Not much is known about Xi Jinping, the expected next president of China, but according to a newly public WikiLeaks cable, Xi has been complaining to America's neighbors about "well fed foreigners" pointing fingers at China.
In a February 2009 trip to Mexico, the first stop in Xi's six-country tour of Latin America, the current vice president of China blurted out his feelings about criticisms of Chinese diplomacy, according to a diplomatic cable classified by acting deputy chief of mission James Williard.
"There are some well fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs," Xi blurted out at a lunch meeting, appropriately. "China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; third, cause troubles for you."
Xi showed up with representatives of 20 Chinese companies in tow and made the case that China and Mexico have common cause to cooperate economically, as both are developing countries facing the consequences of a global financial crisis they didn't cause. The embassy cable noted that Xi's outburst seemed to reveal the Xi's true feelings about America despite a more diplomatic message during the rest of his visit.
"It should be noted that his criticism of 'well-fed foreigners' sharply contrasted from the overarching cooperation theme of his visit and were delivered on the first leg of his trip in a country with strong ties to the United States," the cable said.
The cable reported that Mexico was trying to correct its huge trade deficit with China and that Mexican officials were wary of China's tactic of expanding economic activity in developing countries.
"We don't want to be China's next Africa," a Mexican official told a U.S. Embassy economics officer, according to the cable, referring to the oft-cited criticism that China has pursued a strategy of seizing the continent's huge natural resources while dumping cheap industrial and manufactured products into foreign markets. "We need to own our country's development."
Two other recently released WikiLeaks cables also detailed China's charm offensive in Latin America and skepticism on that continent of Chinese motives and practices.
"China's strategy in Latin America is clear: it wants to 'control the supply of commodities,' said the Brazilian consul general in Shanghai," according to one cable sent to Washington from the U.S. Shanghai Consulate in April 2009.
"Colombia is wary of Chinese motives and what it sees as lax Chinese environmental and labor standards. However, Colombia needs new economic partners, particularly given the lack of progress on a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade agreement (FTA)," said another cable, conveying the views of Colombian diplomats as reported by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The cables paint a picture of an aggressive Chinese effort to insert state-owned companies into America's backyard while Latin American countries have few options but to go along in the face of American neglect.
Xi, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2012, has been intimately involved in those efforts, the cables show.
So how did his trip to Mexico go? The cables report the results as mixed.
"Xi's visit intensified the Mexico-China dialogue," the cable said. "However, Mexico's trade deficit with China and concerns over China's approach to investment continue to color Mexico's perception of China as a true partner."
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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.
Ever since we published our election night profile of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the next head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we've received dozens of e-mails pointing us to a video clip where the Florida-based Cuban-American lawmaker appears to call for the assassination of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
"I just feel such a great source of pride of being here in the United States Congress representing so many freedom fighters both in exile in the United States and on the island as well. I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people," Ros-Lehtinen says in the video clip, recorded in a 2006 interview for the British documentary 638 Ways to Kill Castro.
After the clip was released, Ros-Lehtinen alleged that the video was spliced together but didn't back off her contention that is might be better if Castro were dead.
Ros-Lehtinen's spokeswoman told the Miami Herald in the aftermath of the controversy that the congresswoman has never called for anyone's assassination. But Ros-Lehtinen told the Herald in 2006 she can't rule out that she ever mentioned Castro and a potential assassination. "If someone were to do it, I wouldn't be crying," she said.
More than $1 billion of aid to earthquake-torn Haiti still has not reached the island nation, but that's not the fault of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) -- despite the recent charge leveled against the conservative senator by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart. Rather, the complicated State Department-Congressional appropriations process is to blame for the delay.
On Sept. 30, Stewart took Coburn to task for his hold on the Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding Act of 2010, a pending bill that would set five years' worth of authorizations (how Congress wants to see the money spent) for Haiti reconstruction and relief funding. Coburn wants to see Congress find savings in other parts of the State Department to pay for $500 million for Haiti next year, in fiscal 2011. Stewart's rant was based on this Sept. 28. AP article.
Referencing that, Stewart called Coburn an "international a**hole of mystery" and continued: "So for any Haitian who right now lives on top of a pile of rubble washing their clothes in their own urine bucket, while Sean Penn gives your kids cigarettes while regaling you with Fast Times at Ridgemont High anecdotes, hang in there. Cause we need to sort all this out so you won't have to fill out duplicate forms. You're welcome!"
The problem is that Coburn's hold is not responsible for delaying the $1.15 billion Congress already appropriated in late July to help Haiti. That bill, which is totally separate from the one Coburn is holding up, was the supplemental appropriations act signed by President Obama on July 29. Authorization bills, like the one that Coburn objects to, are useful for setting out Congressional direction on how money should be spend, but aren't strictly necessary to the disbursement of the funds. The appropriations bills are the ones that actually spend the money.
Even the State Department acknowledges that Coburn is not responsible for the delay in this tranche of funds for Haiti.
"Senator Coburn's hold is not related to the $1.15 billion pledge made by the administration in March," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable. He explained that the State Department and Congress are still working on how exactly to spend the money, totally apart from Coburn's hold on the separate authorization bill.
State was given 45 days from July 29 to submit a "spend plan" for the Haiti money, after which Congress had two weeks to submit questions about its plan. Today, Coburn posted the State Department's spending plan for Haiti, along with its transmittal letter, which shows that it was given to Congress Sept 20. That's 52 days after the bill was signed, more than the 45 allowed -- but still not bad for government work.
Now, State and the relevant congressional committees are finishing up their work on the spend plan and the State Department should start actually giving out the money soon, Crowley said.
"We continue to answer questions and address issues that members of Congress have raised, but we will soon be obligating those funds on the ground in high impact ways to help the people of Haiti build back better," Crowley said.
He also pointed out that Congress had already put $300 million on the ground in Haiti while the process to release this $1.15 billion progressed.
Coburn also posted USAID's fact sheet on humanitarian assistance to Haiti, which shows that over $1.1 billion has already been spent, although that was for emergency relief, not the longer term recovery and reconstruction assistance that is now being sought.
Overall, Crowley argues, "there has been no undue delay by the administration in releasing the $1.15 billion, given the notification requirements legislators included in the supplemental legislation."
Regardless, whether you are a Haitian or a late-night comedian wondering why the money hasn't flowed yet, in this instance, you should direct your questions to the State Department and Congress, not Tom Coburn.
"Coburn may be an a**hole when it comes to holding up bills, but he's not the bad guy here," said one Senate aide. "The a**hole here is the bureaucratic process... and Jon Stewart."
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.
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed two top officials to the U.S. Agency for International Development, making them the first senior USAID leadership positions to be filled other than Administrator Rajiv Shah.
