Vice President Joe Biden is on a tour of Europe that will include stops in Germany, France, and Britain and meetings with leaders from Russia, the United Nations, and the Syrian opposition.
The White House is framing the trip as chance for Biden to reassert the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship at the beginning of President Barack Obama's second term. Biden will start by attending the Munich Security Conference, which he last attended in 2009.
"Now he's going back at the start of the second [term]... to take stock of what we've accomplished over the past four years and to look at the agenda going forward," said Tony Blinken, Biden's outgoing national security advisor, who will soon move into his new role as the principal deputy national security advisor at the National Security Council. "It's no coincidence that the vice president went to Europe then and returns to Europe now to help set out our foreign-policy agenda. As President Obama has said, Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst for global cooperation."
Biden left Washington Thursday evening and arrived in Berlin Friday morning for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Friday evening he arrives in Munich, where he will give a speech and hold a series of meetings on Saturday. Biden will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, and with Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian opposition council.
"We'll be discussing our continued political and non-lethal support to the opposition that is helping them coalesce and become more organized and provide certain services like medical services to the Syrian people," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. "And we'll be discussing the political way forward. And what we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgement that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government."
Rhodes also confirmed that Biden and Lavrov will discuss the potential for new nuclear reductions negotiations, as The Cable reported this week.
"On this question of further reductions, the president has spoken to this in the past. For instance, if you look at the speech he gave in Seoul in the spring of last year, he indicated that even as we move forward with the New START reductions and deployed warheads and launchers, that he believes that there's room to explore the potential for continued reductions, and that, of course, the best way to do so is in a discussion with Russia," said Rhodes. "We'll obviously have to carry forward that dialogue going forward."
Saturday evening, Biden will attend Bavarian minister Horst Seehofer's dinner, which honors former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. At last year's Munich Security Conference, the dinner honored former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
On Sunday, Biden and his wife will visit the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before leaving for Paris later Sunday afternoon. On Monday Biden will meet French President François Hollande before moving on to London, where on Tuesday he will meet with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron for a working lunch at 10 Downing Street. Following lunch, Biden will attend a meeting of Britain's National Security Council.
Blinken said that in his Paris and London stops, Biden will be discussing the ongoing crisis in Mali and ways to increase the ongoing U.S. support for the French-led mission there.
"What we're seeing across North Africa and parts of the Middle East is an extremist threat that is fueled by the reality of porous borders, ungoverned territory, too readily available weapons, increasing collaboration among some of these groups, and, in many cases, a new government that lacks the capacity and sometimes the will to deal with the problem," Blinken said.
"And so this requires a comprehensive approach, as Ben said, bringing to bear our political and economic tools, as well as our military tools, but it also requires a common approach. And so this trip is an opportunity, in all of its stops, for the vice president to confer with leaders about that and to look forward to how we can continue to work together and strengthen our common efforts to deal with this challenge."
Siding with the Brits in their escalating feud with Ecuador about the status of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the State Department declared today that the United States does not believe in the concept of ‘diplomatic asylum' as a matter of international law.
Ecuador dragged Britain into an emergency meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States Friday at OAS headquarters in Washington, calling for a foreign ministers' meeting following the British threat to go into the Ecuadoran embassy in London and get Assange, who is wanted for questioning in connection with sexual assault charges in Sweden.
Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday, but today the State Department said the United States doesn't agree that such a thing exists.
"The United States is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law," the office of Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a Friday statement. "We believe this is a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the United Kingdom and that the OAS has no role to play in this matter."
That statement is a shift from the stance the State Department took yesterday, when Nuland said that Washington would stay out of the dispute and that the American position was that the Brits were making decisions based on British, not international law.
"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes," Nuland said Thursday. "It is an issue among the countries involved and we're not planning to interject ourselves."
The United States can only formally grant asylum to political figures once they actually are on U.S. soil, as dictated by the Refugee Act of 1980. But the U.S. has a long record of protecting political targets inside U.S. embassy complexes, most recently with Chinese blind dissident Chen Guangcheng last December.
That might seem like a distinction without a difference to many. However, Chen never sought or was granted asylum; he simply asked to study in the United States and the Chinese government eventually assented.
In 1989, the U.S. granted "temporary refuge" to Feng Lizhi, a leader of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, who fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and stayed there for 384 days before Chinese authorities allowed him to go to the United States, but officially only for "medical treatment."
Joseph Stalin's daughter Svetlana sought refuge in 1967 via the U.S. Embassy in India and was eventually granted U.S. citizenship.
The war of words between Britain and Ecuador escalated Thursday over the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but the State Department said the United States is staying out of it.
Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday as the WikiLeaks founder continues to hole up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has been since June avoiding extradition to Sweden for questioning related to allegations of sexual assault. Earlier this week, the British government affirmed its right to go into the embassy and get Assange, provoking a harsh diplomatic response from the Ecuadoran government.
"The United Kingdom does not recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters Thursday. "There is no ... threat here to storm the embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that he fears if Assange is sent to Sweden he could then be sent on to the United States, where he would not be able to receive a fair trial. Patino called Assange an enemy of the "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism."
In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday that the U.S. government takes no position on the extradition of Assange to Sweden and that the United States is not involved in the issue at the diplomatic level.
"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes," said Nuland. "It is an issue among the countries involved and we're not planning to interject ourselves."
Nor has the United States gotten involved on the issue of Assange's current location or where he might end up, Nuland said. She declined to say if the United States supported the British position that it does not recognize the principle of political asylum in the first place.
Reporters at the briefing pointed out that the U.S. has invoked the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in the past, which states, "The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enterthem, except with the consent of the head of the mission." But Nuland declined to get into that issue, saying only that the Brits were invoking British law in this case.
