Following Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement he will not run for president again and the Egyptian protesters' apparent rejection of that concession, it's clear is that even if "envoy" Frank Wisner's mission to Cairo was a success, the Obama administration isn't out of the woods yet on this crisis.
Obama sent Wisner to deliver the message to Mubarak that he should announce he will not run for reelection in September and provide for the orderly transition to a more democratic government. Mubarak's concessions apparently didn't go quite as far as the administration wanted in detailing the terms of such a transition. But administration officials are saying Tuesday night they now realize that even if Mubarak had done everything they asked, that was not going to be enough to satisfy the protesters.
On Tuesday night, following Mubarak's remarks, Obama addressed the rapidly changing situation in Egypt. "We've borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States," he said, adding that the transition "must begin now."
Nevertheless, the progress made so far has not been enough to end the standoff or repair the protesters' view of the United States, and the Obama administration now must figure out its role in what could become protracted negotiations between Mubarak and the opposition.
"Now there's a strategic game going on between the Obama administration and Mubarak," said the Council on Foreign Relations' Steven Cook, who was in Cairo when the protests broke out. The White House should have known anything short of Mubarak stepping down immediately would not end the crisis, he said.
"Either the administration has some other strategy or they didn't realize that there's the potential for Mubarak to take the opportunity of the next few months to manipulate the political process to favor whomever he wants to follow him," Cook said. "I can't believe they thought this would satisfy the crowds."
Of course, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can point to Mubarak's Tuesday night speech in order to hold him to account if the president doesn't actually move to hold free and fair elections. But the Egyptian people, who were already angry about U.S. support for Mubarak, aren't likely to see that as a helpful stance by the Obama team.
"Everybody in Egypt knows we have enabled this regime. At this point we need to get out of the way," said Cook.
Perhaps the administration doesn't want to completely burn its relationship with Mubarak, just in case he actually prevails, but that ship might have already sailed. "The relationship is never going to be the same again, there's going to be hostility anyway, so they might as well double down [on the side of the protesters]," Cook said. "The jig is up."
According to a readout of today's national security meeting at the White House, the Obama administration is still calling for an "orderly transition" to greater democracy in Egypt - a position first outlined by Clinton on Jan. 30.
"With regard to Egypt, Secretary Clinton discussed our focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint; supporting universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly, association, and speech; and supporting an orderly transition to a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people," the White House stated.
Behind the scenes, there are increasing signs the administration is reaching out to opposition leaders. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeted Tuesday that U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey spoke with Mohamed ElBaradei; a senior State Department official also said that she will be speaking with other opposition leaders.
But while Wisner, who is known for being close to Mubarak and his people, might be a perfect "envoy" to send to deal with Mubarak, he's not likely to be the American in the best position to reach out to the opposition groups. That would require a diplomat with close and personal relationships with various non-governmental entities in Egypt.
To be sure, administration officials both in Washington and Cairo have extensive ties with various opposition elements in Egypt and are in contact with them on a regular basis. But if the Obama administration wanted to quickly ramp up its engagement with the opposition, a new envoy could do the trick.
We're told that the administration is now considering a new, different envoy to send to Cairo to fulfill that very mission and the administration is focusing on another former U.S. ambassador to Egypt. The most likely candidates who fit that description are Daniel Kurtzer, an ambassador in Cairo under President Clinton with strong ties to the Obama team, Ned Walker, another Clinton-era ambassador and a former president of the Middle East Institute, and Frank Ricciardone, the ambassador before Scobey and current ambassador to Turkey.
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, suggested that it might be better to keep the administration's preparations for what promises to be a radical shift in Egypt's political terrain on a lower level than another unofficial envoy, instead depending on the people who have been working with Egyptian civil society groups on the ground.
"Sending a new ‘envoy' to reach out to opposition groups would send a strong signal, but you need someone who really understands and has relationships with a wide range of figures there," he said.
As the Obama administration and the rest of the Washington foreign policy community struggle to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt, top White House officials and an increasing number of top lawmakers seem to agree that the U.S. should not suspend military aid to the Egyptian military in the near term.
The speculation over whether U.S. military aid to Egypt, which totaled $1.3 billion last year, would be suspended hit a high pitch on Jan. 29 when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days." That same day, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement, ""The United States must leverage its long-standing assistance to press Mr. Mubarak to let the voice of his people be heard through legitimate democratic elections."
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked that back on Jan. 30, telling ABC News, "There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid. We always are looking and reviewing our aid."
And on Monday, House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) also indicated that aid to Egypt would not be cut off anytime soon.
"While there are calls for eliminating Egypt's economic and military aid, I urge caution when deciding what the U.S. response will be," she said. "It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take. Egypt has been a moderate influence in the Middle East and has a peace agreement with Israel."
U.S. aid to Egypt totaled $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010, which includes $1.3 million in direct military aid. That's down from a high of $2.1 billion in total U.S. assistance in fiscal 1998. For fiscal 2011, the Obama administration had requested $250 million in economic support funds. That request is still pending.
The Obama administration's response to political upheaval this month in Lebanon is the most recent indicator of how they view the continuation of military aid to a country where the political winds are blowing against the interests of the United States.
Despite the fact Lebanon now has a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, the U.S. will continue funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for now, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said in a Jan. 27 roundtable that included The Cable.
"We think that it's a very important independent institution," McDonough said about the LAF. "That's why we support the Lebanese Armed Forces, not because of their association or non-association with Hezbollah, but rather because of their independence -- their independence from any political actor. We think that's very important, we're going to continue to work with them, but obviously we're going to take a look at each of the developments along the way."
The U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military closely mirrors the U.S. relationship with the LAF, said Andrew Tabler, next generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"The military in Egypt right now is maintaining control and they've been responsible regarding the protesters, so they're definitely a force that the U.S. government wants to maintain favor with at this stage," Tabler said.
The administration's latest message, that military and foreign aid suspension is not in the works, is due to the fact that the military aid is directly tied to Egypt's peace accord with Israel - and, of course, because the political situation in Cairo is still in flux, Tabler said.
"The administration is sending a signal to the Egyptian military that if you act responsibly we'll stand behind you. I think that's a smart policy."
The White House sent former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner to Cairo, where he is now holding high-level meetings with Egyptian officials at the behest of the Obama administration.
"Frank Wisner is in Cairo. The U.S. government did ask him to go," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to The Cable. "As someone with deep experience in the region, he is meeting with a Egyptian officials and providing his assessment."
Earlier on Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to name Wisner as an official representative of the Obama administration, but explained that Wisner was sent both to deliver the administration's message to Mubarak's people and to bring back information to be fed back into the decision making process.
"We have asked him to add his perspective to our analysis on current developments," Crowley said. "He has traveled to Cairo; is on the ground now. And we look forward to hearing his views when he returns."
Wisner is not officially an "envoy," Crowley noted, and administration officials declined to specify exactly who he would meet with, such as embattled President Hosni Mubarak or presidential candidate-in-waiting Mohamed ElBaradei. But Crowley said Wisner was chosen due to his longstanding ties to the Mubarak regime.
"He's a private citizen, he's a retired diplomat, he's a former ambassador to Egypt, he knows some of the key players within the Egyptian government," Crowley said, adding that Wisner "has a history with some of these key figures."
Council on Foreign Relations Egypt expert Steven Cook put it plainly. "Wisner is known to be close to Mubarak," he said.
It's exactly that history that concerns Egypt hands in Washington now that Wisner's has been given a new role in the center of Obama's policy. Before his stints on Enron's board of directors and as vice chairman of AIG, Wisner had a multi-decade career as a foreign service officer, with stints as ambassador in Zambia (‘79-‘82), Egypt (‘86-‘91), Philippines (‘91-‘92), India (‘94-‘97) and as undersecretary of defense for policy (‘93-‘94).
Since leaving AIG in 2009, Wisner has been active on Egypt policy and is said by several Egypt hands in Washington to have pushed to create a group of scholars and academics in Washington to advocate for strengthening ties to the Mubarak regime. That group, which was never fully formed, was to be a counter weight to the bipartisan Egypt Working Group led by the likes of former NSC official Elliott Abrams and the Carnegie Endowment's Michele Dunne. The Abrams-Dunne group had been pushing for a harder line against Mubarak in the months leading up to the current crisis.
Wisner's advocacy for reaching out to Mubarak was on display at a private and off-the-record meeting on Egyptian succession held last summer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Wisner made several pro-Mubarak arguments, according to two people who attended the session.
"He's the exact wrong person to send. He is an apologist for Mubarak," said one Washington Middle East hand who saw Wisner as unlikely to demand that Mubarak must step down or else suffer consequences from Washington -- or, failing that, deliver a strong rebuke.
But Dunne said that since Wisner is "trusted and liked" by Mubarak and others he'll be meeting with, he's the perfect pseudo-envoy. "He's ... someone who could deliver a tough message if he's given one to deliver," she said.
Wisner's father, Frank Wisner Sr., was the CIA agent portrayed in the film The Good Shepherd. Wisner was previously married to Christine de Ganay, former wife of Pal Sarkozy, the father of French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Georgetown University successfully evacuated a group of students from the American University in Cairo due to the political unrest there, the university's president told the Georgetown community on Monday.
"After careful consideration, and following guidance from the U.S. State Department and American University of Cairo officials, Georgetown yesterday made the decision to get our students out of the country and began working to make appropriate arrangements," wrote Georgetown President John DeGioia in a letter to Georgetown students and faculty.
15 Georgetown students were just beginning their semester of studies in Cairo when the crisis broke out. They were all safely evacuated to Doha, Qatar, where Georgetown has a satellite campus, and will remain there for the next few days, DeGioia wrote. Where the students will complete the semester isn't yet decided.
DeGioia wrote that although the Georgetown students were safe, the situation on the ground was still volatile and he expressed concern for both Egyptians and foreigners who remain on the ground.
"As much as we are appreciative of the fact that our students are safe, we must also continue to be mindful of the ongoing unrest in Egypt. We pray for the safety and wellbeing of the many others who remain in the region, and we are seeking to understand these events," he wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with those in the midst of the current conflict."
The National Security Staff discussed how the Obama administration might approach a future Egyptian government if President Hosni Mubarak steps down with a group of foreign policy experts in a White House meeting on Monday morning. But the Obama administration believes that Washington's fingerprints shouldn't be seen anywhere near what they increasing expect will be the end of Mubarak's rule.
The Cable spoke with three of the experts who attended Monday morning's session, which included Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, NSS Senior Director for Multilateral Engagement Samantha Power and NSS Senior Director Dan Shapiro. The experts inside the meeting represented a cross section of views in Washington and included several members of the bipartisan Egypt Working Group, a group that has been pushing for more administration clarity on Egypt policy over the recent months.
All three participants who spoke with The Cable said that the meeting was intense and constructive, that a real debate over the path forward for U.S. policy ensued, and that the White House staff leading the meeting indicated -- but did not say outright -- that they believed Mubarak was on his way out and that the administration was preparing for what comes next.
"We can't be seen as picking a winner. We can't be seen as telling a leader to go," said Rhodes, according to one of the expert participants. The Obama team has not told Mubarak either publicly or privately that he must step down, but has been constantly and consistently giving the embattled Egyptian leader direct and honest messages about what the U.S. expects, the White House staffers told the experts.
Multiple attendees said the White House staff expressed skepticism that newly minted Vice President Omar Soliman would emerge as the next leader of Egypt, but acknowledged that he would be influential during the transition process. "Transition" apparently is the new message word for the administration, allowing them to position themselves on the side of the protesters without throwing Mubarak completely under the bus.
