TNC in its own documents and statements, refers to itself sometimes as the TNC and sometimes as the NTC, so we've chosen to stick with the TNC, which they began using first, since they seem to use both," the official said.
The U.S. embassy in Tripoli told a 2009 congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) not to raise the issue of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi during its visit to Libya, according to diplomatic cables newly released by WikiLeaks.
This week, senior lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates said that the top priority of the new Libyan government should be the re-arrest and extradition of Meghrahi, who was sentenced in Scotland for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, but then released in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was supposedly dying of cancer. Just before his release, McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) visited Libya to meet with Muammar al-Qaddafi, but were advised by the U.S. embassy in Tripoli not to raise the Megrahi issue because it could become an irritant in the newly restored U.S.-Libya relationship.
"We do not expect the issue to be raised during your visit, but if it is, we believe the most helpful response would be to note that this is an issue for the Scottish Executive and that it would not be constructive to discuss the case as a bilateral issue," read the Aug. 10, 2009 cable.
The cable said that the Qaddafi government had requested compassionate release for Megrahi on July 24 and was discussing the matter with Scottish officials, but that the U.S. embassy in Tripoli had not conferred with the Qaddafi regime on the matter at all.
As Politico noted today, McCain and Lieberman totally ignored the embassy's advice and raised the Megrahi issue early and often with both Qaddafi and his son Muatassim, as an Aug. 14, 2009, diplomatic cable sent from Tripoli embassy reported.
"Muatassim reacted defensively, telling the CODEL that Megrahi ‘is an innocent man, and we believe it.' Muatassim then compared Megrahi's case to that of the Bulgarian nurses convicted in Libya of intentionally infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus, arguing that they had been welcomed in Bulgaria as returning heroes even though they had been sentenced to life in prison," the cable read.
Col. Qaddafi emphasized that if Megrahi was released, neither he nor any other Libyan official could control the manner in which the Libyan people reacted. "They could even demonstrate against me," he said, forebodingly.
Senators and GOP candidates are set to press the Obama administration's to make the Megrahi case a key agenda item in the U.S.-Libya relationship with Transitional National Council, which now appears poised to take power.
For now, the administration's position is simply that they always officially opposed Megrahi's release. But they are not saying whether they will publicly call for his re-arrest or extradition to the United States.
"The secretary's made clear this guy should be behind bars," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. "The Department of Justice has the lead on these issues."
McCain memorialized his visit to Libya with a now infamous Aug. 15, 2009, tweet, in which he wrote, "Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ‘ranch' in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.