The officials who were confirmed are Mark Feierstein as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Nisha Desai Biswal as assistant administrator for Asia. They were two of the 28 presidential nominations officially confirmed by the Senate Thursday.
Of the top 12 leadership slots at USAID, only two more officials have even been nominated and nine more slots are currently vacant or being staffed by "acting" officials: Nancy Lindborg, for assistant administrator of USAID's Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau and Donald K. Steinberg as deputy administrator of USAID. One notable vacancy at USAID is the slot for director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).
Feierstein had previously worked as a principal at the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and before that served as director of USAID's global elections office. He previously worked in the State Department as special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and before that was director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Democratic Institute.
Biswal most recently worked as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations. Before that, she was director of policy and advocacy at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international humanitarian and development non-governmental organizations. She has also worked on the professional staff of the House International Relations Committee and has held numerous past positions at USAID, including in the management bureau, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and the Office of Transition Initiatives.
President Obama has used his power to bypass the Senate confirmation process to push through the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the next U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.
Aponte's nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro's intelligence apparatus.
DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI's records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing "personal reasons."
"The allegations were apparently serious enough for her to withdraw her nomination in 1998 so I think it's fair to ask some questions," DeMint told The Cable in April.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the recess appointment lasts "until the end of the following session" of Congress, which in this case means that Aponte could serve until January 2012, at which point she must be nominated again or her post becomes vacant.
The Obama administration came into office promising to do away with recess appointments, but changed its tune in March, citing GOP obstructionism. Aponte was one of four recess appointments Obama announced today, bringing his total to 22, including the seating of missile-defense critic Philip Coyle in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments and George W. Bush made 171 such appointments, according to CRS.
"At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," Obama said. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."
The United States had some rare interactions with the Cuban government recently, but it had nothing to do with U.S.-Cuba relations. The U.S. is keeping Cuba updated on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"We have an obligation to inform countries in the region when there are situations like this and ... we have informed Cuba and chatted with them in the course of the oil spill," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday.
The State Department isn't aware of any adverse effects the spill has had on Cuba, so there isn't any move to offer assistance, Crowley said -- at least not yet. But Crowley said the State Department was compelled to keep Cuba in the loop.
"We have obligations under certain arrangements when there are oil spills. We inform governments that may be affected by that, and we've fulfilled that responsibility with Cuba," he said.
The U.S. government-sponsored television and radio stations aimed at bringing objective news into communist Cuba aren't doing the job and need new leadership and direction, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a new report by the committee's majority staff, led by John Kerry, D-MA, lawmakers are calling out Radio Marti and TV Marti, both of which are funded by Congress, for a lack of quality programming and for failing to uphold the standards of a free and fair journalistic enterprise.
"Radio Marti was created in 1983 to support the Cuban people in their quest for ‘accurate, unbiased, and consistently reliable' news and entertainment; TV Marti followed in 1990. Unfortunately, listeners and viewers never received the kind of high quality programming that was originally intended," Kerry wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "Problems with adherence to traditional journalistic standards, minuscule audience size, Cuban Government jamming, and allegations of cronyism have dogged the program since its creation."
Congress has already reduced funding for TV Marti and has criticized Radio Marti before, but now the committee is recommending that the entire Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is now an independent agency reporting up to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, be moved from Miami to Washington, and be incorporated into the BBG's Voice of America.
Congress stripped $4 million from TV Marti's budget in last year's appropriations and sought to end the use of the airplane the station uses for much of its reporting. This was only the latest congressional attempt to reform the agency using funding levers, and the report's blunt language suggests that lawmakers are growing frustrated.
"Radio and TV Marti have failed to make any discernable inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban Government," the report stated.
Both stations run unsubstantiated reports as if they were real news, use offensive and incendiary language in broadcasts, and have an audience of less than 2 percent of Cubans overall, mostly due to successful jamming by the Cuban government, according to the committee.
The report also highlights allegations of nepotism and cronyism at the OCB. For example, the director of Voice of America's Latin American service is a nephew of the OCB director and the former director of TV Marti's programming pleaded guilty in 2007 to receiving more than $112,000 in kickbacks from an OCB vendor.
Among other recommendations, the committee urges the OCB to "attract quality talent from outside Miami, implement quality editorial standards, and attract quality management," and calls upon the organization to hire and train a "de-politicized and professional workforce."
"Radio and TV Marti have been more about employing embargo proponents, paralyzing US-Cuban relations and perpetuating an anachronistic Cold War standoff than they have been about furthering American interests or triggering change in Cuba," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy head at the New America Foundation, "Barack Obama voted against these programs in the Senate because he said they 'don't work' and it's commendable that the Senator Kerry and his team are shining a spotlight on the corruption and incompetence embedded in these programs."
After President Obama has rolled out his nuclear policy review Tuesday morning, he used his down time to turn his attention to another major nuclear initiative: the Nuclear Security Summit being held in Washington next week.
With 47 world leaders coming to town, Obama simply can't very well schedule one-on-one meetings with all of them -- lest international diplomacy turn into the equivalent of speed dating. Still, the least the president can do is give a phone call to the leaders he's rejecting, and that's what he was doing Tuesday afternoon.
So far, the world leaders Obama has granted an audience to are (in alphabetical order by country): President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia, President Hu Jintao of China, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan, and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev doesn't need a bilateral, because he will have lots of time to hang out with Obama Thursday in Prague when they meet there to sign the new START agreement. Obama just met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week. And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is skipping the summit to gear up his campaign ahead of the May elections he announced this morning.
So who's not getting face time with Obama? One confirmed rejection is Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who got the consolation phone call from Obama just a few hours ago.
"President Saakashvili thanked President Obama for his invitation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington," according to a readout of the call from the Georgian side. "President Obama thanked President Saakashvili for Georgia's exceptional commitment of troops to the international effort in Afghanistan."
What Obama didn't mention in the call Georgia's aspirations to join NATO or Georgia's concern about the French sale of a new assault ship to Russia.
Hey, maybe they'll run into each other at the buffet.
So, who are the other countries may be soon getting the rejection call? Looks like the leaders of Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Vietnam.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, a slew of multinational development banks are asking for large amounts of new capital to both replenish and in some cases expand their resource pools, and much of the burden will fall on the United States.
This creates a unique opportunity for the Obama administration to press these organizations to implement long-awaited reforms, according to the Senate's top Republican on foreign relations, who has a big say in whether and how the Congress doles out the funds.