The Carnegie Endowment's Michele Dunne, who attended the meeting, told The Cable that the administration officials first reviewed what the policy has been, traced the administration's activities as the crisis unfolded, and then repeated the official message that both sides should refrain from violence.
"The White House's position has improved on the issue but they're ducking the difficult question about whether they have to say anything publicly or privately about whether Mubarak needs to go," Dunne said.
She and others in the meeting argued for swifter and more forceful statements from the administration calling for Mubarak to step down, lest the U.S. be seen as having tried to prop up the regime in the eyes of the Egyptian people.
"What we were trying to tell them is that change is coming, the status quo is passing away, and the question is do we want to shape that change constructively or not," Dunne said. "For a long time, a lot of people have felt that question was just too hard."
Although the NSS staffers in the meeting held their cards close, another attendee said the impression was clear that the administration was now focusing on a post-Mubarak Egypt.
"There was no narrative of change or reform that can involve Mubarak," this attendee said. "They see Soliman as their guy for now, but there's also doubt about Soliman's ongoing legitimacy to be a caretaker for an orderly transition. There's also doubt about what an organized process would be."
The attendees reported that the White House staff did not indicate any specific entity or person they would back as the jockeying for power plays out. There's a realization that overt American support for any group could actually harm that group's standing. There's also a realization that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to have an increased role going forward and that the administration had better start thinking about how to handle that eventuality.
One of those potential leaders, Mohamed ElBaradei, has been calling on the Obama administration to publicly denounce Mubarak. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey was in contact with a range of officials and groups both inside and outside the Egyptian government. The White House declined to say if they were reaching out to specific opposition leaders, such as ElBaradei.
"As a matter of course, we engage with both the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- including many political leaders and activists from a variety of backgrounds," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. "We will continue to do so."
Officials from both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations are scrambling to argue that they have aggressively pressured embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the issues of human rights and political reform. But a closer look at the statements made by U.S. officials helps explain the antipathy toward the United States that some protesters -- including potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, who blasted America's "failed policy" in Egypt -- have expressed.
From 2005 to 2008, Frank Ricciardone was the U.S. envoy in Cairo. Ricciardone, now the U.S. ambassador to Turkey following a recess appointment by Obama, was not confirmed by the Senate because many senators had lingering concerns about his tenure there. Those in the Bush administration who were pushing for a tougher line against Mubarak believed Ricciardone was too cozy with the regime and made too many excuses for Mubarak's authoritarian policies.
"President Mubarak is well known in the United States," Ricciardone said on March 12, 2006, to a group of students in Egypt participating in a model American Congress. "He is respected. If he had to run for office in the United States, my guess is he could win elections in the United States as a leader who is a giant on the world stage."
The Bush administration's effort to push Mubarak toward reform suffered widespread implementation problems, which went far beyond Ricciardone. But For Ricciardone's critics, statements he made in Egypt served to undermine the democracy push and helped lead to the current situation where the United States finds itself stuck today between a dictator and his people.
"Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy," former top National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams told The Cable.
Not all Bush administration officials agree with that assessment. "He's an outstanding and extremely dedicated Foreign Service officer who has served his country in some very delicate and dangerous postings," said Mitchell Reiss, who served at the State Department's director of policy planning under Bush.
But for critics like Abrams, Ricciardone was hesitant to directly criticize Mubarak, overly optimistic about the progress of reforms, and often drew an equivalence between Egypt's struggles with human rights and democracy and the U.S. political debates.
Four days after his remarks to students in Egypt about Mubarak being able to win a U.S. election, for example, Ricciardone sought to dispel any rumors that Mubarak was not welcome in Washington.
"President Mubarak is loved in the U.S. and we always welcome him and appreciate his advice and benefit from it. He is a figure of historic importance in the global arena, and for the U.S.," he said in an interview.
Al Ahram Weekly, which is owned by the government, featured a quote by Ricciardone on Feb. 9, 2006, where he claimed that Mubarak had made "great progress" toward democratic reforms.
"There were some shortfalls in the exercise of democracy that President Mubarak and the prime minister have recognized. These have made headlines around the world and sometimes these headlines were negative and obscured the larger reality I experience every day which is a very positive reality," he said.
In an interview with Egyptian media on March 16, 2006, that was posted on the U.S. embassy in Cairo's website, Ricciardone downplayed the idea that the Egyptian government persecuted Coptic Christians.
"Naturally, here in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech, so it is possible for anyone to complain about any personal or social problem. If there is a problem, there are legal ways to deal with it, whether here or in the U.S.," Ricciardone said.
In a Feb. 26, 2007, interview with Lamees El-Hadidi of Egyptian Television Channel One, Ricciardone was asked what kind of pressure the U.S. government was placing on Mubarak to enact human rights and political reform. He said there was none.
"I don't think there's any kind of pressure. There's an exchange of ideas and advice between friends within an atmosphere of constant dialogue, so I don't think there's any kind of pressure," Ricciardone said.
Later in the same interview, Ricciardone was asked about the 2005 State Department report on human rights, which said that protections in Egypt were weak. He responded that he was "optimistic" about reforms in Egypt and referenced problems in the United States, by way of comparison.
"I think there's a deeply-rooted and strong civil society here (in Egypt)," he responded. "I'm optimistic despite all the shortcomings and problems. Some problems have taken place in the U.S., but what's important is that every day we seek to improve ourselves."
As recently as February 2008, Ricciardone praised the level of political openness in Egypt in an interview with Egypt's Dream TV. "Nowadays, in Egypt there is freedom of expression and that's how it should be," he said.
As of Monday, the State Department has begun chartering flights to evacuate all American citizens from Egypt who want to leave, speeding them off to safe haven locations in Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.
"State Department personnel at our Embassy in Cairo and here in the United States are working round-the-clock to ensure the safety our Americans," said Janice Jacobs, assistant secretary of State for consular affairs, in announcing the evacuation assistance Sunday.
U.S. citizens and their immediate family members can go to the Cairo airport and proceed to HAJ Terminal 4 to board a U.S. government chartered plane out of Egypt. If U.S. citizens have their passports, they can go straight to the airport without calling ahead. For those who don't have the proper documents on them, they can seek help by writing to EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov or by calling 1-202-501-4444.
"We are aware that not all U.S. citizens have internet or cell phone service in Egypt... Because of communications interruptions, we ask that family and friends in the United States assist us by relaying information to their loved ones in Egypt directly," Jacobs said, also directing people to check for updates at www.travel.state.gov.
The State Department is rushing extra teams of consular personnel to the Cairo embassy as well as to the cities of Athens, Istanbul, and Nicosia, where U.S. consular officials will help travelers move on to their next destinations. Travelers don't have to pay for a ticket out of Cairo, but the U.S. government will expect them to pay back the money later, and Uncle Sam won't pay for any tickets home to the United States.
The safe haven cities could change, a State Department advisory warned, and travelers can't choose which city they will be flown to. U.S. citizen children can be accompanied by one non-citizen parent. And sorry, no pets allowed.
The flights started on Monday at 11:00 AM Cairo time, but already the State Department is expecting to be overwhelmed.
"U.S. citizens seeking evacuation should be prepared for a substantial wait at the airport," the State Department advisory said. "Travelers are advised to bring food, water, diapers and other necessary toiletries with them to the airport."
The State Department has been working furiously and mostly behind the scenes to cajole and pressure Arab governments to halt their clampdowns on communications and social media. In Tunisia there seem to have been real results. In Egypt, it's too soon to tell.
Ever since the State Department intervened during protests by the Iranian Green movement in June 2009, convincing Twitter to postpone maintenance so opposition protestors could communicate, the U.S. government has been ramping up its worldwide effort to set up a network of organizations that could circumvent crackdowns on Internet and cell phone technologies by foreign governments. That effort faced its first two major tests over the last few weeks and the State Department has been working with private companies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions to activate this network and put it to use in real time.
"Our mission is to provide a lifeline of protection when people get in trouble through a range of support for the activists and the people on the ground," Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Michael Posner said in an interview on Friday with The Cable. "I think there will be an increase in contacts on several levels in the coming days and weeks."
Even before the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, the State Department was working to drastically increase its activities with the internet freedom organizations, many of them using State Department funding provided through a grant program administered by DRL. This month, State announced it would spend another $30 million on this project.
For Posner, the drive to create an "open platform" for Internet communications is part of the overall drive to protect the universal rights the administration has been trumpeting in recent days and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out in her speech on Internet Freedom.
"What we're really talking about here is the ability of people to speak freely, to demonstrate peacefully, to associate and assemble in the public square. These are the human rights that are being restricted," Posner said.
In the case of Tunisia, the State Department mixed a strategy of working with companies and third party groups with a series of private and public communications between the Obama administration and the government of now-ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The effort began shortly after a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, lit himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid on Dec. 17. News of the event shot around the country through Twitter and Facebook, sparking a wider protest movement. The Tunisian government responded by hacking massive amounts of Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail accounts and targeted other sites where protestors were convening or communicating.
Facebook contacted the State Department soon thereafter, another State Department official told The Cable, asking for assistance and to help coordinate the response. Facebook then created an encrypted option for accessing the site from Tunisia while the State Department convoked the Tunisian ambassador in Washington to complain about the government's tactics.
"These tactics were used against American companies, so we have equities on multiple fronts," the official said. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman delivered a stern message to the ambassador in DC while the U.S. ambassador in Tunis Gordon Gray delivered the same message to the top levels of Ben Ali's government. When these private efforts to convince Tunis to open Internet restrictions failed, senior U.S. officials went public with their criticisms.
"We've been in touch with State and a lot of people on the ground and helping them navigate any of the blocks the government has put in place," said one Washington human rights advocate who was deeply involved in the effort.
State Department officials told The Cable that their efforts paid off, given that Ben Ali -- before stepping down -- said that he "heard the Tunisian people" and removed the blocks on the Internet and social media sites, although he had never cut off the entire country from communication. The State Department official said that while technology was an accelerant for the protests and a way for the protesters to get unvarnished information, it did not spur the movement.
"This was not a Twitter revolution. It was not a revolution either made possible or successful through the use of applications like Twitter," the State Department official said. "It mattered in Tunisia but ultimately that was a revolution of, for, and by the Tunisians."
Then came the protests this week in Egypt and the Mubarak government's decision on Thursday to cut off all Internet and cell phone service to the entire country. This sweeping, unprecedented action stymied both the State Department and the private and non-governmental organizations they were working with in Egypt.
"When a government literally shuts down the networks, the solutions are few. You can't circumvent a complete network shutdown," the State Department official said.
"None of this was an issue in Egypt until 24 hours ago," said another Washington expert who works on Internet freedom and human rights issues in the Arab world.
Nevertheless, the pro-Internet freedom network kicked into high gear, looking for loopholes in the blackout and connecting with people on the ground via the few pieces of communications technology that were still working -- land line telephones and ham radios.
The State Department started sending increasingly strong private messages to Cairo, the official said, culminating with Clinton's public statement on Friday, when she said, "We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications."
State Department officials also ramped up their coordination with U.S. companies, advocacy groups, and universities to share information on workarounds and connect these institutions to people on the ground.
The official declined to comment on whether State was pressing Internet and cell phone carriers in Egypt to defy the government and restore access to services. Vodaphone, for example, said it was "obligated" to comply with the Egyptian government's demand to shut down. But the work with private entities to restore lines of communication in Egypt continues.
