Mansoor Ijaz, the main figure in the "Memogate" scandal that is rocking the highest levels of the Pakistani political establishment, told his U.S. go-between Gen. Jim Jones in a private e-mail that there were three people who "prepared" the now-infamous memo, not just former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani.
Ijaz is set to travel to Islamabad next week to testify before the Supreme Court of Pakistan's inquiry commission on the memo, which he delivered through Jones to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen last May. Ijaz has repeatedly claimed the memo was authored solely by Haqqani on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The memo offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and reorient Pakistani foreign policy in exchange for U.S. government help to prevent a purported impending military coup in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Haqqani resigned over the scandal and is now living under virtual house arrest on Gilani's compound, but he has always denied being the author of the memo. Now, in the previously unreported May 9 e-mail from Ijaz to Jones that accompanied the memo, obtained by The Cable, Ijaz told Jones the document was prepared by three people, not just Haqqani.
"In further reference to our telephone discussions on Pakistan and its relations with the United States, I am attaching herewith a document that has been prepared by senior active and former Pakistan government officials, some of whom served at the highest levels of the military-intelligence directorates in recent years, and as senior political officers of the civilian government," Ijaz wrote to Jones only 8 days after bin Laden was found hiding in the military town of Abbotabad.
Last month, Ijaz handed over the e-mail to the Supreme Court's Registrar Faqir Hussain in advance of Ijaz's testimony next week. Ijaz told Jones in the e-mail that the memo "has the support of the President of Pakistan," but Ijaz didn't mention in the e-mail that Haqqani was involved in the memo or the scheme in any way.
"I personally know two of the three men," Ijaz wrote to Jones, referring to the three men who allegedly prepared the document. "I believe they are men of honor and integrity, although they have been away from the games played in Islamabad for some time."
"Thanks for standing up with me on this," wrote Ijaz. "I don't know if it will work, but we have to try."
Jones replied May 11 "Message delivered," referring to the fact he had passed the memo on to Mullen.
In an Oct. 10 Financial Times op-ed where he revealed the existence of the memo, Ijaz wrote that the scheme was devised by "a senior Pakistani diplomat" whom Ijaz later alleged was Haqqani, but Ijaz didn't mention the existence of the other two other officials in that article.
In an interview on Thursday with The Cable, Ijaz confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail he sent to Jones but said its contents did not contradict his various other statements. Ijaz said that the Jones e-mail was meant as a general overview but didn't reflect the details of the involvement of the other two men, whom he identified as Jehangir Karamat, who served as Army chief of staff and U.S. ambassador under former military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former National Security Advisor for Gilani, who was fired in 2009 over an unrelated dispute.
"There was only one author of the memo and that was Haqqani, but the way Haqqani presented it to me was that there was a team of people back in Pakistan involved and the two names he gave me were Karamat and Durrani," Ijaz told The Cable.
Ijaz said his current understanding is that Karamat and Durrani were involved in some unclear way in the scheme to overhaul Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership but were not involved in the actual drafting or delivery of the memo, as far as he knows.
"My impression at the time I wrote the email to Jones was that they had been probably a part of the thinking process about the ideas in the memorandum. They were probably involved at least in thinking through how you execute these things," Ijaz told The Cable. "They certainly did not have anything to do with the actual drafting of the memorandum or the delivery of the message. Then again, maybe they did, I don't know. Who the hell knows? What I put down in the e-mail was what Haqqani told me."
In his written statement to the Supreme Court, Ijaz claims that Karamat and Durrani were names given to him by Haqqani "as people that would be involved in forming the new national security team," but he did not identify them as being involved in the preparation of the document.
"[Haqqani] said there was a like-minded group of people in Islamabad that would be brought on board by ‘the boss'; -- a reference I understood to mean President Asif Ali Zardari -- as the new national security team once tensions had dissipated. He mentioned two names I recognized (Jehangir Karamat and Mahmud Durrani) but added that they would be approached once this was all over -- a point I took to mean they were unaware of this operation in advance," Ijaz wrote in his statement.
The military-civilian rift over the memo reached even higher levels of confrontation this week as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday sacked Defense Secretary Khalid Naeem Lodhi for "gross misconduct and illegal action." Lodhi gave the Supreme Court statements pertaining to Memogate from Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership without going through the civilian government first.
The firing of Lodhi followed a warning by Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that Gilani's earlier statements, calling the actions of Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency Ahmed Shuja Pasha related to Memogate "unconstitutional," could have "grievous consequences." Gilani had criticized the two for submitting statements to the court without going through the civilian leadership first. The stakes could not be higher in Pakistan, where the civilian government is fighting for survival and the military is seeking to assert its dominance over politics.
The newly revealed e-mail also seems to corroborate Jones's secret affidavit to the court in which Jones swore that Ijaz "gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message."
Later in the affidavit, Jones hedged by writing, "I do not recall whether Mr. Ijaz claimed that Ambassador Haqqani had anything to do with the creation of the memo. I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
In his own affidavit to the court, Ijaz directly disputed Jones' account of events. Jones says that Ijaz called him on the phone a few days before the delivery of the memo. Ijaz refutes that call ever took place. Ijaz also swears that he did tell Jones about Haqqani's involvement during their May 9 phone call, only because Jones was extremely skeptical of the authenticity of the memo.