"As the world struggles to emerge from the worst economic crisis since World War II, it is an appropriate time to ask whether the [International Financial Institutions] are performing optimally and doing the jobs they should be doing," reads a newly released report by the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, "The crisis should not be used as an excuse to win increases that could not otherwise be justified. As the requests for capital are negotiated with the international donor community, there is a window of opportunity for significant reform."
The report, which is the culmination of six years of research, including half a dozen hearings when Lugar was committee chairman, outlines several dozen recommendations for what the Obama administration, Congress, and the banks can do to update their relevance.
"Does the world really need the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Inter-American Development Bank today? Can they be changed to better address our needs? How should we re-design them?" the report asks.
"Such questions are particularly timely because nearly all the IFIs have sought, or will soon seek, major new infusions of money from their donors, including the taxpayers of the United States."
The Asian Development Bank has already asked the Obama administration for new funds, and the administration has requested in its new budget $533 million in direct money and $12.8 billion in borrowing authority for the ADB.
A committee staffer told The Cable that Lugar wants to see progress on reform before he would support authorizing the money.
"We want to make sure that before the American taxpayer puts more money in there that things are fixed," the staffer said. "It's not possible for them to do everything, but they could certainly make progress."
The reforms the administration could press for in the short term include pressing the banks to focus more on development goals rather than the structure and size of loans and "work with the other donor countries to step back and slow down the process," the staffer said.
Congress is also concerned that the Obama administration might not be interested in pressing for these reforms, considering that Obama issued a signing statement in June indicating he did not feel bound to follow congressional direction on such international negotiations.
Negotiations between several banks and the Treasury Department are ongoing. The U.S. side is led by Scott Morris, deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury's Office of International Development Finance and Debt.
The issue will next surface at the end of March when the Inter-American Development Bank convenes its annual meeting in Cancun.
Are you looking for something to do at 6 p.m. tonight? How about tuning into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "Townterview" (interview + town hall) at Zumbi dos Palmares University, Brazil's only Afro-Brazilian institute of higher learning.
The event will be streamed live by the State Department here.
"The audience of the event will include students and representatives of NGOs, educational institutions, government, and the business community. The Secretary will answer a range of questions from U.S.-Brazil relations, to the value both countries place on education, diversity, and social inclusion," State's release said.
"I have been wanting to come to Brazil ever since I became Secretary of State," Clinton said in remarks at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia Wednesday. Expect Clinton to say little about U.S.-Brazil differences related to new Iran sanctions but a lot about the new Memorandum of Understanding she signed today regarding cooperation on climate change.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has added an unplanned stop to her Latin America itinerary: Buenos Aires. The U.S. delegation will stay overnight in Argentina Monday instead of Chile, where the government is still preoccupied with the aftermath of Saturday's devastating earthquake.
"Instead of overnighting in Santiago on Monday night we will travel from Montevideo [Uruguay] Monday afternoon to Buenos Aires in order to meet with Argentine President [Cristina Fernández] de Kirchner, instead of in Uruguay as originally planned," a State Department official on the trip said.
Clinton was in Uruguay this weekend to attend the inauguration of Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla leader turned president. The Kirchner meeting was originally supposed to happen in Montevideo, but was changed after the Chilean earthquake caused Clinton's team to re-examine her travel plans.
Although Latin American countries are no doubt hoping to discuss a range of bilateral issues, Clinton is more likely to focus on the renewed international efforts to pressure Iran regarding its nuclear program. "Iran is at the top of my agenda," Clinton told a Senate committee last week when talking about her trip.
She might find the going tough, particularly in Brazil, which currently holds a seat on the Security Council. Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim recently poured cold war on the U.S.-led sanctions push, saying, "We don't believe that sanctions will prove effective." Under Secretary Bill Burns, the State Department's lead on the issue, visited the Brazilian capital ahead of the Clinton trip, but it's not clear what he was able to achieve.
Clinton will be in Brasilia Wednesday to meet directly with President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva and Amorim. Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela previewed Friday what Clinton's message will be when it comes to Iran.
"While we're cognizant of the fact that the Brazilian government has reached out to Iran and has been approaching the Iranians, it's very much on our agenda to try to insist with the Brazilians that in their engagement with Iran, we would like them to encourage the Iranians, of course, to meet their international obligations," he said, adding that the State Department views Brazil's opposition to new sanctions as a "mistake."
The Cable reported last week that the need to push emergency relief to Haiti was taking funding away from other vital U.S. government programs around the world. Now, aid groups are reporting that they are scaling back plans amid fears that budget cuts will send them scrambling for resources, leaving needy victims in the lurch.
About $200 million of funds from the emergency accounts of OFDA, USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, have been diverted to Haiti so far, with more expected. These funds, which represent about a quarter of the office's international assistance budget, could be replenished in the coming months, but meanwhile, aid groups in other crisis areas are forced to plan against the money they have, and as a result are looking at staff cuts and reductions in new programs.
"You have to make some hard choices about whether you are going to support the Haiti earthquake victims or are you going to reserve those funds and hold them to expand programs for other victims in, say, Somalia," explained Susan Reichle, the USAID official who heads the Haiti coordination effort.
"OFDA's current global priority is Haiti and this has impacted OFDA's budget globally," reads one email sent by OFDA rejecting a project proposal. "There have been modifications in overall planned programming and budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean," the email, which was obtained by The Cable, continues. "This may change in coming weeks or months as the situation evolves."
Todd Shelton, senior director for policy and communications at Interaction, the largest coalition of U.S.-based NGOs doing international humanitarian work, said his member organizations are feeling the pinch.
"They're robbing Peter to pay Paul and you're seeing that with OFDA programs ... we've heard that from several of our members in places like South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia," Shelton said. One NGO's proposal for a nutrition program in Ethiopia was turned down, according to Shelton, and the USAID mission in Somalia told another organization that a water, sanitation, and hygiene program under discussion would only be considered later this year if supplemental funding comes through.
"That would have served about 40,000 beneficiaries and that would have started almost immediately," Shelton said. "In terms of potable water, you can't go back in time and put that water into needy children's mouths."
"We're supporting Haiti, but we're concerned about the rest of the world," said Lisa Kuennen-Asfaw, of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which relies on USAID grant money. "Yes, there are negative effects, because even if funds are restored completely, there are delays in funding emergency needs and some of these programs won't get funding because other things will be seen as more pressing needs when the money comes in."
For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, USAID told CRS groups that their $32 million 2010 budget would be cut by 40 percent overall. CRS says it was told to expect reductions of between 30 and 50 percent to its programs in Ethiopia, southern Sudan, and Somalia.
One program in Congo to help families with hygiene and sanitation aid "can't expand to meet additional needs," Kuennen-Asfaw said. Other programs that don't yet exist are being rejected, with Haiti as the explanation.