For critics of the administration's stance on the Egypt protests, the State Department's furious efforts behind the scenes on the issue of Internet freedom are insufficient to compensate for what they see as an overall lackluster, and belated, U.S. government response to the crisis.
"The real problem is that when your macro policy and your micro policy don't match up, it takes all the credibility away," said Danielle Pletka, vice president at the American Enterprise Institute. "It's one thing to stand up and say don't shut off access to cell phones, but when top administration officials refuse to side with the protestors overall, it sends the message that there will be no consequences" for the Egyptian government if it chooses to ignore the administration's calls for information openness.
The Obama administration knows that their efforts to keep communications systems up and running are but a small part of what's needed diplomatically in Egypt. But they see it as one more tool they can use to pressure the government toward better behavior and find ways to protect American citizens and businesses caught in the crossfire.
"None of us are cyber-utopians, we have always been clear eyed about this," the State Department official said. "The question is not whether tech is good or bad, it's disruptive. And in a disruptive environment, the question is, how can you maximize your interests."
The State Department came out with a one-month travel alert for Egypt on Friday afternoon, the latest sign that the Obama administration is coming around to the realization that the crisis there is not abating any time soon.
"Violent demonstrations on January 28 took place in several areas of Cairo and other parts of the country, disrupting road travel between city centers and airports. Disruptions in communications included the interruption of internet and mobile telephone service. Given this situation, the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time and advises U.S. citizens currently in Egypt to defer non-essential movement and to exercise caution," the travel alert reads.
The State Department is urging Americans in Egypt to say inside their homes, not to join the demonstrations, and not to try to go to the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
"Security forces may block off the area around the U.S. Embassy during demonstrations, and U.S. citizens should not attempt to come to the U.S. Embassy or the Tahrir Square area at such times," reads the alert.
Meanwhile, the State Department cancelled its daily briefing today as the crisis in Egypt continued to unfold. Egyptian military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Sami Enan left Washington on Friday early to return to Cairo following previously scheduled defense talks at the Pentagon.
The White House confirmed on Friday that its security assistance to the Egyptian government and military was now under review, but still sought to refrain from siding with either the government or the protesters.
"First and foremost, this is a situation that will be solved by the people in Egypt," said spokesman Robert Gibbs. "We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events in the coming days."
If you are an American in Cairo in need of help, you can call American Citizen Services Unit at 2797-2301 during business hours or 2797-3300 during evening and weekend hours. They are also responding to messages at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, State is encouraging expats to enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) at the following website: https://travelregistration.state.gov.
If you are looking for information on friends or family in Egypt, you can call 1-888-407-4747 in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
A top State Department official in Tunis pledged full American support for the Tunisian drive to hold free elections on Wednesday, but also sought to distance the U.S. position on Tunisia from other mass protests in the region, such as the ongoing unrest in Egypt.
"What happened in Tunisia strikes me as uniquely Tunisian. That the events that took place here over the past few weeks derive from particularly Tunisian grievances, from Tunisian circumstances by the Tunisian people," Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said at a press conference.
He called for free and fair elections in Tunisia and pledged both American and international support to set them up.
"The United States stands with the people of Tunisia. This is an exciting and unprecedented moment in Tunisia's history with great challenges but also great opportunities for the Tunisian people to chart their own course," he said.
Feltman allowed that there are some fundamental similarities with regard to human rights.
"The challenges that are faced here are in some cases shared. And we think governments everywhere should be finding ways to permit peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the media in order to give people a say in how they are governed and to give them a stake in the future," he said.
Feltman's remarks echo Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest statement, which also calls on the Egyptian government to stop harassing protesters, but doesn't call on the Egyptian government to let them participate in a real election process.
"It is important that the government listens to the concerns of those demonstrating and respects rights of freedom of assembly and expression," she said. "Openness, transparency and political freedom are important tenets of stability. We urge the government and demonstrators to seek a peaceful way forward."
The Obama administration's support for Tunisians' right to self determination was on display during last night's State of the Union speech by President Obama, a speech in which he didn't mention Egypt at all.
"We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people," said Obama.
The White House issued a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at about 11:30 PM, after the president's speech had concluded, expressing U.S. support of Egyptians right to peaceful assembly, but without any call for free and fair elections.
"The Egyptian government has an important opportunity to be responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and pursue political, economic and social reforms that can improve their lives and help Egypt prosper. The United States is committed to working with Egypt and the Egyptian people to advance these goals," the statement read.
During a Wednesday morning roundtable, State Department Policy Planning Director Anne Marie Slaughter explained the seeming disparity by noting that there was consistency in the sense that both stances include a respect for "universal values."
"That means we are strongly supportive of the Tunisians in the effort to achieve democracy, it also means we are not imposing our values on countries around the world," she said.
The New America Foundation's Steve Clemons said that the George W. Bush administration, despite that it outwardly advocated for democratic change in the Arab world, might have taken a similar stance as the Obama administration has on Egypt.
"The notion that we're somehow in the streets with every potential freedom movement would be a mistake in foreign policy," he said. "If this administration was out there calling for regime change in Egypt, I think that would be a huge mistake."
The common perception on Capitol Hill is that China is not doing its part to support the international community's drive to halt Iran's emerging nuclear program. Not so, two senior administration officials said on Wednesday, as they praised China's action on Iran in a conference call with reporters on President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.
The Chinese have stopped new investments in Iran's energy sector, improved their controls over weapons technology exports to Iran, and Chinese state-owned corporations are not backfilling business opportunities left open by other countries that are leaving Iran, the senior administration officials said. The officials also explained that the Iran issue has been at the top of the agenda on the U.S.-China relationship and that's partly why Beijing's behavior on Iran has improved.
"In all the meetings between the president and President Hu and our high-level interactions, there was no issue that occupied as much time and attention as Iran. It was absolutely at the top of the agenda in pretty much every meeting," one of the senior administration officials said, explaining that recent Chinese action vis-à-vis Iran "demonstrates positive results of that focus."
One of the top concerns in Congress right now about the U.S.-China relationship is that Beijing is not enforcing international arms sanctions against Iran and that Chinese companies have not stopped doing business with Iran's energy sector. Last week, two leading senators wrote to President Barack Obama warning that if the administration doesn't enforce U.S. sanctions law on Chinese companies, Congress will act.
"In fact, in the last seven months since the passage of the resolution I'm not aware of any new Chinese investments in the energy sector," another senior administration official said, apparently not counting ongoing deals between China and Iran to develop gas fields as "new". "That's an important development and it's an important signal to Iran."
"You do not see the kind of backfilling that might undercut the sanctions regime," the first official said.
Regarding exports of missile technology to Iran, one of the officials said that China "essentially adhere[s] to the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime," which is meant to stop sensitive weapons transfers, despite the fact that China is not a member of that regime.
"China has done a great deal to improve its export control regime in order to try to block such exports," the official said. "There are gaps in China's enforcement. China's enforcement is still problematic... We don't see that as willful action by the Chinese government but as gaps in their system, which we urge them to correct."
In October, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials had given the Chinese government a list of Chinese companies believed to be breaking international sanctions on arms transfers, including by giving them technology to help their missile and nuclear programs.
Both officials also touted Chinese support for U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, which one official described as "much stronger sanctions than anyone anticipated would pass, or that China would sign on to."
The senators don't agree that the Chinese government is willingly moving to end those abuses and in their letter, they cited numerous reports that China is supplying crucial materials to aid Iran's nuclear and missile programs and alleged that Beijing continues to give monetary and material support to Iran's energy sector, including the delivery of refined petroleum products, which does not violate U.N. sanctions but could provoke penalties under U.S. laws passed by Congress, including the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act that Obama signed into law in July, 2010.
The senators specifically named the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC) as firms that could be subject to U.S. penalties.
"We urge you to warn President Hu that the U.S. will be forced to sanction these companies if they do not quickly suspend their ties with Iran," the senators wrote.
Last October, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China, one in Singapore, and one in the UAE.
But the joint statement issued on Wednesday by Obama and Hu made no mention of the U.S. sanctions law that could result in congressionally imposed penalties on Chinese companies. Here's the totality of what it said on Iran:
On the Iranian nuclear issue, the United States and China reiterated their commitment to seeking a comprehensive and long-term solution that would restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. Both sides agreed that Iran has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that Iran should fulfill its due international obligations under that treaty. Both sides called for full implementation of all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The United States and China welcomed and will actively participate in the P5+1 process with Iran, and stressed the importance of all parties - including Iran - committing to a constructive dialogue process.
UPDATE: A senior GOP Senate aide responds to the administration officials' comments with considerable skepticism:
"These senior Administration officials continue to obfuscate and misdirect. Chinese entities are clearly in violation of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) and the Comprehensive Iran Sanction, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA)," the aide said. "If the administration doesn't act soon, it faces the loss of its waiver authority and investigatory discretion on these matters."
The Obama administration is negotiating civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with a host of countries around the world. But Congress will intervene to try to stop some of those deals, if House Foreign Relations Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen but has anything to say about it.
Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban-American firebrand who took over the committee last week, has promised to fight the administration's foreign policy agenda on a wide range of fronts. On her first day, she pledged to take an axe to the State Department's budget, and last month she single-handedly killed the bill to make opposition to forced child marriages an element of U.S. foreign policy. Her next target is the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), the law that governs civilian nuclear agreements -- commonly known as "123" agreements for the section of the AEA governing them.
Ros-Lehtinen is angry that the U.S. entered into a 123 agreement with Russia this month. The administration submitted the agreement to Congress last May. Ros-Lehtinen introduced a resolution to stop it during the previous congressional session, but the resolution never came up for a vote in the Democratic-led House. The deal consequently went through after the 90-day waiting period expired.
"The U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement that went into effect this week never got a vote in Congress," Ros-Lehtinen said Thursday. "The Atomic Energy Act must be reformed so that these far-reaching and potentially dangerous agreements are required to receive an up-or-down vote in Congress before going into effect."
She also promised that her bill would require the administration to certify that a country has met a number or requirements before signing a nuclear deal with the United States, and to verify that the deal would advance U.S. interests.
Ros-Lehtinen said that Russia did not deserve that "concession" due to what she calls its ongoing support of Iran's nuclear program. She specifically mentioned its assistance in building and fueling the Bushehr nuclear plant, even though George W. Bush's administration actually supported that project.
She also criticized Russia for continuing "to shield Iran from U.S. and international sanctions and taking other actions that undermine U.S. interests around the world, such as selling weapons to Syria and signing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Burmese regime, which is a North Korea nuclear partner."
In Ros-Lehtinen's view, the administration has given several "concessions" to Russia already, including the New START nuclear reductions pact, changes in European missile defense plans, and exempting Russian companies from Iranian sanctions.
Others in Congress opposed the Russia 123 agreement, including Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. That loose coalition could create problems for the administration if and when it completes new 123 agreements.
The next countries in line for 123 agreements are Vietnam and Jordan, and their deals promise to face a different criticism than the agreement with Russia. Critics in both parties on Capitol Hill are set to press the administration to include bans on plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment in the deals, and those countries aren't likely to agree.
The administration painted itself into a corner on this issue when it hailed the 2009 123 agreement with the UAE as the "gold standard," because it included the provisions banning enrichment. But team Obama then hit a wall when Vietnam refused to agree to the same prohibitions. Jordan as well has indicated it wants to preserve what it views as its right to produce nuclear fuel sometime in the future.