"Well, if you're asking me for a global legal answer to the question. I'll have to take it and consult 4,000 lawyers," Nuland said. "With regard to the decision that the Brits are making or the statement that they made, our understanding was that they were leaning on British law in the assertions that they made with regard to future plans, not on international law."
Pressed on whether or not the United States has been involved in the Assange extradition in any way, Nuland said not as far as she knows. She added that she doesn't think the Justice Department was planning on charging him with anything anyway.
"My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this," she said. "But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely."
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The House will not take up a trade bill with Russia or a bill to sanction Russian human rights offenders before leaving for August recess and probably not until after the November elections, key lawmakers say.
The House will adjourn this week without even trying to pass the bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) or the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability Act of 2012, named after the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after allegedly being tortured. Both bills have passed out of Senate committees after considerable wrangling, and the PNTR bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee last week.
But House leaders have decided there just isn't enough time to bring them to the floor this week before lawmakers leave town for a five-week recess, and now the accusations are flying over why U.S. businesses will not be in a position to take advantage when Russia officially joins the WTO later this month.
House Ways and Means Committee ranking Democrat Sander Levin (D-MI) said that the House Republicans just couldn't get their caucus to agree on passing a Russia trade bill in the current political environment because of the misconception that the bill would be a gift to Russia and due to anger over Russia's behavior in Syria.
"The GOP leadership has made the firm decisions [not to take up both bills]," Levin told The Cable in an interview Tuesday evening.
There was a bipartisan effort to strengthen oversight of the trade bill, and there was always an understanding that the House would have to pass the Magnitsky Act in conjunction with the PNTR bill. But top Republicans just couldn't come up with the votes in their own caucus to get it done, Levin said, so they decided not to try.
"There were problems within the Republican conference," he said. "Russia is going into the WTO anyway and now we won't have those enforcement mechanisms. American businesses and workers will be disadvantaged."
Levin said the House could take up both bills in September, but there are only a handful of legislative days in that session before Congress goes home to campaign, so there's little likelihood the bills can get done then.
"Essentially, the Republicans are putting it off until after the election," Levin said.
Republicans, meanwhile, blame the Obama administration for the delay.
Michael Steele, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), told The Cable Tuesday evening that the administration failed to do the spade work on Capitol Hill to lobby for the trade bill.
"We were waiting for the administration to get engaged on something they said they supported," said Steele. "They have to do something to build support among members to move this."
"They're just looking for a rationale for their inability to come to a conclusion," Levin responded.
One key actor in this dispute is House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who never supported the trade bill and was engaged in a negotiation over the Magnitsky Act. The House version of the Magnitsky bill applied only to Russia, while the Senate version, which the administration favored, was broadened to apply to all countries with human rights violators.
"I oppose granting PNTR for Russia because it would be yet another concession to a regime that abuses the human rights of its citizens and undermines U.S. interests around the globe," Ros-Lehtinen told The Cable. "Whether or not the PNTR bill is considered, it is important that the House pass the Magnitsky human rights legislation in order to hold Russia accountable for its shameful actions."
There was a lot of scrambling on Capitol Hill late last week to try to work out a deal to move both bills before the recess. Some proposed adding a resolution in support of Georgia to help nervous Republicans feel better about passing the trade bill.
But those negotiations ultimately petered out.
"A deal was never seriously in the works and the bill realistically had no chance of going forward. The clock just ran out. The votes were just never there," one senior House staffer said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the main sponsor of the Magnitsky bill in the Senate, told The Cable he was frustrated by the delay but unable to do anything about it.
"We delay the impact of WTO for American companies and we delay an important human rights bill," he said. "But I can't control the House."
For the human rights community, the delay hurts American credibility and effectiveness in dealing with Russia.
"The administration has not done a good job in pushing PNTR, and its continued opposition to Magnitsky has severely complicated the problem," said Freedom House President David Kramer. "The Congress needs to send a strong message that gross human rights abuses in Russia such as the murder of Sergei Magnitsky will incur real consequences. I worry that Putin will interpret this delay as a victory."
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa through August 10. Wednesday, the Secretary met with Senegal President Macky Sall in Dakar. She is accompanied by Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, Assistnat Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, and Counselor and Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.
Mitt Romney's foreign trip showed that he can't handle sensitive diplomatic situations, can't even handle relationships with friendly countries, and therefore is failing the commander-in-chief test, according to Obama campaign representatives Robert Gibbs and Colin Kahl.
"He offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region in the world. He certainly didn't prove to anyone that he passed the commander in chief test," said Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Gibbs said the Romney campaign set extremely low expectations for the trip -- and then didn't even meet those expectations. The former Massachusetts governor did not visit any warzones or meet with any U.S. troops, Gibbs observed, as then Senator Barack Obama did when campaigning in 2008.
"Many were surprised that Mitt Romney did not take the opportunity to meet with any members of our armed forces on this trip," said Gibbs.
Gibbs also noted that Romney only took three questions from the reporters traveling with him, sparking frustration between the Romney campaign and the press corps that boiled over with profane comments from one of Romney's aides to reporters in Poland. Obama took 25 questions on his campaign trip abroad, Gibbs said.
"He repeatedly took a pass on explaining his views on foreign policy to the American people," Gibbs said. "Romney's auditioning to be the leader of the free world and it's clear he is unable to represent America on the world stage."
Kahl, who served in the Obama administration for three years as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said that Romney's suggestion that London was not ready to host the Olympics was an unforced error.
"The trip was supposed to be an easy one for Governor Romney, but he couldn't even handle the low bar that his campaign set for him," said Kahl. "If Romney can't handle the special relationship with Great Britain on the eve of the Olympic Games, how can he handle our enemies?"
Kahl said that Romney's trip was devoid of specific policy proposals and that Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama's foreign policy without spelling out exactly what he would do differently.