Reichle told The Cable that there is no instruction for aid groups to make a 40 percent cut in their existing programs, as some groups have claimed, but admitted that international disaster assistance funds for Haiti were having an effect on plans for new programs and expansions of existing programs in the near term.
"What we're waiting for is additional funds to come in to replenish the accounts.... A lot will depend on when we receive supplemental funds and how much funds there are," she said."You can't fund additional things until you know what your budget is."
Program decisions should be made by OFDA based on the merit of a proposal, not based on whether funds were going to Haiti, she said. But nonetheless, until Congress acts, the limited funds will have to be prioritized. "It's a hard choice."
Help on the way?
With funding tight, the State Department is working with the White House now to figure out what the intermediate needs for Haiti will be. Hill staffers expect a new supplemental request for Haiti funding soon, but no final decisions have been made, and they aren't sure how much money will be needed.
A Senate aide close to the issue said that Congress was requesting a meeting with USAID to discuss how Haiti funding was affecting other countries' programs. The aide said that even if aid groups are sounding the alarm bells prematurely, the effects of the funding shift are real.
"I don't believe any of them have actually experienced a cut in funding because they haven't submitted proposals yet, but there's no question that OFDA is drawing down funds that would have been used for purposes other than Haiti," the aide said.
The supplemental request from the administration is expected soon and will include funds to backfill accounts, but the impact of the funding shift will depend on how long Congress takes to act.
"Until they actually have the money in hand they worry they aren't going to get it," the aide explained. "I think they are going to get it; it's just a matter of when."
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY, told The Cable last week that Congress would be actively considering the effect Haiti funding will have on other programs as lawmakers digest the new budget requests.
"There are so many places in the world that need our assistance and you're always making judgments depending upon where you can do the least harm if you're taking funding from other accounts," Lowey said. "This is why I'm saying that the future and reconstruction money has to be evaluated in the context of the other tremendous needs around the world."
Problems with food distribution and infrastructure, rather than a lack of food supplies, are responsible for rising unrest on the ground in Haiti, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten (the man looking into the camera at right) told The Cable in a phone interview from Port-au-Prince.
"The amount of food we have is sufficient; the issue is getting it out to people in a form they can most easily use and eat and getting it to certain distribution points in sufficient numbers," he said.
Merten confirmed that on Monday Brazilian personnel used tear gas on a crowd of Haitians at a food-distribution point. He said that aid groups were reevaluating the system for how much food to send where.
"People need to understand there's a great deal of frustration among people here," Merten said. "They have to wait longer. Their anger is understandable; it's unfortunate."
He also said he completely shared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's sentiment that she "deeply resented" criticisms by other countries about the military face of the U.S. relief effort.
"The fact of the matter is the military is here because they have the immediate capability to bring humanitarian aid to the area," Merten elaborated. "They're close, they have the capability, that's why they are here."
"I would suggest that other countries maybe haven't thought that through."
The number of flights landing at the Haiti airport has actually gone down recently, but that's not due to a decrease in demand, according to Merten. There has been a rise in "no shows" -- planes that asked for landing clearance but then for whatever reason missed their appointed slots. U.S. Southern Command is still running the airport, but coordinating flight priorities with USAID and the U.N., he added.
Food distribution is the top mission right now, but in a few days that will shift to increasing the amount of temporary shelter. It's been fortunate for the relief effort that not much rain has fallen since the earthquake, but that luck won't last forever, Merten said.
It will still be several weeks, however, before any plans for large-scale reconstruction will be developed. The U.S. is evacuating orphans by the hundreds and the main challenges there are linking up the orphans with the correct foster families and making sure they really are orphans in the first place.
Overall, the aid mission is hampered most by poor roads and facilities that weren't in good shape in the past, but are now also covered in rubble. It takes an hour to travel just 5 miles, Merten said, and traffic congestion is horrendous.
"The infrastructure is a huge limitation here and there's a lack of appreciation of what the infrastructure challenges here are and were even before the crisis occurred."
There are now 56 confirmed American deaths in Haiti and 36 more reported but not confirmed. One embassy official, four local hires, and three dependents of U.S. government employees have perished since the crisis began.
JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images
Newly minted USAID administrator Rajiv Shah stopped by the operations hub of the Haiti crisis response management team on the ninth floor of the Ronald Reagan building Monday morning, as the response effort shifts from lifesaving to food aid and eventually, development.
Shah was accompanied by World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran, formerly head of the State Department's Economics, Business, and Cultural Affairs bureau. Both officials traveled to Haiti over the weekend and reported that while rescue efforts are giving way to food and medical aid, the long-term needs and plans are still unknown.
"We're just assessing the magnitude of the damage and challenges ahead," said Sheeran. "What's important is the commitment of the world to stand by them beyond the crisis phase, which we're not out of yet... I don't think we yet know the full dimension of the problem."
"Our primary goal for the next few weeks is to support the WFP and support the capacity they have ... to reach as many Haitians as possible with food, water, and other critically needed supplies," said Shah.
WFP has delivered more than 1.5 million rations in the 10 days immediately after the earthquake and is ramping up that flow of meals every day. The rations are mostly what are called High Energy Biscuits so far, but now there is a drive to switch to regular commodities like rice, oil, and salt.
New sea and land routes are being opened up, the U.S. military is supporting food-distribution efforts by helicopter, and the first of a number of landing boats that can bring food right to the beach will arrive soon.
On the ninth floor of the Ronald Reagan building in downtown Washington, the lights are on 24 hours a day in the room where the massive U.S. government response effort to the Haiti crisis is being coordinated.
The first conference call is at 7:30 each morning, after which a series of issue teams that make up the interagency task force on Haiti get their assignments for the day. They regroup around 5 p.m. to prepare for another call in the early evening. But the desks are manned throughout the night.
"People have been working flat out 24/7. Some folks have been up until 5 a.m.," Susan Reichle, the USAID official who heads the coordination effort, told The Cable.
Reichle is not in charge of the entire relief effort -- her boss, USAID chief Rajiv Shah is -- but her shop is the clearinghouse through which the information is channeled up and down the chain within the U.S. government.
"It's a way for all that information at Port-au-Prince to come up to the interagency and a way for us to get messages back to Port-au-Prince from here," she said. "We deconflict issues and problems all day."
The interagency team is led by USAID's Office for Disaster Assistance, but has representation from an alphabet soup of government entities, including DHS, FEMA, the Coast Guard, DOD, the Joints Chiefs, OSD, OCHA, HHS, the State Department, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Transportation Command.
Shah isn't in the room. He's busy interfacing with top officials and lawmakers. Shah met with national security advisor Jim Jones yesterday, speaks with people like State Department counselor Cheryl Mills and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen regularly, and went to Capitol Hill today to brief House appropriators.