If the administration insists on the prohibitions now, it risks causing the pending deals with Vietnam and Jordan to unravel in the short term, and perhaps losing out on other potential deals in the longer term. If the administration backs down and signs agreements without nuclear fuel production restrictions, it will cause a bipartisan uproar on Capitol Hill.
Inside the administration, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman has been arguing for months that the administration should just get rid of the enrichment provisions. On the other side of the debate, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg has taken the position that the provisions are important.
In addition to Vietnam and Jordan, the administration is also considering beginning negotiations on a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. Ros-Lehtinen has already come out as a critic of the administration's plan to sell $60 billion worth of weapons to the kingdom.
Last August, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Obama to demand that the UAE standard be applied to all future civilian nuclear deals. The lawmakers threw Obama's own words from his 2009 speech in Prague back at him, when the president said, "We need a new paradigm for civil nuclear cooperation that allows all countries to enjoy the benefits of nuclear power, while avoiding the spread of nuclear weapons and technologies."
"That new paradigm exists," the lawmakers wrote, referring to the UAE standard.
In November, a group of 16 non-proliferation experts wrote to the administration to demand that the standard in the UAE 123 agreement be extended to U.S. federal energy loan guarantees, federal contracts, or other subsidies or assistance to help foreign government-backed nuclear firms expand their nuclear business in the United States.
The letter was signed by right-leaning experts such as Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, as well as left-leaning experts such as Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"All of us believe that it makes no sense for our government to help foreign firms expand their nuclear business in the U.S. with federal loan guarantees, government contracts, or Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses unless they are willing to support the very toughest nuclear nonproliferation standards our own government has developed in the U.S.-UAE deal," the experts wrote.
It must be tough for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to go about her day with cameras following her 24/7 and capturing her every wrong move, documenting every misstep, and highlighting every stumble -- literal or figurative.
Clinton experienced a particularly painful example of this phenomenon on Tuesday, as her unfortunate fall while boarding her plane on the way out of Yemen became instant Internet fodder and the subject of ribbing from the international press.
Clinton walked it off and was fine, but that didn't stop some leading news organizations from making hay out of her fall.
CNN's Jeanne Moss: "It was a foreign trip with a little too much tripping."
BBC: "Pick her up, someone! Clinton only hurt her pride."
The Sun: "Hillary Clinton took an unexpected trip during a visit to Yemen."
Luckily, Clinton seems to have a good sense of humor about these things. After slipping while walking to the White House in June 2009, Clinton was asked whether her absence from the spotlight meant that she was being sidelined by the White House.
"I broke my elbow, not my larynx," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voluntarily raised the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on a trip to the Arab world, comparing alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner to Muslim extremists. The State Department clarified that she was not saying Loughner should be treated as a terrorist.
"We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country," Clinton said during a "Townterview" (half town hall, half interview) with students in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The student had asked Clinton why many in the United States target the entire Arab world when assigning blame for the 9/11 attacks. In response, Clinton drew a comparison between Arab terrorists that perpetrate violence and Loughner.
"The extremists and their voices, the crazy voices that sometimes get on the TV, that's not who we are, that's not who you are, and what we have to do is get through that and make it clear that that doesn't represent either American or Arab ideas or opinions," Clinton said.
But Clinton wasn't advocating that the U.S. government treat Loughner in the same manner as it would treat a non-American Muslim extremist, which might include detention without trial, aggressive interrogations, or even extrajudicial killing.
"She was making remarks in the context of the environment she was in, talking about the parallels," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "I don't think she was talking about some kind of equivalency in terms of how we treat them. We have a legal due process here in terms of the Arizona incident."
According to U.S. law, "the term ‘terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
Some Americans, such as Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, have reportedly been stripped of their rights and put on U.S. government "kill lists" due to their alleged participation in terrorist activities.
Other Americans, such as Fort Hood shooter Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, have not been treated as terrorists. Hasan reportedly tried to make contact with al Qaeda and had ties to Awlaki dating back to the cleric's time living in Falls Church, VA.
Loughner himself addressed, albeit in a murky fashion, whether he can be classified as a terrorist in one of his many Youtube videos.
"[A] terrorist is a person who terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon," Loughner wrote. "If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem. You call me a terrorist. Thus, the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem."
Incoming House Foreign Affairs chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) defeated a bill Thursday evening that would have committed the United States to combating forced child marriages abroad, by invoking concerns about the legislation's cost and that funds could be used to promote abortion. The episode highlights the tough road that the Obama administration will face in advancing its women's rights and foreign aid agenda during the next Congressional session.
Non-governmental organizations, women's rights advocates, and lawmakers from both parties spent years developing and lobbying for the "International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010," which the House failed to pass in a vote Thursday. The bill failed even though 241 Congressmen voted for it and only 166 voted against, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) brought it up under "suspension of the rules." This procedure has the advantage of not allowing any amendments or changes to the bill, but carries the disadvantage of requiring two-thirds of the votes for passage.
Even still, supporters in both parties fully expected the bill to garner the 290 votes needed -- right up until the bill failed. After all, it passed the Senate unanimously Dec. 1 with the co-sponsorship of several Republicans, including Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Foreign Relations Committee member Roger Wicker (R-MS), and human rights advocate Sam Brownback (R-KS).
If passed, the bill would have authorized the president to provide assistance "to prevent the incidence of child marriage in developing countries through the promotion of educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women." It would have also mandated that the administration develop a multi-year strategy on the issue and that the State Department include the incidence of forced child marriage during its annual evaluation of countries' human rights practices.
So what happened? Ros-Lehtinen first argued that the bill was simply unaffordable. In a Dec. 16 "Dear Colleague" letter, she objected to the cost of the bill, which would be $108 million over five years, and criticized it for not providing an accounting of how much the U.S. was already spending on this effort. The actual CBO estimate (PDF) said the bill would authorize $108 million, but would only require $67 million in outlays from fiscal years 2011 to 2015.
Ros-Lehtinen introduced her own version of the bill, which she said would only cost $1 million. But in a fact sheet (PDF), organizations supporting the original legislation said that Ros-Lehtinen's bill removed the implementation procedures that gave the legislation teeth. "Without such activities, the bill becomes merely a strategy with no actual implementation. And without implementation of a strategy, the bill will have an extraordinarily limited impact," they wrote.
Regardless, the supporters still thought the bill would pass because House Republican leadership had not come out against it. But about one hour before the vote, every Republican House office received a message on the bill from GOP leadership, known as a Whip Alert, saying that leadership would vote "no" on the bill and encouraging all Republicans do the same. The last line on the alert particularly shocked the bill's supporters.
"There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws," the alert read.
The bill doesn't contain any funding for abortion activities and federal funding for abortion activities is already prohibited by what's known as the "Helms Amendment," which has been boiler plate language in appropriations bills since 1973.
Invoking the abortion issue sent the bill's supporters reeling. They believed that it was little more than a stunt, considering that Republican pro-life senators had carefully reviewed the legislation and concluded it would not have an impact on the abortion issue.
Rep. Stephen LaTourrette (R-OH) called out the Republican leadership for invoking the abortion issue to defeat the forced child marriage act in a floor speech Friday morning.
"Yesterday I was on the floor and I was a co-sponsor with [on] a piece of legislation with [Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)] that would have moved money, no new money, would have moved money so that societies that are coercing young girls into marriage... we could make sure that they stay in school so they're not forced into marriage at the age of 12 and 13," LaTourette said. "All of a sudden there was a fiscal argument. When that didn't work people had to add an abortion element to it. This is a partisan place. I'm a Republican. I'm glad we beat their butt in the election, but there comes a time when enough is enough."
But it was too late for LaTourette and other Republicans who had fought hard for the bill, including Aaron Schock (R-IL). The bill is even less likely to pass next year, when the GOP will control the House and Ros-Lehtinen will control the Foreign Affairs committee.
The main author of the bill was Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was incensed when the bill failed in the House.
"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world," Durbin said in a Thursday statement. "These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill."
For the NGO and women's advocacy community, the implications of this defeat extend much further than just this bill. They also saw Republicans invoke the abortion issue when objecting to the International Violence Against Women Act and expect the new Congress to push for reinstatement of the "Mexico City Policy," which would prevent federal funding for any organizations that even discuss abortion.
"Any time a health bill that has to do with women and girls comes to the House floor, we're going to see a debate like the one we just saw," said one advocacy leader who supported the bill. "It's hard to imagine how any development bills are going to pass in this environment."
The protection of women and girls is a major focus of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who promised to elevate the issue Thursday when rolling out the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. She has said that forced child marriage is "a clear and unacceptable violation of human rights", and that "the Department of State categorically denounces all cases of child marriage as child abuse".
State's Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer has worked hard on the issue behind the scenes. But at the eleventh hour, when the going got tough, the bill's supporters said that the administration was nowhere to be found. In October, the White House decided to waive all penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, another Durbin led bill that the NGO community supports.
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 60 million girls in developing countries now between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they reached 18. The Population Council, a group focused on reproductive and child health, estimates that the number will increase by 100 million over the next decade if current trends continue.
MANAMA, Bahrain—Doha, Qatar, was full of life Thursday night, with men in white robes dancing in the streets, hanging out of car windows, blowing Vuvuzela horns, and participating in all sorts of other non-alcoholic celebrations of Qatar's victory in securing the 2022 World Cup.
Your humble Cable guy landed in Doha Thursday evening on his way to the IISS 2010 Manama Security dialogue, which began Friday in Bahrain. But before going to bed late Thursday night, we had the chance to party along with the locals, eat some baby camel (true story), and tour a city filled with posters and other advertisements for Qatar's expensive bid to host the tournament.
Of course, the United States was among the finalists for the hosting honors. So when The Cable sat down Friday for an exclusive interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we couldn't help but ask what she thought of Qatar's selection.
Clinton said that the selection of Qatar for 2022, Russia for 2018, and the earlier selection of Brazil for 2014 represent an effort by FIFA, the world soccer body, to spread the honor to new regions and reward new audiences.
"It does make a certain logic, to kind of expand the global reach and give people who love football more than we do -- soccer football, not football football -- a chance to have their moment," she said.
Clinton did admit to being at least a little unhappy about the decision, and gently alluded to the fact that Qatar is a long way from building all of the stadiums needed for the tournament, not to mention protecting fans from the blistering summer Doha heat.
"Obviously we were disappointed because, look, we could do it tomorrow. We've got the facilities already built," she said. "We don't have to air-condition stadiums."
Photo by Sandy Choi
A joint letter demanding more information about the Obama administration's proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was sent to top administration officials on Friday with the signatures of 198 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The letter, first reported on The Cable, was coordinated jointly by outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and incoming chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it spells out a long list of concerns lawmakers have about the sale and demands answers to several questions about how the deal fits into U.S. national security strategy. The lawmakers question whether Saudi Arabia is acting in conjunction with U.S. interests and whether the deal has enough checks and balances to ensure U.S. as well as Israeli interests.
"We are writing to raise concerns and pose a number of strategic questions about the impact such sales would have on the national security interests of the United States and our allies," the lawmakers wrote. The deal would be the largest arms sale in U.S. history and another $30 billion sale of Naval technology to the Kingdom is also said to be in the works.
The Obama administration defends the deal as vital, and Israel has raised few objections. But although lawmakers haven't said they will move to kill the sale, they aren't forswearing that course of action, either.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered on this," a GOP House aide told The Cable. "If Israel doesn't strongly object that doesn't mean it's not problematic."
Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, whose office was key in negotiating the deal, told reporters on Oct. 20 that he did not anticipate strong resistance to the deal on Capitol Hill.