"The world got to see what it would be like if Mitt Romney was in charge of American foreign policy and it's not a sight they will forget any time soon," said Kahl. "This trip casts serious doubt as to whether Governor Romney has the ability to handle the job."
Gibbs and Kahl also criticized Romney for intimating that culture had something to do with the disparity of wealth between in Israel and the Palestinian territories, comments described as racist by several Palestinian leaders.
"You have to choose your words very, very carefully and Governor Romney just didn't do that," said Kahl. "
"It's up to Governor Romney to explain why those comments would be helpful to resolving the conflict in the Middle East."
Kahl also defended the Obama administration's reluctance to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there, as Romney promised to do when he was in the Jewish state.
Kahl said that the current policy that the status of Jerusalem is an issue to be negotiated between the two parties represents bipartisan consensus going back decades.
"[Romney] disagreed with past democratic administrations like Bill Clinton's and past Republican administrations like Ronald Reagan's," Kahl said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Romney surrogate and rumored candidate to be Romney's running mate, defended the former governor's comments on culture and wealth in a brief interview Tuesday with The Cable.
"I think that certainly you look at the success of some countries and you wonder why are some nations that are right next door to other nations and more successful. I think America has benefited from being a melting pot of cultures," Rubio said. "There's no way you look at Israel and not marvel at what they have accomplished -- their commitment to democracy, their commitment to free enterprise, their commitment to upward mobility -- and I think you find a lot of that in their culture, absolutely."
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Governments worldwide restricted religious freedom in 2011 through the implementation of blasphemy laws and legislation that favored state-sanctioned groups, while religious minorities who experienced political and demographic transitions tended to suffer the most, stated the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report, which was released Monday.
"Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a speech Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "When it comes to this human right ... the world is sliding backwards."
The report highlighted the deteriorating situation in China, whose government continued to increase restrictions on religious practice for Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas. This repression resulted in "at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans" last year, a trend that Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay emphasized in a recent interview with The Cable. The Chinese government also cracked down on Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and religious groups unaffiliated with China's official state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations," particularly Christian house churches.
Other designated "Countries of Particular Concern" included Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Burma, also known as Myanmar. According to the report, Burma eased some restrictions on religious freedom, though it continued to "monitor the meetings and activities of all organizations, including religious organizations, and required religious groups to seek permission from authorities before holding any large public events." The Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, which the Burmese government refuses to recognize as citizens, were especially targeted.
In Egypt, where the population democratically elected an Islamist government, the country's post-Mubarak transition remains tenuous, as Coptic Christians still face persecution. On October 9, for example, hundreds of demonstrators -- mostly Copts -- were attacked by Egyptian security forces in the Maspiro area of Cairo.
"Now, I am concerned that respect for religious freedom is quite tenuous, and I don't know if that's going to quickly be resolved, but since 2011 and the fall of the Mubarak regime, sectarian violence has increased," Clinton said. "We don't think that there's been a consistent commitment to investigate and apply the laws."
Regarding recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook said during a briefing Monday that the U.S. government expects him follow through on his commitment to religious freedom and diversity.
"President Morsi has said publicly that in his new government, he will include Coptic Christians, secular citizens, and a woman," she said. "So we are looking for him to follow through on what his promise was."
The new government in Libya, which stopped enforcing Ghaddafi-era laws that restricted religious freedom and institutionalized the free practice of religion in its interim constitution, was cited as a case of tangible success.
"They [the Libyan government] have come to believe that the best way to deal with offensive speech is not to ban it, but to counter it with speech that reveals the lies," the Secretary said.
Another trend on the rise in 2011 was global anti-Semitism, fueled by anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt, Holocaust denial in Iran, the desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries and France, and the openly anti-Semitic and nationalistic Jobbik party in Hungary.
Deputy Secretary Bill Burns discussed the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship and opportunities for international cooperation with Mexican government officials Sunday in Mexico City. Today Burns is in Bogota, Colombia, to lead the U.S. delegation in the third round of the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue, where he will be joined by Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Affairs Carlos Pascual, and Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez. Discussions will cover democracy, human rights, energy, economic opportunities, climate change, culture and education, and science and technology.
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon is traveling to Greece and Turkey until July 31. In Athens, he will discuss economic reforms and foreign policy issues with senior government officials, political party leaders, and members of the business and think tank communities. On July 29, he will arrive in Istanbul, where he will meet with senior Turkish government officials to discuss various bilateral and global issues.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak at the second annual Global Diaspora Forum in Washington, which will focus on how the U.S. government and diaspora communities are partnering to further investment and trade, philanthropy, volunteerism, and social innovation around the world. She will also meet with World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic Miroslav Lajcak.
Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Tom Countryman is in New York for the final week of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Conference, which ends Friday. Conventional arms trading is estimated to be worth more than $70 billion a year, and the conference is still behind schedule. According to AFP, discussions are still hindered by disagreements between the main powers and a "small but determined minority of states who oppose the treaty."
In a rare moment amid a presidential campaign more often focused on bread-and-butter issues like jobs, economic growth, and deficit spending, the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney teams are ramping up their foreign-policy messaging this week as the former Massachusetts governor sets off for a major trip abroad.
In what has become a new ritual of American politics, both candidates will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno this week.
Ahead of Obama's Monday afternoon visit there, the president's campaign released a new video touting his administration's treatment of veterans and the president's moves to complete the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq last year.
Romney will speak to the conference on Tuesday before heading off on a three-nation foreign trip. On July 25, Obama surrogate and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy will square off with Romney advisor Rich Williamson, George W. Bush's envoy to Sudan, in a debate at the Brookings Institution.
Earlier Monday, Flournoy and Colin Kahl, another former defense official, held a conference call with reporters, during which Kahl pledged that Obama would visit Israel in his second term if he is re-elected.
Kahl's pledge comes in response to the Romney camp's criticism that the president has been a fickle ally of Israel, a critique the GOP candidate is looking to exploit during his upcoming stop in Jerusalem.