But Shah "is the decision maker," Reichle emphasized.
The interagency team coordinated by USAID doesn't have complete control over every aspect of the mission. For example, Southcom still makes the decisions about how to vet the 1,400 daily requests for planes to land at the lone Haiti airport. There are only about 140 landing spots to offer, and only about 50 percent of those go to humanitarian missions. The rest are divided between foreign government flights and military missions.
And the coordination mission has been a mix of successes and failures. In one example, a team of experts from Health and Human Services sat idle for days in Port-au-Prince because there were no vehicles or security personnel to move them and they had no direction as to what to do.
"Every team has had to go through some struggles to get into countries and then when they are in the country to do their jobs," Reichle acknowledged.
In the long term, it's not clear that USAID will remain in charge. Although President Obama announced an initial $100 million for Haiti relief, a long-term budget is being put together at State's Bureau of Foreign Assistance, the "F" Bureau, led by Rob Goldberg.
In the past, USAID administrators have supervised the F Bureau, but under the current arrangement its money (as well as USAID's) is controlled by Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, rather than Shah.
For now, the search-and-rescue mission continues, but the interagency team is beginning to shift some of its focus to longer-term needs like shelter, food, water, and health. Eventually, Reichle said, the center of gravity will move back to the regular parts of USAID.
"It always transitions over to the regional bureau. They're the ones with the lead over the long term," she said.
The administration completed a Haiti policy review recently and the crux of the review will still be implemented. The goal is to build Haiti better than it was before the quake.
The goal, Reichle said, is "decreased dependency over the long term on foreign assistance," and to "build a foundation for a more stable, resilient, and market orientated Haiti."
Less than a week after his swearing in, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah is faced with his first major challenge as administration of USAID. He is officially leading the U.S. relief effort through the Office of Disaster Assistance.
Shah was out in front of the cameras today explaining the administration's response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, where the death toll may have topped 100,000.
After doing a string of television appearances Wednesday morning, including the Today show, Shah joined State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills and Southern Command head Gen. Douglas Fraser to brief reporters on the U.S. response.
"We are working aggressively and in a highly coordinated way across the federal government to bring all of the assets and capacities we have to bear to quickly and effectively provide as much assistance as possible," said Shah, "The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives. That is the president's top priority and is what the president has directed us to do."
Two Urban Search and Rescue Unites of about 72 people each will deploy to Haiti immediately, Shah said, and 15 people doing surveillance and analysis will be on the ground today. Additional teams from various government agencies are being identified to go down there as we speak, Shah added.
Fraser said the military is the moving aircraft carrier Carl Vinson from Norfolk to the area to add to the significant assets already close by. A large amphibious ship with a full Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 2,000 men, could be deployed as well.
The State Department has issued a travel warning and given instructions to the approximately 45,000 American citizens currently in Haiti, Mills said. There were several American injuries but almost all 172 Embassy personnel have been accounted for. Although the UN building sustained considerable damage, the U.S. embassy is in intact and has become a relief hub. Non-essential staff are being exited from the country.
Shah emphasized that the final decisions on the U.S. response would take a little longer to develop.
"This is about having options, and the president has asked us to make sure we look across the entire government, all of our capabilities, and make sure we generate as many options as possible," he said, "And as we get real information on the ground about what is the best way to pursue the president's goal of saving lives in this critical time frame, we'll be able to narrow those options and make strategic decisions."
Earlier Wednesday, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said State hosted a conference call with the American Ambassador Kenneth Merten, DCM David Lindwall, and officials from the White House, Coast Guard, DOD, SOUTHCOM, USAID, and others.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the tragedy from Honolulu, where she is on route to Asia. She said she has already spoken with Shah, Mills, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.
She won't cancel her trip but will stay actively involved in the response. The event seriously derails her ambitious plan to improve the overall situation in Haiti.
"It is Biblical, the tragedy that continues to daunt Haiti and the Haitian people. It is so tragic," said Clinton, "They had the four hurricanes last year. We had a good plan. We were just feeling positive about how we could implement that plan. It was US, UN, international. We had donors lined up. We had private businesses beginning to make investments. There was so much hope about Haiti's future, hope that had not been present for years. And along comes Mother Nature and just flattens it."
UPDATE: The State Department released a statement saying that Clinton will cut short her Asia trip and immediately return to Washington due to the crisis.
It wasn't so long ago that the State Department was refusing to come out in support of the Honduran elections (which were held last weekend). After all, it wasn't clear that they would be free and fair and besides, the official U.S. stance had been to push for the restoration of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, at least at first.
But that was then and this is now, and with the elections having been carried off relatively smoothly and Zelaya permanently ousted by a vote in the Honduran Congress Thursday, the State Department is now actively lobbying countries around the region to endorse the very elections that Foggy Bottom once opposed.
Sure, Zelaya was for the elections, before he turned against them. And yes, the State Department did try to work with Zelaya until he decided to sneak back into Honduras, hole himself up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and spout crazy conspiracy theories.
But the irony of the perception that the U.S. is now on the side of the regime that began the coup, and against Zelaya and the several OAS states still supporting him, was hard to ignore for the reporters who called into a conference call Thursday with three unnamed "senior administration officials."
"We remain committed to working with countries throughout the hemisphere to advance what has been and remains our central goal, which is the restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras," said Senior Administration Official No. 2, acknowledging that the State Department was trying to persuade countries like Brazil and Chile to endorse the win by President-elect Pepe Lobo.
"This is a matter that we've been discussing not only with our Latin American partners. The Central Americans, of course, are very keen on this," said Senior Administration Official No. 1, describing the scope of American diplomatic efforts on the Honduras issue.
Senior Administration Official No. 3 said that the State Department would probably hold off on making larger decisions about restoring all ties with Honduras until Lobo takes office Jan. 27.
But what about Zelaya, who is still in hiding, hasn't stepped outside in weeks, is apparently hallucinating, and could face prosecution if he tries to leave his protected digs? The reporters on the call seemed concerned.
"Excuse me, don't you think you carry some kind of responsibility concerning his personal fate?" one of them asked. "I mean what is he going to do in the next days or weeks?"
"That's something that he will have to address, and it's something that our embassy will be working on," Senior Administration Official No. 1 said. "But it's really -- he is going to have to make a decision as to how he proceeds."
Nice. For a more complete rundown on the State Department's evolving Honduras policy, read this.
The State Department is cautiously endorsing the victory of Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo in Sunday's Honduran elections, while still acknowledging there is a long way to go before Hondurans might find their way out of the coup-related political crisis there.