"Congress is a big place and there are a lot of members, and there may be differing opinions about the sale. But we feel comfortable that we have done adequate pre-consultations with members of Congress that there will not be a barrier to completing this sale," Shapiro said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seven-hour marathon meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday in New York could signal a turning point in the effort to revive the stalled Middle East peace talks, as the administration works to resolve the dispute over Israeli settlement building by turning the focus to borders and security.
The Obama administration's latest strategy seems to have two main elements, according to a senior official's read out of the meeting and analysis by current and former officials on both sides. First, the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu as many security guarantees as possible in order to give the Israeli government increased confidence to move to a discussion of the borders that would delineate the two future states. Second, the administration wants to work toward an understanding on borders so that both sides can know where they can and can't build for the duration of the peace process.
"If there in fact is progress in the next several months, I'm confident people will look back at this meeting between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu as the foundation of the progress. It was that important," former Congressman Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told The Cable.
Wexler said that President Obama had long been asking both the Israelis and the Palestinians for clarity on the territories they envisioned being part of their future states. The recent meeting, he said, could be an important step in that direction -- at least in clarifying Israel's position.
"I am hopeful that yesterday's meeting was the beginning of clarity in terms of Israel's visions about her own borders -- where does Israel want Israel's borders to be," said Wexler. "Because ultimately, we can't help our close friend until they share with us their own vision."
The meeting was the highest level interaction between the U.S. and Israeli governments since the last round of direct talks in September. Wexler said that while the two leaders didn't sit down with a map and draw lines around particular neighborhoods, the administration's switch to a focus on borders as a means of getting at the settlements problem was clear. "It's the only rational, sane way to proceed," he said. "Talking about borders and territories will by definition minimize the impact of the settlement issue."
Wexler said that by virtue of the fact that the meeting was seven hours, it's reasonable to assume that significant progress was made. "I think we're very close to creating that magic formula that satisfies both the Israelis and the Palestinians to come back to the table."
The head of the PLO mission in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, wasn't so sure. He pointed to the boilerplate statement that Clinton and Netanyahu issued after the meeting as evidence that no real breakthrough was achieved.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Clinton had a good discussion today, with a friendly and productive exchange of views on both sides. Secretary Clinton reiterated the United States' unshakable commitment to Israel's security and to peace in the region," the statement read.
But Areikat endorsed the idea of discussing borders ahead of the settlements issue, saying that's what the Palestinian side has been advocating all along.
"The conventional wisdom is that if we deal with the issue of the borders then we will be able, by default, to deal with the issue of settlements -- and if you can define the borders of the two states and agree on these borders, then each party can build in its own territory without being contested by the other party," Areikat told The Cable. "This is what everybody is aiming at.... Now whether the Americans are going to succeed in convincing the Israelis to do it, we have to wait and see."
Of course, the two sides disagree over the order of events even when discussing the border issue.
"The Palestinian position is that we need to agree on the borders, then we will discuss in parallel the security arrangements. The Israelis are saying no, we need to define first what the security arrangements are to project what the final borders will be," Areikat explained.
In what appears to be a recognition of the Israeli position, Clinton and her team apparently spent a good deal of their time with the Netanyahu team spelling out a long list of additional security guarantees the Obama administration is offering to Israel.
In a Friday morning conference call with Jewish community leaders, notes of which were provided to The Cable, the National Security Council's Dan Shapiro described several of the ways America has been advocating on behalf of Israel's security in recent months. They included increased U.S. diplomatic opposition to efforts to delegitimize Israel in international fora, continuing to block efforts to revive the Goldstone Report at the United Nations, promising to block condemnation of Israel at the United Nations for its raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, and defeating resolutions aimed to expose Israel's nuclear program at the IAEA, and increasing pressure on Iran and Syria to stop their nuclear and proliferation activities.
The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama -- who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was "never helpful" to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem -- wasn't trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.
The Clinton-Netanyahu meeting was the culmination of several days of intensive, personal attention to the issue by Clinton herself. On Tuesday, she held a joint news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to announce $150 million in new U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority. On Wednesday, she met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and Lieutenant General Omar Suleiman to discuss the Middle East peace process.
But in the Washington press, the seven-hour conversation was somewhat overshadowed by Netanyahu's meeting with incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Unlike Clinton, Cantor publicly disclosed what he told Netanyahu.
"Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington," read a statement from Cantor's office on the one-on-one meeting. "He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other."
Wexler said he didn't see a problem with Cantor's remarks or stance. "It's a perfectly natural, appropriate meeting to have," said Wexler, who pointed out that Netanyahu also met with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). "I don't believe he intended to play the president, the prime minister, or anyone else against one another."
But Areikat saw Cantor's stance as extremely unhelpful.
"This amounts to undermining the efforts of the U.S. to achieve peace," he said. "People like Eric Cantor who blindly oppose the Palestinians, they think they are helping Israeli interests but he is hurting Israeli interests. By making these statements they are hardening Israeli positions."
UPDATE: This story was updated to reflect that Shapiro was describing a list of ways America was already working on behalf of Israel's security, not a new list of incentives discussed in the Clinton-Netanyahu meeting.
Top Obama administration officials Thursday lauded Iraq's latest efforts to form new government and defended their intensive efforts to help push through the deal, even though their proposal was very different from the agreement that it appears Iraqi leaders have reached.
"We've worked very hard in recent months with the Iraqis to achieve one basic result, and that's a government that's inclusive, that reflects the results of the elections, that includes all the major blocs representing Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups, and that does not exclude or marginalize anyone," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon. "And that's exactly what the Iraqis seem to have agreed to do."
The White House and the State Department have been walking a very fine line when talking about their involvement in Iraqi political negotiations. The administration has often stated that it does not seek to impose any specific solution on the Iraqis, but at the same time has been working behind the scenes on behalf of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya coalition, which received the most seats in Iraq's March parliamentary elections, but not enough to form a government on its own.
The United States has a direct interest in maintaining whatever influence it can in Baghdad as U.S. troops leave Iraq, in a bid to counter Iranian attempts to push Iraqi politics toward a more Shiite and religious bent. That's a tricky balancing act for the White House, which wants to claim credit for its involvement while simultaneously appearing neutral and keeping the responsibility of deal making in the hands of Iraqi politicians. The still-evolving agreement between all of Iraq's major political players would keep Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani in their posts, while allotting Allawi's Iraqiya slate the position of Speaker of the Parliament and the chairmanship of a new National Council on Strategic Policies. Saleh al-Mutlak, one of Iraqiya's most prominent figures, is also being floated as a potential foreign minister in the new unity government.
The New York Times reported Thursday afternoon that Allawi's slate walked out of Thursday's parliamentary session after failing to score a vote on a series of demands. But if the Iraqi politicians are successful in ironing out the details and forming their government, the Obama administration stands ready to endorse the deal. However, it doesn't want the credit for brokering the agreement.
"The most important thing about what happened in Baghdad today is that this is a government that is made in Iraq," the official said. "It was not the result of the influence or work of any outside actor, any outside country. The decisions that the Iraqis reached, they reached themselves. They negotiated very difficult issues themselves, and they came to an agreement."
In fact, however, top administration officials were deeply involved in the negotiations, especially toward the very end. The official spoke of personal efforts by Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffries and others. In recent days, Obama spoke personally with Talabani, President Massoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and Allawi (but not al-Maliki, notably).
The Washington Times revealed that Obama personally asked both Talabani and Barzani to cede the presidency to Allawi, a request that the Kurdish leaders flatly rejected. "And for the United States to be leaning on us, as they are now, in effect handpicking the new leaders of Iraq, is not respectful of Iraq's parliamentary system and touches on all of the insecurities of the Kurds, that the United States will once again betray us," Qubad Talabani, Jalal's son and the KRG's representative in Washington, told the Washington Times.
The senior administration official confirmed that Obama had floated the idea to the Kurds, but said it was only one of the various permutations put forth in the hope of convincing Allawi to join the new government.
"In the case of Iraqiya and Dr. Allawi, one of the things they had been saying for some time was an interest in the presidency after they gave up on what they believed was their right to be prime minister, which was a significant compromise by them," the official said. "And so we've had conversations, many of us, with Iraqis, exploring all of these different options. And one of the options certainly was for the Kurds to think about taking a position other than the presidency, which would have opened the presidency for Dr. Allawi."
Iraq experts praised the administration's efforts in the last few months of the negotiations, but lamented that it didn't always take into account the red lines of the parties, such as the Kurds.
"The level of U.S. engagement was not satisfactory in the early months of government formation, there was a sense of a hands-off approach. But by late summer, there was a clear sense of a need for more senior involvement," said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War.
"As the months went on, a number of Iraqis were requesting Washington take a larger role to help bring people together," she said. "I'm glad to see now that there does seem to be engagement at the most senior levels, although Biden's office has been engaged all along."
Sullivan criticized the tactic of asking the Kurds to give up the presidency, however, saying that the White House should have known that was a non-starter.
"By the time the White House asked Talabani to step down, the Kurds had already publicly stated they wanted to maintain the presidency and that made it impossible for Talabani to do what Obama wanted," she said.
Some analysts hailed the administration's attempt to retain as much influence in Baghdad as possible, contrasting it with the supposedly more laissez-faire approach of former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill.
"The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor," said Max Boot, writing on the website of Commentary magazine.
The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that "naming and shaming" governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials' contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move.
The White House began a conference call on the issue Friday afternoon by apologizing to the NGO and Hill community for the decision's botched rollout, which was announced only through a short official presidential memorandum on Monday and then reported on by The Cable on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The call was off the record and not for press purposes, but a recording was made available to The Cable.
"This is a call that should have happened before you read about the administration's child soldiers' posture in the newspaper," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. "Given the way you all heard about the implementation of the statute, I can understand why some of the reactions that you had were prevalent."
Power defended the president's decision to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was set to go into effect this month, for Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Yemen. She argued that identifying these countries as violators while giving them one more year to stop recruiting underage troops would help make progress.
"Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," said Power, adding that this was the first year the Obama administration had to make a decision on this issue, so they want to give the violator countries one more year to show progress.
"In year one to just say we're out of here, best of luck, we wish you well... Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."
But Hill staffers and advocacy leaders on the call weren't buying what Power was selling. They were upset that they learned about the decision via The Cable, and challenged Power on each point that she made.
For example, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the law was passed two years ago.
"The law was enacted in 2008, so countries have had two years to know that this was coming down the pike," she said. "So the consequences of the law really shouldn't be taking anyone by surprise, so to say countries need a year to get their act together is really problematic."
She also disputed Power's contention on the call that "there's evidence that our diplomatic engagement and this military assistance has resulted in some changes."
"The U.S. has been providing training for years already with no real change on the ground," said Becker. "We haven't seen significant changes in practice so far from the engagement approach, so that seems to indicate to me we need to change the approach, maybe withholding programs until we see changes on the ground."
"I think the logic of engagement is something reasonable people can disagree on," Power responded. "There's probably empirical evidence on both sides."
Advocates on the call did acknowledge Chad's efforts on child soldier demobilization, but lamented that little or no progress has been seen in the DRC or with South Sudan's Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But they wanted to know: If the administration believes that the threat of the sanctions has caused progress, then how does removing that threat keep the pressure on?
"Why remove that leverage now when we've seen it's been so valuable?" asked Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America
Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, was one of several on the call to wonder why the administration decided to waive all sanctions, rather than using a part of the law that allows the continuation of military assistance to violator countries, along as that assistance goes toward military professionalization.