After Romney speaks to the VFW Tuesday, he heads off that evening to London to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and meet with British officials. Romney then goes on to Israel and Poland before returning to the United States.
On their own conference call with reporters, several Romney policy advisors emphasized that Romney will not be criticizing Obama's foreign policy on the trip.
"This trip is really an opportunity for the governor to learn and listen," said Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign's policy director. "There are a number of challenges the world is facing today and this is an opportunity for him to visit three countries that each have a strong and important relationship with the U.S."
"So this trip demonstrates Governor Romney's belief in the worth and necessity of standing with our allies and locking arms with our allies," said Chen. "Each of these nations shares our love of liberty as well as our fortitude to defend it. They are each pillars of liberty and have fought through periods where liberty was under siege. This trip is an opportunity for us to demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with those nations that share our values."
The Obama campaign set his own marker for Romney's trip.
"He'll need to prove to the American people that he sees foreign-policy issues as worthy of substantive discussion rather than just generalities and sound bites in this campaign," said Obama senior advisor Robert Gibbs Monday. "This trip and this campaign begs several questions and I think Mitt Romney owes it to the American people to say where he stands on these important issues as he's trying out to be leader of the free world."
In London, Romney will meet with the leaders of the British government and opposition, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Minister William Hague, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg, and former prime minister Tony Blair.
In Israel, Romney will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Perez, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
This will be Romney's forth trip to Israel. He made a family trip there in the late 1990s and then visited in January 2007 and gave a speech at the annual Herzliya conference. In January 2011, Romney visited Israel as part of a three-nation trip that also included stops in Afghanistan and Jordan.
Romney is visiting Poland at the invitation of former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and he will also meet with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. He will also visit Polish sites of historical significance, his advisors said.
In Poland, Romney will thank Poland for its commitments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and tout Poland's relative economic success during the European fiscal crisis.
"This is a country that stands in sharp contrast economically to the rest of Europe... and Poland's success is rooted in its commitment to the principles of free market economies and capitalism," said Romney advisor Ian Brzezinski.
Although Romney will hold public events at all three stops, don't expect any big policy speeches or attacks on the administration's international actions.
"This trip is solely an opportunity to listen and the contrasts will be kept here in the States," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Political Affairs Tara Sonenshine, and Ambassador-At-Large and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby will also attend the conference of 20,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries. With the theme of "Turning the Tide Together," AIDS 2012 aims to increase global awareness through convening a group of scientific experts, community leaders, and policy leaders.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi, and discussed issues including Agent Orange, soldiers missing in action, and deepening cultural and economic bilateral ties with Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. "The United States greatly appreciates Vietnam's contributions to a collaborative, diplomatic resolution of disputes and a reduction of tensions in the South China Sea," said the secretary, who is accompanied by Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Robert Hormats, Chief of Protocol Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan. Tomorrow Clinton will arrive in Vientiane, Laos, for meetings with Prime Minister Thonsing Thammavong and other senior government officials, making her the first secretary of state to visit the country in 57 years.
In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Monday with President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold, spoke at the Community of Democracies Governing Council and the International Women's Leadership Forum, and participated in the Leaders Engaged in New Democracies Network launch. Clinton praised post-Soviet Mongolia as a democratic model for Asia, calling it "an inspiration and a model" that stands "in stark contrast to those governments that continue to resist reforms" -- a none-too-subtle dig at neighboring China. Although Mongolia held parliamentary elections on June 28, the results are still being disputed as no major party was able to form a government.
Secretary Clinton, who is accompanied by Chief of Protocol Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer, and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, will travel next to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with senior Vietnamese leaders.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Paris with Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, where she participated Friday in the third meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People group, an international forum attempting to end Syria's 16 months of violent conflict. Clinton called on member countries to "demand implementation" of the Annan plan, impose "real and immediate consequences" for non-compliance, and make it clear that Russia and China will "pay a price" for "standing up on behalf of the Assad regime."
She also met with Syrian opposition leaders, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and President François Hollande. Her discussion with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas focused on Israeli and Palestinian "efforts to pursue a dialogue." On July 8, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador-At-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer will attend the Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo, where donors are "expected to pledge a total of $35 billion in development aid through 2015," according to Agence France Presse. For details on the rest of Clinton's trip to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, check out yesterday's Cable preview.
Assistant Secretary Gordon will also travel to Croatia, Serbia, Kosvo, and Cyprus, to attend the Croatia Summit, meet with senior government officials, and work with EU partners.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Latvian president Andris Berzins, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, and Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics in Riga. She will depart for St. Petersburg later today to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's Women and the Economy Forum with Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and hold a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Clinton is accompanied by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan. She then heads to Geneva for an emergency meeting on Syria.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomoja in Helsinki to discuss issues including Russia, energy and the environment, and women in Afghanistan. Clinton, who is accompanied by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, also attended a Climate and Clean Air Coalition event and toured the Marimekko Factory and Design Space. Next stop: Riga, Latvia.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departs today for Europe, where she will travel to Finland, Latvia, and Russia through June 30. Tomorrow, Clinton will hold bilateral meetings with senior Finnish officials in Helsinki to discuss foreign-policy issues including Syria, Iran, and the European economy. On June 28, Clinton will travel to Riga to meet with senior Latvian officials about NATO missions and the country's economic recovery. From there, the secretary will go to St. Petersburg, where she will lead the U.S. delegation to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's Women and the Economy Forum. Clinton, who is accompanied by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, is also scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and civil society leaders.
Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Rick Barton is in Central America through June 29, where he will travel to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to meet with embassy partners and key stakeholders about issues related to the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), such as violence, corruption, human rights, and criminal organizations. The U.S. has allocated $260 million to CARSI as the proliferation of narcotics, weapons, and gangs has destabilized the region's local and national governments.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan will depart for Rio de Janiero, Brazil, this afternoon to attend the Rio+20 sustainability summit. Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Kerri-Ann Jones, also in Rio de Janeiro for the conference, is slated to participate in a USAID panel about women and natural resources. Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs Reta Jo Lewis is scheduled to meet with the deputy mayor of Jerusalem Naomi Tsur and attend the Rio+20 plenary session.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Mike Hammer are in Moscow for the final day of P5+1 talks with Iran. The talks "broke no new ground" as of Monday evening, the New York Times reported, and sanctions imposed on Iranian oil by the United States and the European Union are set to begin in July. One Iranian diplomat described Monday's atmosphere as "not positive at all," and many consider the talks deadlocked, but Tehran is reportedly willing to discuss the production of high-grade uranium, which the six powers want to negotiate down to a lower level of purity.
This weekend's NATO summit in Chicago is the first in decades to make little to no progress on the enlargement of the organization, leaving several countries to wait another two years to move toward membership in the world's premier military alliance.
In the official 65-point summit declaration issued Sunday, there were several references to the four countries vying for progress on their road to NATO membership: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Georgia. But none came away from the summit with any tangible progress to tout back at home. NATO expansion was just not a priority of the Obama administration this year, U.S. officials and experts say, given the packed security-focused agenda and looming uncertainly caused by the deepening European financial crisis.
The 28 NATO foreign ministers did meet with leaders of the four "aspirant" countries, and the declaration praised those countries' contributions to NATO missions, but offered them little more than polite thanks.
"We are grateful to these partners that aspire to NATO membership for the important contributions they are making to NATO-led operations, and which demonstrate their commitment to our shared security goals," the declaration said.
"We're caught in this halfway place of ‘the door is open,' but it feels as if there's no political will or energy to make it happen," said Heather Conley, senior fellow and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "NATO enlargement has always been about strong American leadership, but this has not been a top priority for this administration."
Each would-be NATO member has its own roadblocks to membership. Bosnia still has some constitutional reforms to enact before it can be eligible. Georgia, recently named an "aspirant" NATO member, has its bid tied up by the Russian occupation of two of its territories. Montenegro has been granted its NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), the final step before membership. But Macedonia, which was granted MAP status way back in 1999, can't join NATO because Greece is still demanding that the Republic of Macedonia change its name.
There was a concerted effort in Washington in the lead up to the summit to push for a resolution to the Macedonia name dispute, but to no avail. Last month, 54 members of Congress wrote to President Barack Obama to ask him to break the logjam. Obama's own former National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, wrote an op-ed May 18 urging the president to do more on enlargement.
"The alliance's enlargement has been a priority at each major meeting of NATO heads of state since the fall of the Berlin Wall," Jones wrote. "This weekend, when NATO leaders convene in Chicago, enlargement may be swept under the rug in deference to other topics of concern. That would be a blow to stability in the Balkans and to the Republic of Macedonia in particular."
Just before the summit began, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, with former Defense Secretaries William Cohen and Donald Rumfeld, wrote a letter to the president urging him to break the impasse over Macedonia's membership or risk alienating European countries in transition that want to look to the West.
"Today, NATO is at a crossroads. As defense spending among NATO members falls, new aspirant nations in Southeastern Europe will provide needed manpower and resources to the Alliance. And while the region has made steady progress since the conflicts of the 1990s, stability in the Balkans cannot be taken for granted," they wrote. "We cannot afford to send mixed messages to those nations that are willing to stand up and be counted."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), came to the defense of Georgia's membership aspirations last week. In an op-ed in The Hill she argued for enlargement and called in a separate statement for progress on Georgia's bid.
"Georgia's security and sovereignty is critical to U.S. interests in the region. Georgia was invaded by Russian forces in 2008, and large portions of its territory remain under Russian occupation," she said. "I strongly urge our Administration to work with our allies at the NATO Summit in Chicago later this month to ensure that Georgia becomes a full member of the Alliance as soon as possible."
Conley pointed to the Serbian elections this weekend, where Serbians chose an ultra-nationalist known as "Toma the Gravedigger" to be their president, as evidence that these countries could slip back toward authoritarianism if not given full support and inclusion by Western organizations.
"If we let this agenda lapse, we may not like what we see in the future," she warned.
There is no formal planning going on inside NATO to prepare for defending Turkey from the violence spilling over from Syria, even though Turkey is considering whether to formally invoke NATO's chapters on collective defense, a top Obama administration official said Monday.
"Our Supreme Allied Commander [Adm. James Stavridis] can do a certain amount of planning... but there has been no formal tasking and there has been no formal request by the Turks for consultations in an Article 4 or Article 5 scenario," said Liz Sherwood-Randall, the National Security Council's senior director for Europe, in remarks Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu briefed his foreign minister and defense minister counterparts on Syria at a high level meeting in Brussels this month, and reports said that Davotoglu discussed at length a cross border attack by Syrian forces on a refugee camp inside Turkey that killed two. Davotoglu is also reported to have said the Syrian regime has "abused a chance offered by the Annan plan."
The Obama administration also believes that the Annan plan "is failing," is currently searching for a "plan B" in Syria, and is preparing military related options in case diplomacy breaks down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that NATO might have to get involved earlier this month, during a ministerial meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Paris.
"Turkey already has discussed with NATO, during our ministerial meetings over the last two days, the burden of Syrian refugees on Turkey, the outrageous shelling across the border from Syria into Turkey a week ago, and that Turkey is considering formally invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty," Clinton said.
When NATO countries meet for their summit in Chicago this May, four countries will be vying for membership in the transatlantic alliance. For the small Balkan country of Macedonia, the only thing holding it back is its name.