Lobo is widely reported to have handily won on behalf of the National Party over Elvin Santos. But the circumstances surrounding the election, including allegations of widespread abuse and intimidation by the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti, have jeopardized the international community's recognition of the results. Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya called for a boycott of the polls.
But today, the State Department's top official for the Americas tossed aside those concerns.
"I would like to commend the Honduran people for an election that met international standards of fairness and transparency despite some incidents that were reported here and there," Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said Monday.
He commended Lobo for his victory while calling on him to form a unity government and establish a truth commission to establish how the long crisis there unfolded. Valenzuela called on the Honduran Congress to go through with its planned Dec. 2 vote on whether to restore Zelaya to power until Lobo takes over on Jan. 27, even though Zelaya said he wasn't interested and refused to recognize the election.
The State Department has been slowly but steadily shifting its messaging on Honduras since Zelaya was run out of the country in June. At first, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton firmly sided with Zelaya, saying on the day of the coup, "The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all."
She took measures to isolate the Micheletti regime, including terminating U.S. aid to Honduras, cutting all State Department ties to the group and revoking their visas.
In late July, however, Clinton called Zelaya's attempts to return to Honduras "reckless" and implored him to go along with the diplomatic process organized under the banner of the Organization of American States (OAS) and run by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
But while criticizing Zelaya's tactics, in August she made clear that the U.S. position was still to support Zelaya's return to power at the earliest opportunity. Even in September, when Zelaya snuck over the border and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Clinton stood by him.
"I think it's important that the United States do everything we can to prevent either the hijacking of democracy by people who get elected once and then decide there never should be a real election again, or by the return to military coups, where people are elected and even if you disagree with them, they should finish out their term in an orderly way," she said.
But soon after that, a group of congressional Republicans led by Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC, went to Tegucigalpa and met with Micheletti over the State Department's strong objections.
DeMint was defending U.S. business interests in Honduras and using his power as a senator to hold up the nominations of Thomas Shannon to become ambassador to Brazil and Valenzuela to become assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Prodded by the GOP and growing increasingly aware of the changing facts on the ground, by late October the State Department was quietly engaging the Micheletti team. Meanwhile, Zelaya was coming unhinged, making increasingly bizarre accusations about conspiracies surrounding his situation.
DeMint released his hold on Valenzuela after receiving assurances that the State Department would recognize the elections. The deal between Micheletti and Zelaya over the latter's status was never really finalized, but the State Department decided to support the elections process anyway, widening the rift with Zelaya.
Since then, State Department officials have been meeting with both sides regularly and the State Department position has been that Zelaya ought to be returned to power only if the Honduran Congress votes that way on Dec. 2.
Valenzuela wouldn't speculate what the U.S. would do or say if the Dec. 2 congressional vote in Honduras doesn't happen, if the OAS never recognizes the new government, or if Zelaya ultimately refuses to play along -- all of which are very real possibilities.
But he did give a clear answer when asked why the Obama administration is supporting a process in Honduras so rife with problems and so different from the State Department policy announced when the crisis began.
"Because there has to be an end game for Honduras," he said. "There has to be an exit."
The two battling sides in the Honduran crisis have come to an agreement that would allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya to return to office, after a parliamentary vote and with the prior approval of the Supreme Court.
Also included in the deal are terms for a power sharing government, an agreement to respect the results of November 29 elections, and the establishment of a trust commission to weigh in on how the crisis started in the first place.
A U.S. delegation has been in Tagucigalpa since Wednesday, led by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon, principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly, and National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo.
Zelaya was deposed June 28 by force and replaced with a de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti. Zelaya snuck back into Honduras last month and has been hiding out in the Brazilian embassy in Tagucigalpa ever since.
Here are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's congratulatory remarks, delivered while traveling in Pakistan:
I'm very pleased to announce that we've had a breakthrough in negotiations in Honduras.
I want to congratulate the people of Honduras as well as President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti for reaching an historic agreement. I also congratulate Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for the important role he has played in fashioning the San Jose process and the OAS for its role in facilitating the successful round of talks.
As you know, I sent Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon and his deputy Craig Kelly and the White House NSC representative for the Western Hemisphere Dan Ristreppo to Honduras yesterday after speaking with both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti last Friday to urge them finally, once and for all to reach an agreement.
I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue.
This is a big step forward for the Inter-American system and its commitment to democracy as embodied in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. I'm very proud that I was part of the process, that the United States was instrumental in the process. But I'm mostly proud of the people of Honduras who have worked very hard to have this matter resolved peacefully.
We're looking forward to the elections that will be held on November 29, and working with the people and government of Honduras to realize the full return of democracy and a better future for the Honduran people.
After weeks of little progress, the State Department is reversing its policy of freezing out the de facto regime in Honduras. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with both current leader Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya over the weekend and a full administration team will travel to Tegucigalpa later this week.
The delegation will consist of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon, principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly, and National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday.
The administration has been quietly communicating with the Micheletti regime recently, after initially siding with Zelaya, who has come under criticism for his increasing strange behavior since he returned to Honduras and decided to hide out in the Brazilian Embassy.
The new engagement comes as the two battling sides in the Honduran political dispute seem to be nearing an agreement after weeks of intense negotiations.
The delegation "will urge both sides to show flexibility and redouble their efforts to bring the crisis to an end," Kelly said, adding that progress was made as recently as this morning. Clinton decided to get involved after seeing what was then regarded as an impasse last Friday.
Elections in Honduras are planned for Nov. 29 and the need to properly prepare is what's driving the timeline, according to Kelly.
"In order for it to be seen as legitimate and for the authorities down there to conduct a completely open and transparent electoral process, that there needs to be some time. And this is precisely why we see some urgency in this," he said.
The fate of Shannon's nomination to become ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela's nomination to replace Shannon hang in the balance as well. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, has said he would release his holds on the two after the administration comes out in support of the elections.
The two sides are working off the San Jose Accord document, but have been stuck on the issue of what Zelaya's role would be if and when the truce is signed.
Jim DeMint is ready to release his holds against two top administration Latin America appointees, the South Carolina senator told The Cable, and he predicts the State Department will soon recognize the upcoming Honduran elections as legitimate.
In an exclusive interview, DeMint said he was seeing signs of movement from the State Department related to U.S. policy toward Honduras and that he had come close to an agreement over his hold in his meeting earlier this week with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon.
"We got a lot of agreement in the area of coming to terms with recognizing the upcoming elections there," DeMint said of his meeting with Shannon."That's what I'm waiting for from our government, signals that we're going to recognize those elections and move forward."
"I'm anxious to release both of the holds, but I'm not going to do that until I see some positive movements from the administration," he added.