"Naming and shaming has not worked," he said. "You can give support under the law. Much of the aid that's even discussed in the justification memo that many of us have seen can still be given to these countries if they show a reasonable attempt to demobilize child soldiers."
Overall, Power wanted to point out that the administration is still intent on fighting the use of child soldiers and that waiving the sanctions doesn't mean that all pressures will stop. She promised that if these countries don't shape up, the administration will take a tougher line when reevaluating the sanctions next year.
Power repeatedly attempted to argue that the attention over the president's decision to waive sanctions was exactly the kind of public pressure needed to spur violator governments to change. However, her argument was complicated by the fact that the administration failed to tell anyone about the decision and announced it with no rollout or explanation whatsoever.
"I do think there's something different between what happened in 2008 [when the law passed] versus actually being named this week," she said. "And we're already seeing out in the field via our embassies a huge amount of discomfort and angst on the part of those countries about being branded in this way."
Power said at the end of the call that the administration plans to capitalize on the fallout from its decision. She said that the administration planned on "[u]sing the attention from this moment and the leverage of having abstained from having put the sanctions in effect right now and saying... ‘You're not going to get so lucky next time if we don't see some progress.'"
Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.
"I think it's unfortunate that the NGO community and those in Congress who wrote the law were not involved in its implementation," said Kody Kness, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the lead sponsors of the law. "I think that's a missed opportunity."
AFP / Getty Images
Most officials on Capitol Hill and human rights advocates received no warning or explanation prior to the Obama administration's quiet announcement Monday that it would waive sanctions against four countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers. However, an internal State Department document obtained by The Cable sheds light on the reasons behind the Obama administration's decision to pull back on a bill that Barack Obama himself co-sponsored as a senator.
The internal document shows that the administration prepared detailed justifications for its decision to waive sanctions against countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers, arguing that working closely with troubled militaries is the best way to reform them and that U.S. security depends on such relationships. But the administration didn't share those justifications with anyone outside the administration until after the decision had been made.
On Wednesday, after The Cable reported that Obama had decided not to cut off military assistance -- as required under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act -- against Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen, the White House offered only a terse explanation for the decision. Today, we bring you the internal State Department document dated Monday, Oct. 25 (PDF) that lays out the arguments State made in favor of not implementing these sanctions. The document is signed by Obama, but we're told it was prepared by State.
The State recommendation to Obama came over the objections of top officials in its Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) bureau, sources told The Cable, but the Political Military affairs bureau (PM) argued in favor of the waivers. We're also told that the Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA) and the Africa bureau (AF) were heavily involved in the discussions although it's unclear what their exact positions were inside the debate.
Hill staffers and child advocacy leaders who were provided the document after Monday's announcement told The Cable they were unsatisfied with both the decision and the explanation.
"We're going to ask for some greater explanation on some of these. To do the waiver on all of the countries certainly caught our attention," said one Democratic Senate aide involved in the issue. "When using American tax money to help governments that use child soldiers, there should be a pretty high bar."
Key Senate offices to watch are those of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), the original sponsors of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. There was broad bipartisan support for the bill when it passed by unanimous voice vote in 2008. Other key co-sponsors at the time included then Sen. Joseph Biden and then-Sen. Obama.
"This was landmark legislation that Obama supported as a senator and now he's undercutting it. It's really a shame," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch.
"The basic problem here is that the administration is taking an all-or-nothing approach. There's no doubt that the administration has legitimate interests in these countries. But they should have sought a middle ground that allows them to take the law seriously while still taking our cooperation with these countries seriously," she said.
The justification for each waiver largely tracks what a White House official told us yesterday, but adds new detail and context to the administration's position on the law and on the violator countries, all of which were identified in the State Department's own 2010 Trafficking in Persons report as systematically using underage troops.
For all the countries, the document states that progress on moving these armies away from using child soldiers is ongoing and that the United States vets anyone they work with directly to make sure they are of the proper age.
On Chad, for example, the document states that ongoing military training programs that would be cut if the law was enforced "are critical to training and influencing critical and future Chadian military leaders." Similarly, the document argues that cutting off military cooperation with the DRC would "jeopardize the United States' opportunity to positively affect the negative behavior patterns currently exhibited by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC)."
In Sudan, ongoing training of the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA) would be scuttled if the law were enforced, hurting that army's progress just before the South votes on a referendum to split from the North, the document states.
Cooperation with Yemen needs to continue because that government is a key partner in the fight against al Qaeda, the document argues. "[C]utting off assistance would seriously jeopardize the Yemeni government's ability to conduct special operations and counterterrorism missions, and create a dangerous level of in the country and the region," it says.
The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four toubled states on Monday, over the objections the State Department's democracy and human rights officials. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries -- all of whose armed forces use underage troops -- one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear.
The NGO community was shocked by the announcement, reported Tuesday by The Cable, that President Obama authorized exemptions from all penalties set to go into effect this year under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. The countries that received waivers were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen.
The failure of the administration to consult or even warn those groups that had worked hard to pass the law caused unease and concern around the advocacy community Tuesday. Child protection advocates worried that the administration was abandoning the tactic of threatening to cut off military assistance as a means to pressure abusive regimes to stop forcibly recruiting troops under the age of 18.
"This took us totally by surprise and was a complete shock to people who are working in the field," said Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, a children-focused humanitarian organization.
On Tuesday evening, a White House official explained to The Cable the reasons for the decision and the details of what it means for U.S. activity in the affected countries. Essentially, the administration decided that it could not ensure that the offending countries would be able to abide by the law in time -- the breach of which would have required Washington to pull funding. In the end, the administration's calculus weighed in favor of continuing to fund several ongoing assistance programs like military training and counterterrorism advising. They decided to give each country at least one more year to implement reforms before sanctions are brought to bear, according to the official.
"This is the first year that sanctions were to take effect and part of our thinking here has been to put countries on notice of these legal provisions that are taking effect for the first time and that progress is going to have to be made on these things if these countries are going to continue to receive assistance," the White House official said.
The official also noted that the Obama administration was keen to preserve their relationships with the governments in question and argued that engaging troubled militaries was the most effective way to encourage the reform the law was designed to bring about.
"We still think it's important to maintain a solid relationship with the governments there to ensure they provide protection to those folks," the official said. "One rationale for continuing the assistance is to help them address the very problem that is the source of the sanctions."
Inside the administration, however, The Cable has learned that there was a heated debate over whether to issue the waivers. Apparently, this debate was held inside the State Department, with the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons arguing against blanket exemptions. The bureau of Political and Military Affairs (PM) argued for the exemptions. The PM bureau's argument won the day and the State Department submitted recommendations to the White House, which issued the waivers.
The 2008 Child Soldier Prevention Act was originally sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and wrapped into a larger bill sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden. Durbin's office was not able to comment by deadline and Biden's office deferred to the White House.
Leading human rights activists involved in the issue were skeptical that letting abusive governments evade sanctions would have the effect of producing reform faster.
"This is the first year it's being enacted, so to waive everyone right out of the gate sends exactly the wrong message," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "By providing a blanket waiver, the U.S. is really giving up all of its leverage to force them to change their approach to using child soldiers."
She also criticized the official's contention that the abusive countries needed more time to become aware of the law, which was signed in December 2008. It became operative in June 2009 but couldn't go into effect until violator countries were identified in the State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which came out in June.
"If the State Department was doing its job, governments would have been well aware two years ago that this process was underway," said Becker.
The 2010 Trafficking in Persons report identified six countries that are systematically employing the use of child soldiers. In addition to the four that Obama waived sanctions on, Burma and Somalia are also implicated. But neither of those countries receive U.S. military assistance that could be cut off as a sanction, according to the law. Therefore, Obama's waivers have the effect of preventing the law from imposing any sanctions at all this year.
The White House official said when the next State Department report comes out in June 2011, there will be another assessment of whether to impose penalties on violator countries. He also hastened to underline that the waivers weren't issued to pave the way for new military sales to any of the countries found to be using child soldiers.
In Chad, the U.S. is engaged in counterterrorism activities but also is working with the government's armed forces to deal with the spillover of refugees from the crisis over the Sudanese border in Darfur. In the DRC, the U.S. is providing training of various types, military advisors, and also military vehicles and spare parts to the Congolese army. Over 33,000 child soldiers have been involved in the decade old civil war there and the country leads the world in the use of underage troops, according to UNICEF.
With regard to Sudan, other sanctions prevent the United States from helping the Khartoum government in the North, but the U.S. is giving military training assistance to the Southern People's Liberation Army, which could end up a national army if the South votes to separate in the January referendum. The SPLA has about 1,200 child soldiers, the official said, adding that cutting off such training would only undermine ongoing reform efforts.
Yemen is a recipient of significant direct U.S. military assistance, having received $155 million in fiscal 2010 with a possible $1.2 billion coming over the next five years. Yemen is also a much needed ally for counterterrorism operations. The government is engaged in a bloody fight with al Qaeda (among other separatist and terrorist groups), and estimates put the ratio of child soldiers among all the groups there at more than half. Nevertheless, "the president believes there are profound equities with Yemen in terms of counterterrorism that we need to continue to work on," the official told The Cable.
Several outside experts pointed out the existing law already contains an exemption that would permit the U.S. government to sanction abuser countries while still providing assistance that "will directly support professionalization of the military."
"This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like," said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. "The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury."
AFP / Getty images
Meetings between Afghan leadership and Taliban figures are ongoing, but the two sides are nowhere near a peace deal and in fact are not even to the point of negotiating one, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke said Sunday.
"I think the press has left the impression that negotiations of the type which ultimately ended the war in Vietnam in 1973 and ultimately ended the war in Bosnia in 1995 are somehow breaking out. That is just not the case," he said on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria show Sunday morning.
"What we've got here is an increasing number of Taliban at high levels saying, hey, we want to talk," Holbrooke explained. "I think this is a result, in large part, of the growing pressure they're under from General Petraeus and the ISAF command."
Holbrooke was adamant that -- whatever talks are taking place between the government of President Hamid Karzai and leaders of some of the insurgent groups -- it should not be called a "negotiation."
"I would not use that word," he said. "I know what a negotiation looks like... Let's not leave the viewers with the impression that some kind of secret negotiation like the famous secret negotiations on Vietnam, is taking place, because it's not."
Holbrooke warned that a peace agreement of the sort seen in past conflicts is unlikely because there is no titular head of the insurgency with whom to strike a deal.
"There's no Ho Chi Minh. There's no Slobodan Milosevic. There's no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy," he said. "So the idea of peace talks, to use your phrase, or negotiations, to use another phrase, doesn't really add up to the way this thing is going to evolve."
Holbrooke said he had no personal information that the Pakistani military or intelligence services have been trying to thwart rapprochement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, as the New York Times has reported. He refused to publicly call for the Pakistani military to increase its effort against terrorist groups in North Waziristan, saying that Pakistan knew the Obama administration's position on the issue.
"I'm not here to defend the Pakistani military or to attack them," he said.
Overall, Holbrooke's take on the progress of the war effort was cautious, if not entirely bleak.
"It's certainly not another Vietnam, for reasons you and I discussed before. And it is certainly not hopeless. But anyone who doesn't recognize what a daunting task it is, is misleading," he said. "And the American public should understand that this is not going to be solved overnight. It is going to be a difficult struggle."
Holbrooke was not asked about the stunning admission by Karzai that his office received bags full of cash from Iran. Holbrooke did attend a meeting last week in Rome with dozens of Special Representatives from various countries dealing with the Afghan war where the Iranian government was also represented.