Bosnia still has some constitutional reforms to enact before it can be eligible for NATO membership. Georgia, recent named an "aspirant" NATO member, has its bid tied up by the Russian occupation of two of its territories. Montenegro has been granted its NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), the final step before membership, and is moving towards accession at a steady pace. But for Macedonia, which was granted MAP status way back in 1999, there likely won't be any formal membership invitation in Chicago because NATO member Greece is still demanding that the Republic of Macedonia change its name.
"Macedonia's bid was blocked by Greece because of a 17-year row over the country's name," the BBC reported at the time of NATO's 2008 summit in Bucharest. "Athens says it implies a territorial claim on its northern province -- also called Macedonia -- and wants the former Yugoslav republic to change its name to New or Upper Macedonia."
Now, four years later, the dispute is no closer to being solved. Tuesday, 54 members of Congress wrote to President Barack Obama to ask him to break the logjam.
"We strongly urge your administration to make sure that NATO finally offers the Republic of Macedonia its well deserved formal invitation to join the alliance during the Chicago summit," reads the letter, led by Reps. Candice Miller (R-MI) and Mike Turner (R-OH).
The letter points out that Macedonia has achieved all membership criteria to merit a NATO membership invitation and quotes Obama as saying in April 2009: "I look forward to the day when we can welcome Macedonia into the alliance."
Macedonia was the staging area for NATO operations in Kosovo in 1990, offered refuge to 360,000 Kosovars, and has fought alongside NATO forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the letter states. "If Macedonia can protect the tent of NATO, Macedonia should be able to sleep in the tent of NATO," it reads.
Congressional support for Macedoniaa's accession is also codified two bills in Congress. The Senate's version of the NATO Enhancement Act of 2012 was introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) and the House version was introduced by Turner.
But the dispute over the name of the country is still standing in the way.
Vice President Joseph Biden met with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in Washington in February 2011, after which the White House said in a statement, "The Vice President expressed the hope that Macedonia and Greece resolve together the longstanding ‘name issue' so that Macedonia can move forward on seeking NATO membership and fulfilling its Euro-Atlantic aspirations."
Last December, advocates of Macedonia's NATO accession thought they had found the solution, when the International Court of Justice ruled by a 15-1 vote that Greece had breached its international obligations by objecting to NATO membership for the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," a name the Macedonians believe is a reasonable compromise.
But for the Obama administration, that ruling hasn't changed the state of the dispute. Asked for comment by The Cable, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor referred to the following statement issued at the 2008 Bucharest summit:
We recognise the hard work and the commitment demonstrated by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to NATO values and Alliance operations. We commend them for their efforts to build a multi-ethnic society. Within the framework of the UN, many actors have worked hard to resolve the name issue, but the Alliance has noted with regret that these talks have not produced a successful outcome. Therefore we agreed that an invitation to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be extended as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached. We encourage the negotiations to be resumed without delay and expect them to be concluded as soon as possible.
"Allies remain committed to this position," Vietor said.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department announced on Tuesday that it would exempt 10 European countries and Japan from penalties for doing business with Iran's central bank, because those countries are making significant progress toward weaning themselves off of Iranian oil.
"I am pleased to announce that an initial group of eleven countries has significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran -- Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. As a result, I will report to the Congress that sanctions pursuant to Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 (NDAA) will not apply to the financial institutions based in these countries, for a renewable period of 180 days," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a Tuesday statement. "The actions taken by these countries were not easy. They had to rethink their energy needs at a critical time for the world economy and quickly begin to find alternatives to Iranian oil, which many had been reliant on for their energy needs."
The European Union banned all new purchases of Iranian crude oil as of Jan. 23 and will phase out existing contracts by July 1, Clinton said. Japan was able to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil even despite energy shortages created by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"We commend these countries for their actions and urge other nations that import oil from Iran to follow their example," said Clinton. "Diplomacy coupled with strong pressure can achieve the long-term solutions we seek and we will continue to work with our international partners to increase the pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations."
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who co-authored the sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and those who do business with it, praised the State Department's move in a Tuesday statement of his own.
"The sanctions are working," he said. "Countries and companies are stepping up in recognition of the real threat that Iran poses to its neighbors and the global community and are terminating business relationships with Iran. On Saturday, SWIFT - the financial messaging service provider - cut off services to the Central Bank of Iran and 30 designated Iranian banks, and as a result -- for the first time -- we are seeing a real impact on the Iranian economy."
A senior State Department official said Tuesday that there are 12 countries left who import Iranian oil and could be sanctioned but didn't get exemptions today. Butthe official said that if those countries are going to be sanctioned, it won't be for a while.
Since the CBI sanctions didn't actually go into effect until Feb. 29, any case for implementing sanctions against those 12 countries would have to be based on evidence from that date forward, which would take time.
On March 30, President Barack Obama will have to make a determination as to whether price and supply conditions in the energy market allow for countries to switch from Iranian crude oil to other suppliers. If he determines they do, then a new set of harsher sanctions would go into effect on June 28 against any countries that don't have exemptions by then.
The main countries that the United States might be forced to sanction at that time include China, Turkey, India, and South Korea, none of which received exemptions today. The State Department official admitted that the conditions for receiving an exemption are vague.
"On the case of the other countries, the legislation specifies ‘significantly reduce.' It doesn't define what ‘significantly reduce' is," the official said.
The official said that Japan represents a model for how other countries could act to avoid sanctions. But under questioning, the official refused to say exactly how much Japan has committed to reducing its dependence on Iranian oil, calling that "commercially protected information." He said Japan reduced its intake of Iranian oil between about 15 to 22 percent over the last half of 2011, depending on how you look at the data.
One senior Senate aide called into question the State Department's decision to issue Japan an exemption. The aide pointed out that the law requires countries to reduce their intake of Iranian oil in 2012, not 2011, and it's not clear if Japan is going to continue that trend ahead of the June 28 deadline.