DeMint is singularly holding up Shannon's nomination to become ambassador to Brazil as well as the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to take Shannon's post. Shannon just returned from Honduras, where he met with de facto regime leader Roberto Micheletti as part of an Organization of American States delegation.
The State Department had been freezing out the Micheletti government, refusing to deal with its leaders directly and even pulling their visas to visit the United States. But as Micheletti gets closer to an agreement with ousted former President Manuel Zelaya, DeMint said the State Department would have no choice but to adjust its approach.
DeMint credited the congressional delegations that have visited Tegucigalpa, including one he led personally, with loosening the State Department's stance. He predicted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would come out in support of the elections once the two sides in Honduras come to terms, but noted that Shannon wasn't yet ready to go that far.
"He realized that it is essential that these elections go forward and are recognized," DeMint said of Shannon. "But he did not say they are ready to recognize them."
As the two battling parties in the Honduran presidential dispute struggle to reach a settlement, the State Department has been communicating behind the scenes with both camps, a senior State Department official told The Cable.
Officially, the State Department has pledged not to interact directly with the leader of the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, throwing the full support of the U.S. government behind ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the diplomatic efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
But the State Department is also in contact with the Micheletti camp through indirect channels, including businessmen in Honduras and friends of the de facto regime in the United States, the official explained. The goal was both to get information and to push both sides to come to a resolution of the conflict, which has been raging since Micheletti's June 28 takeover.
"Our message to both sides is, 'Listen, this is a golden opportunity and let's not lose it,'" the senior official said.
Thomas Shannon, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also was part of a recent OAS delegation to Honduras that did meet with Micheletti, although there were no direct one-on-one talks between Shannon and the regime.
The State Department's latest reading of the situation in Honduras is that the two sides are extremely close to an agreement, but stuck on the issue of the role Zelaya would play if a deal is signed.
"It's a really fluid situation that seems to be changing minute by minute," said the official. Zelaya is still hiding out in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Almost all of the provisions of the San Jose Accord are said to be part of the new agreement, but Article 6, which states that all government posts should return to their status before the coup began, is a sticking point with the Micheletti camp, which is said to adamantly oppose Zelaya retaking his presidential position. (The Micheletti regime issued a statement to that effect.)
Meanwhile, Shannon met today with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who is holding up Shannon's nomination to become ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela's nomination to take over Shannon's job.
DeMint has been hugely critical of the administration's Honduras policy and took a delegation there to meet with Micheletti against the State Department's wishes. There is speculation that if the situation in Tegucigalpa gets resolved, DeMint would release his holds, but neither of those things has happened just yet.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, is also heavily interested in a resolution of the Honduran crisis.
"Consistent with the progress made by negotiators, the de facto government of Honduras should rescind the decree limiting fundamental civil and political rights. I also call on the supporters of President Zelaya to refrain from provocation and acts of violence," Lugar said in a statement.
Following State Department official Bisa Williams's trip to Havana last month, the discussion of changes to U.S. Cuba policy has taken off, bringing together an unusual amalgamation of progressive internationalists and old-bull realists centered around the common realization that a window for engagement may be opening.
"I am a diplomat but I think there is an opportunity. I think we are ready to take that opportunity," Jorge Bolaños Suarez, who represents Cuba in Washington in lieu of a formal ambassador, told a group of policy wonks at a Thursday reception on the USS Sequoia, organized by the New America Foundation, a centrist Washington think tank.
Bolaños related a story in which Obama's State Department recently denied a visa to Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, three days before he was to come to Washington for a conference. Upon hearing the news, Alarcon asked Bolaños to thank the State Department because it was the first time they had actually given three-days' notice that his visa would be denied.
"This is an improvement. I assure you this is an improvement," Bolaños joked, adding on a more serious note, "There is a lot of hiding and issues on both sides, but everything is possible once we sit down at the table, and everything is possible if we both respect sovereignty, a sense of equality and sole determination for each country."
The U.S. embargo against Cuba, which was instituted following Fidel Castro's 1958 overthrow of the U.S.-supported Batista regime and strengthened due to Castro's alignment with the Soviet Union, has not been significantly revisited despite the Cold War ending almost 20 years ago.
The audience at the Bolaños event was eclectic, ranging from Dana Marshall, a former economic advisor to Vice President Al Gore, to Phillip Peters, vice president of the conservative think tank the Lexington Institute, and retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, now with the left-leaning National Security Network.
Steve Clemons, New America's foreign-policy chief and the editor of The Washington Note, organized the event and has been building a left-right coalition of thinkers who believe there is simply no continued rationale for America's refusal to thaw the relationship.
"During the Bush-Cheney years, the only place in the world where the Cold War actually got colder was in U.S.-Cuba policy," said Clemons, referring to travel restrictions and remittance caps that Bush put forth and Obama has since repealed.
U.S.-Cuba policy has been held hostage by some in the Miami Cuban community, but even that community's views are evolving as a new generation takes over, said Clemons. But although family issues are involved, the core argument of Cuba engagement advocates is that reforming the Cuba approach is simply sound strategy.
"The unilateral embargo that the U.S. has maintained for five decades has failed to produce any positive results," said Clemons. "Fixing this -- and putting U.S.-Cuba relations on a constructive course would be an easy win for the Obama administration. Cuba is the least expensive, lowest-hanging fruit among foreign policy challenges facing Obama."
The loose coalition of foreign-policy thinkers calling for this goal is still being formed. It now includes former Secretary of State George Schultz (who last year said "I think our policy of sanctions against Cuba is ridiculous"), former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
Richardson, who traveled to Cuba in August, gave a speech Friday calling for Cuba engagement at the New Democrat Network, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.
"For the sake of improving our image in Latin America and our interests, it makes sense to normalize relations with Cuba," he said, saying that the first step should be for Obama to issue an executive order lifting the travel ban, followed by exchanges of cultural, medical, and academic delegations.
He warned that congressional resistance would be tough to overcome, including the strong influence of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, who strongly supports the embargo. In 1996, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act strengthening the embargo, which is still in effect.
Advocates of lifting it recognize that the goal is not in the offing anytime soon. They point to symbolic gestures, such as the turning off of propaganda signs at the American interests section in Havana, as small steps in the right direction.
Meanwhile, there is at least a perception that the Cubans haven't responded to Obama's overtures.
"You Cubans have got to do something; you've got to reciprocate with suggestions," Richardson said he told his Cuban interlocutors. But he added that Obama's positive image and the small concessions he has offered are changing attitudes in Cuba as well.
"They like the guy," said Richardson. "So I think that's a positive step."