In a rousing 30-minute speech Wednesday night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implored attendees at the annual gala for the American Task Force on Palestine not to give up on the struggling Middle East peace process, despite past, current, and future obstacles.
Hosted by ATFP President Ziad Asali, the event was packed with officials, experts, and influence makers involved with the region. The four honorees of the night were Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, renowned poet Naomi Shihab Nye, playwright Betty Shamieh, and Booz Allen Hamilton's Ghassan Salameh. Other notables figures in attendance included Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud and Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the Park 51 Muslim Community Center. Palestinian-American comedienne Maysoon Zayid was also a hit.
All attendees we spoke to praised Clinton's speech as a fair and balanced (no pun intended) assessment of developments in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and an impassioned plea for both sides in the conflict to redouble their efforts to reach a negotiated and permanent end to the conflict. "She could have given the same exact speech to AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]," said one very satisfied attendee.
Of course, Clinton didn't get into the details of the ongoing negotiations to try to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stay engaged in the direct talks they started last month. But she touched on almost every other issue related to the situation.
Here are some key excerpts:
On the current impasse in the peace talks:
We have no illusions about the difficulty of resolving the final status issues of borders and security, settlements and refugees, of Jerusalem and water. And it's no secret that we are in a difficult period. When President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Washington last month to re-launch direct negotiations, we knew there would be setbacks and struggles.Our position on settlements is well-known and has not changed. And our determination to encourage the parties to continue talking has not wavered.
I cannot stand here tonight and tell you there is some magic formula that I have discovered that will break through the current impasse. But I can tell you we are working every day, sometimes every hour, to create the conditions for negotiations to continue and succeed. We are urging both sides to avoid any actions that would undermine trust or prejudice the outcomes of the talks. Senator Mitchell will soon return to the region for further consultations. We have not given up and neither have President Abbas or Prime Minister Netanyahu.
On the value of the two state solution for Palestinians:
For Palestinians, a two-state solution would mean an independent, viable, and sovereign state of their and your own; the freedom to travel, to do business, and govern themselves. Palestinians would have the right to chart their own destinies at last. The indignity of occupation would end and a new era of opportunity, promise, and justice would begin... There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and, ultimately, for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace. That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations and the necessary outcome of two states for two peoples.
On what the two states should look like:
We remain convinced that if they persevere with negotiations, the parties can agree on an outcome that ends the conflict; reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps and Israel's goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel's security requirements. This will resolve all the core issues and, as President Abbas said the other day, end all historical claims.
On seeing past the false choices of the conflict:
Being pro-Palestinian does not mean you must reject Israel's right to exist. And being pro-Israel does not mean you must deny the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. The path to security and dignity for both peoples lies in negotiations that result in two states living side by side in peace and prosperity, and a comprehensive peace in the entire region.+
On the need for more money for the Palestinian Authority:
The Palestinian Authority needs a larger, steadier, and more predictable source of financial support. The United States is proud to be the Palestinian Authority's largest donor. The European Union has stepped up as well. But the broader international community, including many Arab states, can and should provide more financial support. It takes far more than commitments and plans to support making the State of Palestine a reality. And in fact, as the Palestinian economy has increased, the need for future assistance has decreased, but there is still a gap and that gap has to be filled.
On her wish to increase economic activity in Gaza:
Now, we still need many more steps from Israel to enable more economic activity in Gaza, including exports that bolster legitimate business enterprises. Our goal is to support sustainable economic growth in Gaza, and it's a little-known fact that the Palestinian Authority is the principal financial supporter of Gaza. The people in Gaza are dependent upon the Palestinian Authority, which is another reason why the increase in economic activity in the West Bank is not only good for those who live in the West Bank, but those who live in Gaza as well.
On the Obama administration's commitment to seeing it through:
This is not easy. If it were, anybody could have done it already. We've had leaders who have given their lives to this work, and now we have a moment in time that we must seize. I urge you to help lead the way. And I promise you this: The Obama administration will not turn our backs on either the people of Palestine or Israel. We will continue working for and, God willing, achieving the just, lasting, and comprehensive peace that has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy for years.
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who laid down a marker by arguing in Thursday's New York Times that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state now, met with a host of Arab American leaders the night before to explain recent Israeli decisions regarding the peace process and assure them of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to the end goal.
Hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which is led by rumored future U.S. ambassador to Israel, Robert Wexler, Oren responded to questions from a range of groups, including the American Task Force on Palestine, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, the Palestinian Business Committee for Peace and Reform, AMIDEAST, the American Task Force on Lebanon, the El-Bireh Palestine Society, and others.
Here are some excerpts of what Oren said:
On the Israeli attitude to the peace process:
To understand [the Israeli] perspective you need to understand that first of all Israel, and Israelis, have been through a great deal over the course of the last decade, since 2000, certainly... What is extraordinary, I believe, is that in spite of all this upheaval and violence and trauma, that a significant majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution... That's the good news. The less-than-good news is that as a result of all these disappointments and setbacks in violence, many Israelis, a significant majority, almost the same majority that supports a two-state solution, is skeptical about the ability to achieve that solution; skeptical of the Palestinian leadership's willingness to step up and make that historical peace; skeptical of the willingness of the Palestinian people specifically, and of the broader Arab world to accept a permanent and Jewish state in the Middle East; skeptical about an end of violence.
On the current status of the talks:
I won't dissemble the fact, I don't think I could dissemble the fact, that we are at an impasse tonight. We are each in our own corner -- the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Arab League, I think the administration also -- and we're looking for the right bell that will get us out of these corners and get us to the middle but not swinging, talking. And I would be misleading you to indicate in any way that I have the magic formula, that anybody has the magic formula for this. I can only assure you, again, that this government and the Prime Minister are deeply and unequivocally committed to this process.
On Netanyahu's offer to extend the settlement freeze only if Palestinians accept Israel as a "Jewish state":
The situation was created where there was a complete impasse in the talks. The PM felt that with the level of skepticism - that some measure had to be given by the Palestinians that would reassure the Israeli public, the Israeli public that feels they have made concession after concession whether it is recognition of the two state solution, the support from the bottom up, the security in the West Bank-they needed to hear something from the Palestinians that the Palestinians were serious about peace. And the Prime Minister felt that if he had that from the Palestinians-and once again this was only created by the end of the moratorium issue-that he could go to the government and try to persuade them on the extension. He did not.
On the right of return for Palestinian refugees:
We also understand that here is a final status issue, a classic one that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state means that Palestinian refugees will not be resettled there. They will be resettled in the Palestinian state and not in the Jewish statme or in any other state but not in the Jewish state. The demographic integrity of Israel will be preserved. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is not a tactical issue for us. It is the most fundamental issue for us. It's the absolute core of the conflict. It's what created the conflict to begin with.
On the idea of an American plan for Middle East peace:
I don't want to in any way imply that they can quickly reach this without bridging proposals by the U.S. There is a big difference between a bridging proposal and an overarching comprehensive agreement. And our fears relating to an overarching comprehensive agreement -- "this is our American version of peace" -- is that it will not meet our vital security needs, as we were talking about here earlier. And secondly that it could lead to an imposed solution. Because once it's on that table you don't know where it goes or how the tables are going to find itself. It could find itself in an international organization that could say that if the two parties do not accept this proposal they could sanctioned. That's a real fear. And in which that would put us in a very adversarial position.
On why Israel doesn't want to discuss settlements now:
Settlements -- from our perspective -- is a final status issue. It is way down the list of final status issues because settlements from our perspective are a subcategory of borders which are a subcategory of security. And so we are a long way from discussing settlements. By putting them up front, it creates a difficultly -- a political difficulty. And it further augments the skepticism that many Israelis feel about the seriousness of a Palestinian interlocutor if they're making the issue of settlements -- something that the government cannot do right now.
On the Arab Peace Initiative:
The Israeli government welcomes the Arab Peace Initiative. We welcome it as a positive contribution to the peace process. We think it's a single component of a future possible peace. We feel that it's not enough. And that the promise of normalization for withdrawal to the '67 borders would have far greater wave, and have far greater persuasive powers in the Israeli public, if the Arab world was willing to take even the minutest steps towards normalization... Israelis are generally not aware of what is in the Arab Peace Initiative. But they are aware that the Arab world is not taking any steps, even symbolic steps towards normalization. And those steps would have immense impact on Israeli public opinion.
The State Department has been stepping up both its rhetorical and punitive actions against Iran, but the question still remains whether the administration will go as far as to sanction companies based in countries where relations are delicate, especially China.
Last week, the United States announced two steps to increase pressure on Iran: President Obama signed an executive order on Sept. 29 targeting eight Iranian individuals for serious human rights abuses, and the State Department announced on Sept. 30 that it was imposing sanctions on the Switzerland-based Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO) due to its involvement in the Iranian petroleum sector. These actions are based on the Iran sanctions legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last June.
On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China, one in Singapore, and one in the UAE.
There are some positive signs, however, that international pressure is having an effect on companies' willingness to do business in Iran. Several firms -- hailing from Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, India, and the United Kingdom -- told the GAO that they are halting their refined petroleum business with Iran.
But leading senators aren't convinced that the holdouts are planning to follow suit. They are pressing the Obama administration to use the new sanctions law to punish those who won't go along -- especially if they are from China.
"The GAO report released today provides encouraging evidence that the comprehensive sanctions legislation passed by Congress earlier this year is indeed persuading many companies to stop selling gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran. We applaud those firms that have taken this responsible and important step," said Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) joint statement. Lieberman and Collins had requested the GAO report in July.
However, the success of sanctions legislation has only made it "even more imperative" that the Obama administration pressure countries that have maintained their ties in Iran, the senators stated. "We are particularly concerned that the majority of the companies that GAO identifies as still selling gasoline to Iran are in China. We urge the Administration to complete its own investigations swiftly and enforce the sanctions law, comprehensively and aggressively, against any violators," the statement read.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told reporters last week that the State Department was looking at additional firms' business in Iran and would consider more direct sanctions through a two-step process that takes up to 180 days. But he added that the administration was first trying to negotiate with foreign governments to stop the companies' activities in advance of imposing penalties.
"We are following the process outlined in the statute," said Steinberg. "If we find credible evidence [of firms violating the sanctions], then we go to the next stage, which is to conduct an investigation ... and then we would make a decision," Steinberg said.
One of the main concerns on Capitol Hill is that, as countries pull out from Iran, other countries will take over contracts, thereby nullifying the effect of the sanctions and enriching themselves at other countries' expense -- a practice known as "backfilling."
The administration and Congress worked hard to convince Japan and South Korea to impose unilateral measures against Iran, which they did, but there's particular concern that China will simply come in and take over those contracts.
Kyl and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week on this very issue, pointing out reports that China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) replaced the Japanese firm Inpex and agreed to invest around $2 billion to develop Iran's South Azadegan oil fields last year.
"The Administration, by continuing to ignore blatant violations of our sanctions laws by Chinese companies, has undermined our sanctions regime on Iran. It has sent the message to our friends and allies -- many of which have taken the difficult steps to reduce their economic ties with Iran -- that others will be let off the hook," Kyl said Sept. 30.
"If President Obama genuinely believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable, he must stand by those words and apply the authority Congress has given him to punish all who are violating U.S. sanctions laws, particularly China," said Kyl. "Time is of the essence."