"The bottom line is that if Japan has in fact committed to reducing their purchases of Iranian oil by 15 to 22 percent in 2012, this exemption is fully warranted. But if this is just a get out of jail free card issued on the basis of past performance alone, this would not be a faithful application of the law," the aide said.
The aide also pointed out that the 10 EU countries are no-brainers for exemptions, because the EU is in the process of implementing a full Iranian oil embargo anyway.
"This is no diplomatic success, this is just cover to make sure that those EU countries that are complying with the embargo have cover from the sanctions."
MUNICH - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave opposing public speeches Saturday on what should be done in Syria, and then took their dispute behind closed doors in a heated bilateral meeting, in advance of Saturday's U.N. Security Council action in New York.
"As a tyrant in Damascus brutalizes his own people, the U.S. and Europe stand shoulder to shoulder," Clinton said in her speech at the 2012 Munich Security Conference. "We are united, alongside the Arab League, in demanding an end to the bloodshed and a democratic future for Syria. And we are hopeful that at 10 AM eastern standard time in New York, the security council will express the will of the international community."
Well, the 10 AM deadline has come and gone, but State Department officials insist the U.S. is committed to holding a vote on the latest draft resolution on the situation on Syria today, despite persistent Russian concerns over the text, which were outlined by Lavrov in his speech only minutes after Clinton left the stage.
Lavrov said that Russia stands by the Syrian people but not the "armed groups" in Syria that he alleged were contributing to the violence. He said Russia would not agree to any resolution that amounts to outside interference or presupposes the political outcome in Syria other than supporting a dialogue between the two sides.
"The problem is, the peaceful protesters have our full support, but they are being used by the armed groups, who create trouble. And this is reaching quite dangerous proportions," Lavrov said.
Lavrov said Russia had two main problems with the current draft of the resolution. He said the current draft resolution "left the door open to military intervention to the outside," because it does not include a Russian drafted statement that would explicitly say a military intervention is not authorized.
He also said the draft resolution seeks to prejudge the results of a national Syrian dialogue because it refers to the Arab League Initiative's report and says the process should follow the Arab's League's schedule for resolution of the transition of power in Syria.
"If this resolution is adopted and Assad doesn't go, we asked the Americans and the Europeans ‘What is the game plan?' They say, ‘Well in 15 days we'll consider this issue again in the security council.' My question is, ‘After that, what are you going to propose?" Lavrov said.
"It's not a serious policy," he insisted.
Lavrov heavily criticized the Arab League monitoring mission and defended Russian arms sales to the Syrian regime, which continue to this day. Lavrov said the U.N. charter does not allow interference in internal domestic affairs and that without Russian support, any plan devised in the security council would not be viable.
The Cable asked Lavrov whether Russia was concerned about ending up on the wrong side of history in Russia by supporting Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
"We are not friends or allies of Assad," Lavrov responded, "We try to stick to our responsibilities as permanent members of the security council and the security council doesn't by definition engage in the internal affairs of states, it's about maintaining international peace and security."
The Cable followed Lavrov out of the conference hall and into his bilateral meeting with Clinton. Clinton was joined in the meeting by Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder, and Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
A senior State Department official said the meeting went longer than planned, 45 minutes, and two thirds of that time was spent discussing the U.N. Security Council situation regarding Syria.
"The secretary and the foreign minister had a very vigorous discussion," the official said. "The secretary made clear that the U.S. feels strongly that the U.N. Security Council should vote today."
The official would not going into the details of the bilateral discussion on Syria but said it's safe to assume that Clinton and Lavrov did not resolve their differences over the way ahead.
"Foreign Minister Lavrov did not dispute the urgency of the situation and the action now moves to New York," the official said.
MUNICH - At Saturday's morning session of the 2012 Munich Security Conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clarified that NATO forces will not stop fighting in Afghanistan in 2013, but he confirmed that the U.S. hopes to hand over the combat lead to Afghan forces that year. Many European and NATO officials in the room were still a little miffed they had to learn about the strategy shift in the newspapers two days ago.
On the way to Brussels to attend the NATO defense ministers meeting Feb. 2, Panetta made news by saying that U.S. forces will transition out of a lead combat role next year. "Our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013," Panetta said. "Hopefully by mid- to the latter part of 2013 we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role."
On Saturday morning here in Munich, sitting beside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Panetta made the same announcement again, but this time with a bit more nuance.
"Our bottom line [in Afghanistan] is ‘in together, out together.' As an alliance, we are fully committed to the Lisbon framework and transitioning to Afghan control by 2014. Our discussions included considerations about how ISAF will move from the lead combat role to a support, advise, and assist role as Afghan security forces move into the lead," he said. "We hope Afghan forces will be ready to take the combat lead in all of Afghanistan sometime in 2013. But of course ISAF will continue to be fully combat capable and we will engage in combat as necessary thereafter."
Prior to Panetta's statements this week, the only public milestone between now and the full transition of responsibility to Afghan forces at the end of 2014, as was announced at the Lisbon conference last year, was the Sept. 2012 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. surge forces, as announced by President Barack Obama last June.
Panetta's remarks this week place a new milestone in the middle of those two dates, by setting a public goal of handing over lead combat responsibility for the last geographical area in Afghanistan, known as Tranche 5, over a year before the full handover of responsibility is set to take place.
European officials here in Munich said they understood the reason for the new milestone, which is to give the Afghans some time to adjust to having the combat lead while NATO forces are still present in large enough numbers to help them out, especially if there are bumps along the road.
But several NATO and European officials were shocked and some were even a little miffed that Panetta had made a major change in the messaging over the Afghanistan war without giving them a heads up.
There are two different theories as to why Panetta decided to announce the 2013 milestone on the plane to Europe, before telling his NATO counterparts about it, despite that he was about to see them only hours later.