Photo: Sandy Choi for FP
To the great chagrin of the State Department, a group of Republicans led by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint have opened up a second front of U.S. engagement toward Honduras, conducting their own version of shuttle diplomacy.
DeMint took a band of lawmakers to meet with the de facto regime there this weekend, maneuvering past objections of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry to set up a channel of communication with the new leadership, which has been completely snubbed by the Obama administration.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that the U.S. is siding with ousted President Manuel Zelaya, but Zelaya's erratic behavior since he snuck back into Honduras and holed himself up in the Brazilian Embassy, combined with the apparent failure of diplomatic efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and the Organization of American States, has provided an opening for those in Washington who argue that engaging the current leadership there is both strategic and practical.
Back in Washington, the battle over Honduras policy is tangled up with DeMint's effort to hold up the nominations of two of Obama's key Latin America appointees, Thomas Shannon to be U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, said in an interview with The Cable that he supports the GOP trips to Honduras but not DeMint's holds.
"On balance it may be helpful. Clearly there was an impasse there," said Lugar, referring to the trips. "Our foreign policy has tried to be mindful and consistent with the OAS and this has led really to our having really no representation in the country."
Lugar himself intended to visit with de facto President Roberto Micheletti before the State Department pulled his visa as part of its freeze-out.
Lugar has pressed DeMint repeatedly to drop the holds. He said that a successful election on Nov. 29 election and a recognition of the election results by the administration would likely lead to DeMint releasing his holds and could also represent the way out of the crisis.
"Presently I think we're headed toward a foreign-policy disaster of an election that would not be recognized by anybody and really no way out of the pass," said Lugar.
OAS officials are in Tegucigalpa today to try to mediate between the two sides, with Shannon as part of the delegation. And although Lugar is hopeful, he is preparing to press the administration later this week to alter its Honduras policy to prepare for a post-Nov. 29 relationship with whoever wins.
"For the moment I see an impending debacle which would be very unfortunate for the people of Honduras, quite apart from a failure of our own foreign policy," Lugar said.
DeMint briefed GOP senators on his trip during Tuesday's caucus lunch, the first full discussion of the issue among Republicans, Lugar said.
Congressman Peter Roskam, R-Ill, also spoke with The Cable just after returning from Tegucigalpa to talk about his delegation and the strategy behind the GOP's controversial engagement approach.
The delegation, which in addition to DeMint and Roskam included Reps. Aaron Schock, R-FL, and Doug Lamborn, R-CO, met with Micheletti, as well as several other senior regime leaders, the entire Supreme Court, all the candidates for the upcoming election, several American expatriates, and selected representatives of Honduran civil society groups.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, was expected to meet with Micheletti as well the next day.
Although the State Department tried to prevent the delegation from going, U.S. consular officials did assist the delegation logistically, but did not participate in the meetings, Roskam said. The delegation also had a tense meeting with U.S. Amb. Hugo Llorens, in which Roskam described him as being "very defensive."
"The very consistent theme that was coming across was a sense of bewilderment from all the Hondurans we were meeting with at their treatment by the United States," Roskam related.
Micheletti acknowledged to the group that he did not have the authority to physically remove Zelaya from the country, but he seeks communication with the U.S. government and was not pleased that the State Department had cut him off.
The conclusion Roskam drew from the trip was that the problem in Honduras won't be solved until the Nov. 29 election, in which neither Micheletti nor Zelaya is running -- that is, if it can meet reasonable standards of freedom and fairness.
U.S. trade with Honduras is at stake, Roskam argued, and is needed to counter the expanding regional influence of anti-American forces such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.
"It's in our interest to lay out a clear pathway after which we can recognize a government that's chosen on November 29," Roskam said, "The Hondurans are going to choose."
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, is holding up the nominations of Thomas Shannon to be U.S. ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, a job previously held by Shannon. Valenzuela currently directs the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and was a National Security Council staffer during Bill Clinton's second term.
Senators' holds on presidential nominees, it should be noted, only really exist in people's minds. There's no form to fill out, no button to push. When a senator informs congressional leaders he has a "hold" on any of the hundreds of people awaiting Senate confirmation, that's it. The "hold" is just a threat by that Senator to use his regular parliamentary powers to create enough havoc that it forces the leadership, or the administration, to address his concerns.
Most times, the "holds" have nothing to do with the actual nominees themselves, but are simply a chance for a senator to make a policy point, get some information he or she's been seeking, or perhaps eek out some concessions before letting a new appointment go through. In this case, DeMint is engaged in a fight with President Obama over how to react to the sudden removal of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
Latin America watchers had been hoping that some progress on Shannon and Valenzuela's nominations would have been made during the August recess, but apparently not, according to an article today in the The Hill, a congressionally focused Washington newspaper:
Richard Verma, the State Department's assistant secretary of legislative affairs, approached DeMint this past week about releasing the holds but the South Carolina senator is standing firm.
"Both of these nominees rushed to oppose the rule of law in Honduras and want to force a Chavez-style dictator back into power," DeMint told The Hill. "They exemplify this administration's misguided and heavy-handed tactics against the Honduran people and side with those who trample freedom."
Facing stiff resistance, Obama administration officials have asked Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to intervene, but to little avail so far.
"I've been attempting to work with Sen. DeMint to release the holds; we do need to have those officials," said Lugar.
"It's very important in terms of our overall relations with Latin American countries that we've have been attempting to enhance with much more vigorous diplomacy," he added.
DeMint said in an interview that he does not want the standoff over the nominees to erupt into a major confrontation but felt he had to pressure the administration into restoring foreign aid to Honduras.
Cuban president Raul Castro has responded to moves by the Obama administration this week to relax restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances to the island, saying he welcomes talking about "everything" with the U.S. government.
"We have sent messages to the U.S. government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything, whenever they want," Castro said in a speech in Venezuela Thursday, as cited by Reuters.
"Human rights, press freedom, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about," Castro said.
Meantime, Fidel Castro has replied to a letter from 12 retired senior U.S. military officers -- including Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.), former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, and Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy -- calling on U.S. President Barack Obama and Congress to end the travel ban to Cuba for all Americans, not just those of Cuban descent. The letter was organized by the New America Foundation and the National Security Network.
"We give thanks to those who wrote the letter to Obama, just as we thank senators Lugar and Delahunt, the Caucus and other influential members of Congress," the elder Castro wrote.
"We do not fear dialogue; we do not need to invent enemies," he continued. "We do not fear the debate of ideas; we believe in our convictions and with them we have known how to defend and continue defending our homeland."
Cuba is excluded from the 34-nation Summit of the Americas getting underway in Trinidad and Tobago today, which Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are attending.
Photo: ENRIQUE DE LA OSA/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.