Steinberg addressed the issue of backfilling in his briefing, saying that such activity would provoke actions under the sanctions legislation. "We've made clear to all our international partners that we are strongly discouraging substitution. And of course, were there to be substitution that came within the ambit of the act, it would raise questions under the act," he said.
Bob Einhorn¸ State's senior advisor on Iran and North Korea sanctions, is the man responsible for delivering that message and he traveled to Beijing last week to press the Chinese not to undermine the sanctions. It's not clear yet if he was successful.
In a July 29 hearing, Einhorn referenced a previous GAO report that identified 41 foreign firms with a petroleum interest in Iran. "There are a number of entities that are very problematic. I have to say that a number of them have been engaged in sanctionable activity," he said in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.
Complicating matters are the persistent rumors that China may have secured some type of immunity from additional sanctions as part of their agreement to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which established relatively benign sanctions against Iran as punishment for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
Undersecretary of State William Burns said at an Oct. 1 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department had competed an internal review of the companies noted in the GAO report and would make more determinations soon, but he cautioned not to expect too many companies to be singled out for punishment.
"There are probably -- there are a number of cases, less than 10, in which it appears that there may have been violations of the Iran Sanctions Act. Most of those appear to involve activities that have stopped, in other words, involving companies that have pulled out of business in Iran, but there are a couple that appear to be ongoing," he said.
Capitol Hill observers have been encouraged by the administration's recent moves -- but are still not convinced they constitute enough of a commitment to increasing pressure on Iran. Staffers say that the administration's new forceful tone and rhetoric are a marked improvement, even if they are only fulfilling the actions required by the sanctions legislation.
What's clear is that the administration is not yet finished implementing sanctions against firms doing business with Iran, and Congress will be pressing it not to back down from punishing companies from countries that may take retaliatory measures.
"Many in Congress are worried that the administration will fall for Iran's latest bid to buy a reprieve from sanctions by appearing interested in negotiations," said one senior GOP senate aide. "Congress will not let up on the pressure on the administration to go after Iran and those who are supporting it, namely, the Chinese."
The U.S. government is working furiously to counter a plot to attack several European public targets, CIA chief Leon Panetta told the head of Pakistan's intelligence community Wednesday.
The plot, to attack multiple public targets in several European capitals, was slated to occur in late November, according to Panetta. After capturing one of the prospective attackers en route from Pakistan's FATA region, the U.S. government authorized the CIA to step up drone strikes inside Pakistan to unprecedented levels while working with various allied governments to kill or capture the two to three dozen militants reportedly preparing for the operation.
The strikes being planned focus on soft targets, such as tourist attractions and public meeting spaces. No targets were believed to be in the United States, although the targets could very well have American citizens present.
Panetta, traveling in Islamabad, met with Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Wednesday to brief him on what American intelligence services have discovered about a series of Mumbai-style attacks planned by al Qaeda in cooperation with Pakistan's Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military group responsible for the devastating attacks in India in November 2008.
The Cable received a read-out from a high-level source who was briefed directly on the Panetta-Pasha meeting. The CIA is asking Pakistan to allow expanded permissions to increase the intensity of drone strikes inside Pakistan -- which are already at record levels --and allow greater access for U.S. and associated forces operating inside Pakistan.
According to The Cable's source, Panetta told Pasha that the U.S. already has in custody one of the alleged attackers, a German citizen of Pakistani origin named Siddiqui. He was captured leaving Pakistan's FATA region and is now currently being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.
The attacks were planned for late November and allied intelligence agencies are employing all resources at their disposal to round up the rest of the perpetrators, with the understanding that the threat has not yet been neutralized.
"Unless you have killed or captured all 24 to 36 operatives, how can you be sure the plot is foiled?" the source said.
According to the source briefed on the Panetta-Pasha meeting, there were no targets inside the United States for the plot, but the high-value European targets that were reportedly on the list of sites to be attacked could very well have American citizens present.
European governments have already been taking precautionary measures. The Eiffel Tower was evacuated for the second time Tuesday and the U.K. government is holding its official threat warning level at "severe," the second highest level, which means that "a terrorist attack is highly likely."
Panetta told Pasha that the drone strikes will escalate further in the coming days and pressed him for information that might aid the search and increased access to Pakistani intelligence data on the groups involved.
Pasha, in turn, asked Panetta for any remaining intelligence the U.S. is holding on the groups and individuals it was targeting. Pasha wants the ISI to be in the loop on any related CIA operations. The tone of the meeting was friendly, but extremely tense, the source said.
The Pakistani government is cooperating fully with the CIA, but concerns linger that elements not completely under the government's control may still be holding out, protecting friends in and allegiances with groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The crisis couldn't come at a worse time for the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has been under increasing attack by elements in the Pakistani military and the ISI, who have been pressing for his ouster and using elements within the media and judiciary to bolster their cause.
Pasha, as well as Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is said to be working with the civilian government on the imminent threat. But simultaneously, elements of the military and intelligence services are increasing their behind-the-scenes opposition to the Zardari government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to comment on the specifics of the threat Wednesday after meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Washington.
"Now with regard to the intelligence reports of threats, we are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical in protecting the United States and our allies," Clinton said.
"As we have repeatedly said, we know that al-Qaida and its network of terrorists wishes to attack both European and U.S. targets. We continue to work very closely with our European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including the role that al-Qaida continues to play."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision not to sell advanced weaponry to Iran is being hailed as a dividend of the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia. And although the administration didn't expressly offer the Kremlin a quid pro quo for the reversal, Moscow will expect moves by Washington in return as it cautiously moves to grasp Obama's outstretched hand.
Both the Obama and Bush administrations implored the Kremlin not to follow through with their 2006 signed agreement to sell almost $1 billion worth of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, and on Wednesday, Medvedev formally announced the sale will not go through.
Top Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Soviet dissident turned Israeli parliamentarian Natan Sharansky, reacted with disappointment Wednesday to comments by former President Bill Clinton casting Israel's Russian immigrant population as an obstacle to the Middle East peace process. Sharansky even accused Clinton of inappropriately trafficking in ethnic stereotypes about Israelis.
"If the reports of President Clinton's comments are accurate, I am particularly disappointed by the president's casual use of inappropriate stereotypes about Israelis, dividing their views on peace based on ethnic origins. I must add that these are uncharacteristic comments from a man who has always been a sensitive and thoughtful listener and conversation partner," said Sharansky, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
As reported first by The Cable, Clinton identified the Russian community as the ethnic group inside Israel least amenable to a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. The former president, speaking in a roundtable with reporters Monday in New York, also suggested that because Russian and settlers' offspring comprised an increasing proportion of the Israel Defense Forces, forcibly removing settlers from the West Bank as part of a peace deal might be more difficult.
"An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem," Clinton said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also reacted strongly Wednesday, calling Clinton's comments "distressing," according to the Israeli news wire Ynet.
"As a friend of Israel, Clinton should know that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed and are making a great contribution to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel. Only a strong Israel can establish solid and safe peace," Netanyahu reportedly said.
Sharansky also denied that he participated in a conversation with Clinton years ago where he used his Russian identity as a reason to oppose a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians.
On Monday, Clinton recalled a conversation, telling reporters that Sharansky said, "I can't vote for this, I'm Russian... I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you."
Sharanksy responded Wednesday: "I was never at Camp David and never had the opportunity to discuss the negotiations there with President Clinton. It may be that he had in mind our conversations at Wye Plantation years before, where I expressed my serious doubts, given the dictatorial nature of the PA regime, whether Mr. Arafat would be willing to bring freedom to his people, an essential element of a sustainable peace," said Sharansky. "History has shown that these concerns were justified."
The Cable reported that Clinton was referring to Sharansky's opposition to the 2000 Camp David accords but, after reviewing the transcript, it was clear that Clinton was referring to discussions he had with Sharansky during negotiations over the 1998 Wye River Memorandum.
Yisrael Beitenu, an Israeli political party whose supporters are made up of mostly Russian immigrants, called Clinton's comments "crude generalizations." Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, one of the leaders of the party, said that nobody should attempt to divide Israeli groups in such a way.
"The immigrants of Russia contributed to the development of the state of Israel in every field, including science, culture, sports, economy and defense. This year, the entire country is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Russian aliyah. This shows that the Israeli people are united," the Jerusalem Post reported her saying.
Not all Israeli leaders were upset. Coalition Chairman and Russian immigrant Zeev Elken praised Clinton's remarks. "I am proud of former President Clinton's distinctions. He made the right distinction that the Russian speakers and settlers have been carrying the Zionism banner in the State of Israel in recent years," he told Ynet.
Clinton's staff did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
President Obama will unveil his administration's new overarching strategy on global development Wednesday in a speech at the United Nations.
"Today, I am announcing our new U.S. Global Development Policy -- the first of its kind by an American administration," Obama will say, according to prepared remarks. "It's rooted in America's enduring commitment to the dignity and potential of every human being. And it outlines our new approach and the new thinking that will guide our overall development efforts."
The president's speech will place global development in the context of his National Security Strategy released in May, which emphasizes the interconnected relationship of security, economics, trade, and health.
"My national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative," Obama will say. "We've reengaged with multilateral development institutions. And we're rebuilding the United States Agency for International Development as the world's premier development agency. In short, we're making sure that the United States will be a global leader in international development in the 21st century."
The White House was busy laying the groundwork in advance of the president's speech, touting the highlights of what it calls the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD). A fact sheet provided to reporters laid out the basic ideas of the U.S. strategy, which includes a focus on sustainable outcomes, placing a premium on economic growth, using technological advances to their maximum advantage, being more selective about where to focus efforts, and holding all projects accountable for results.
The White House will not release the full text of this initiative, which was previously known as the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7).
On some specific items of contention, the White House has decided that USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will not have a permanent seat on the National Security Council, as many in the development community wanted. However, he will be invited to attend its meetings when issues affecting his work are being discussed.
An executive-level Development Policy Committee will be created to oversee all interagency development policy efforts, as was outlined in a leaked copy of a previous draft of the new policy. There will also be a mandated once-every-four-years review of global development strategy, which will be sent to the president.
Obama announced the new policy during the U.N.'s conference on the Millennium Development Goals. "The real significance here is the fact that the President chose to unveil this at the U.N. and in the context of the MDGs," said Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation. "[I]t shows how closely the administration wants to work with the U.N. and U.N. agencies in implementing them."
Development community leaders reacted to the new policy with cautious optimism and a hope that implementation would go as planned.
"President Obama has delivered a big victory for the world's poor, our national interests, and the movement to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective," said George Ingram, a former senior official at USAID and current co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. "Now the tough task of implementation begins, and we are ready to work with the Administration to ensure that key reform principles are applied and codified in law, because that is the real way to make this policy one of the President's great legacies."
Deputy National Security Advisor for international economics Michael Froman, in a Friday conference call with reporters, defended the White House's decision not to release the entire PPD. "It's general policy that we can release a detailed summary of it, but as I understand it the policy is not to release the PPD themselves," he said.
Development community leaders were nonetheless disappointed.
"We understand that NSC documents like this aren't normally released in full, but there are pitfalls in this approach," said Greg Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America. "The Administration should make sure that enough gets out to not only provide the American people with a clear rationale for the new approach, but also make sure that our partners around the world understand how we plan to change the way we work with them."
On a Thursday conference call with development community leaders to preview the release, one senior administration official mentioned your humble Cable guy while requesting anonymity and asking the participants to hold the information close.
"I know that with this group it's a little unusual to do calls on background and embargoed... not that I think anybody on this line has ever talked to Josh Rogin," the official said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.