Some here in Munich think that Panetta simply spoke too fast and didn't mean to surprise his European colleagues. Others believe that Panetta wanted to announce the news on his own terms, rather than tell the Europeans and then have it leak out to the press, perhaps in an even less articulate way.
One high ranking European official told The Cable that his government was expecting such an announcement at the NATO summit in Chicago in May, not here in Europe in February.
"The feeling was, well we can't say the same thing in Chicago as we said in Lisbon," the official said, referring to the expected May announcement. "It was all carefully planned and now that plan is completely ruined."
European governments had told the Obama administration that announcing a new milestone for drawdowns in Afghanistan was politically difficult for them, but that they were willing to go along with it, albeit reluctantly.
"We said, ‘Okay, if Obama needs this politically, that's fine. But please consider the bad side effects for us. This is hard to explain to our constituencies," the European official said. "Before today we could still say the drawdown was conditions based. Now we can't make the argument that it's anything but politically motivated."
Panetta's main mission Saturday was to reassure European countries that the United States was not abandoning Europe despite the defense budget cuts in the U.S. and the American strategic pivot to Asia. He announced that a battalion sized U.S. military force would rotate to Europe as America's first concrete presence in the NATO Response Force.
"Our military footprint in Europe will remain larger than in any other region in the world," he said.
In the question and answer session following his remarks, Panetta said that the Pentagon was not planning to implement the defense "trigger" set to go into effect in Jan. 2013, which would mandate $600 billion in additional defense cuts over the next ten years.
"Sequestration is a crazy formula," he said. "We're not paying attention to sequester. Sequester is crazy... If sequester happened, the strategy I just developed would have to be thrown out the window."
MUNICH - The first panel at the 2012 Munich Security Conference examined whether Germany should assume a role as the regional, benign hegemon in Europe. But one speaker, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, told the Germans that it's just never going to happen so they shouldn't even try.
The question posed to Sikorski and the other panelists at the Friday evening discussion was whether Germany could play a role in Europe today similar to the role the United States played in Europe after World War II. Sikorski said that Germany doesn't have the attributes of a hegemon, such as an overwhelming economy, a large military budget, and an international role commensurate of a preeminent regional power.
"So you will not be a benign hegemon in Europe and you shouldn't even try," Sikorski told his largely German audience. He even referred to lingering concerns about German power left over from the WWII period.
"Why is Russia always a bigger security challenge than Germany for Poland? When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies," Sikorski said. "So don't get too dizzy with success."
"Germany cannot be said to be said to be similar to the United States [in the post WWII period]," Sikorski said. "The position of benign hegemon for Germany is not attainable, and therefore I would propose your actual position in the EU, which is a very honorable one, is the position of the largest shareholder."
Economically, Germany is only marginally larger than France and Britain, whereas the United States economy dwarfed its rivals when it became a world power, Sikorski said. Also, German trade is largely localized, with 9 out of its 10 largest trading partners located in Europe.
Sikorski said a hegemon must have a significant share of resources, must be able to supply public goods to the wider community, and others must believe the hegemon pursues policies that are at least relatively beneficial to all. Germany doesn't fit the bill, Sikorski said, even when one looks at Germany's defense budget, which is about $43 billion.
"[Former German Chancellor Helmut] Kohl was more right than [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger. Kissinger said [Germany is] too big for Europe, [but] too small for the world. Kohl said [Germany is] too big to be first among equals, but too small to dominate in Europe," said Sikorski.
Nevertheless, Sikorski graciously offered to aid Germany's role as the largest, if not the dominant force in Europe.
"Poland declares that we are ready on a pragmatic basis, despite the history, to help you," he said. "As long as we are working towards European solutions."
Johannes Simon/Getty Images
MUNICH - As part of the opening events Friday evening at the 2012 Munich Security Conference, the German government honored Sen. Joseph Isadore Lieberman (I-CT) with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit as a tribute to his last year serving as a U.S. senator.
"You know, if I had known I would be so honored upon my retirement from the senate, I probably would have retired before the last term," Lieberman said in his acceptance speech. He thanked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for inviting him to co-chair the U.S. Congressional delegation to the conference over 20 years ago. Every year since, McCain and Lieberman have brought a large contingent of American lawmakers and experts to the conference.
The award is officially awarded by German President Christian Wulff and was presented Friday by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Lieberman was quite impressed that Westerwelle knew his middle name.
"I'm usually known as ‘Joseph I. Lieberman' and very few people know what the ‘I' stands for," he said. "In one of my early campaigns for state office, I had a friend who was supporting me who happened to be Irish and Catholic. He was convinced the ‘I' stood for Ignatius."
Lieberman promised to keep on working on behalf of the U.S.-German relationship even after he leaves the Senate.
"I assure you that although I am retiring from the Senate, I'm not retiring," he said. "The U.S. German alliance is an alliance built not on the temporary coincidence of shifting interests, but on the firm values that our two societies share and these are the values of human rights, democracy, free enterprise, the rule of law, and individual freedom."
Westerwelle noted that the Germans have not always agreed with Lieberman, such as when they opposed the war in Iraq, but he praised Lieberman's commitment to the relationship.
"Over the years we've agreed on many issues. Of course I cannot deny we've also had some disagreements on others. And I believe that is the way it should be among friends and allies," he said. "But you always kept talking and we never gave up finding solutions to the problems that lie ahead of us."
Westerwelle then quoted Vice President Joe Biden's speech from the 2009 Munich conference, when Biden said, "When sharing ideas and searching for purpose in a more complex world, Americans and Europeans still look to one another before they look to anyone else."
Saturday, the conference kicks into full gear, with highly anticipated speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, and many others.
Also on Saturday, Lieberman will become the third ever recipient of the Ewald von Kleist Award, named after the man who founded the conference in 1962. The first two recipients were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was in attendance at Friday's ceremony, and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana de Madariaga.
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.