"I made clear to him near the end of the call that Pakistan's ambassador to the US was the originator of the message," Ijaz wrote in his affidavit. "Gen. Jones continued to express reservations but when I told him this was not for him or I to decide, that if what the ambassador was saying about the potential for a military takeover was true, that we simply had a responsibility to make sure the private message Haqqani wanted conveyed got through to its destined recipient. He responded by saying he would do it if the message was in writing."
In his affidavit, Ijaz again claims that Haqqani was the sole author of the memo. "The content of the Memorandum originated entirely from Haqqani, was conceived by Haqqani and was edited by Haqqani," Ijaz wrote.
Ijaz has always said that his back-channel dealings were in furtherance of his desire to expose the inappropriate influence of Pakistan's military and intelligence sectors on domestic politics. That said, since the scandal broke he has been harshly critical of the civilian government led by Zardari. The entire scandal rests largely on Ijaz's credibility and his account of events as compared to Haqqani's.
Ijaz met with Pasha Oct. 22 in London and handed over evidence he says implicates Haqqani, including Blackberry Messenger communications that Ijaz says prove Haqqani's involvement in the conspiracy. In a twist of irony, when Ijaz gets to Pakistan next week, his security will be reportedly be provided by Kayani, the military leader he originally conspired to overthrow.
In his e-mail to Jones, Ijaz also claimed that he was working with Sen. Tom Daschle and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to deliver the document. Ijaz told The Cable today that he reached out to Daschle in an effort to reach Mabus as a conduit to Mullen -- but it never panned out.
"Daschle's condition [before becoming involved] was that the memo had to have Zardari's signature and be written on his letterhead. That sort of defeats the purpose [of the back channel], so that option was out," said Ijaz. "They were never involved directly in this. I never had any direct contact with Daschle or Mabus."
The State Department is further scaling down the staff at the U.S. embassy in Damascus, citing increased violence and the inability of U.S. diplomats to effectively do their jobs there.
"Due to security concerns in Syria, in October 2011, the embassy was designated an unaccompanied post with restricted staffing. The Department has decided to further reduce the number of employees present in Damascus, and has ordered a number of employees to depart Syria as soon as possible," stated a Jan. 11 travel warning. "U.S. citizens should avoid all travel to Syria."
Airline services into and out of Syria are also cutting operations and U.S. citizens should leave now if they can, the travel warning stated. The consular section at the U.S. embassy in Damascus is no longer going to be open to the public, so American citizens will now have to make an appointment. Moreover, the embassy is warning Americans that if they get in trouble in Syria, they might be on their own.
"Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency is extremely limited and may be further constrained by the fluid security situation," the warning said. "Syrian efforts to attribute the current civil unrest to external influences have led to an increase in anti-foreigner sentiment. Detained U.S. citizens may find themselves subject to allegations of incitement or espionage. Contrary to the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of which Syria is a signatory, Syrian authorities generally do not notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of a U.S. citizen until days or weeks after the arrest. Moreover, in the past, security officials have not responded to U.S. Embassy requests for consular access, especially in cases of persons detained for ‘security' reasons. There have been numerous credible reports of torture in Syrian prisons."
One embassy official who won't be leaving, however, is Ambassador Robert Ford, who continues to engage Syrians both in person and on the U.S. embassy's Facebook page. In his Jan. 5 post, Ford acknowledged that terrorists may be attacking the Syrian regime but said that the regime was broadly responsible for the violence.
"Indeed there are terrorists attacking people in Syria. I'm the American ambassador and I just acknowledged it; in fact we've acknowledged and condemned violence all along," wrote Ford. "We strongly condemned the December 23 suicide car bomb attacks. But the question is what started all this violence and how to stop it? Can the Syrian government oppress a large part of the population that demands dignity and respect of basic human rights or is its violence making things even worse?"
French journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in the city of Homs today on a government-sponsored trip of the city, becoming the first Western reporter killed during the Syria conflict. The perpetrators of the attack remain a mystery.
A bipartisan group of eight senators are urging the European Union to level an oil embargo on Iran, while back in Washington both parties are preparing for another push on further Iran sanctions legislation.
"We write to you now to express our belief that 2012 will bring a turning point in the confrontation between Iran and the international community," wrote Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), in a Jan. 10 letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.
"Despite economic sanctions that have been put in place in recent years, the strategic calculus of the Iranian regime with regard to its nuclear program has not changed.... For this reason, we believe that it is necessary now to put additional pressure on the Iranian regime by imposing an embargo on its most important export -- oil -- and sanctions on its primary financial intermediary -- the Central Bank of Iran," the letter said.
The EU has signaled recently that there is consensus in principle to go forward with an oil embargo and impose more Iran sanctions, mirroring those passed by Congress and signed reluctantly by President Barack Obama. The EU Council meets at the end of the month, which likely would be the time for an announcement of new sanctions.
"What was unthinkable just a few months ago is now being seriously debated inside the EU: an oil embargo and Central Bank sanctions against Iran," a senior Senate aide told The Cable. "In order to empower those forces inside the EU who are pushing for tough action on both oil and CBI as quickly as possible, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have an urgent responsibility to send a clear, persistent, and strong message to the Europeans about the importance of this issue in the weeks ahead. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if the White House is doing so."
The administration is supporting the new EU sanctions in its public statements. "We're encouraged by the signs that we've seen, that they seem to have some preliminary agreement. This is something that we strongly support," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
Congress is also planning to renew consideration of more sanctions on Iran when it returns from winter recess. The Senate plans to take action on the Iran, North Korea, Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act, which is sponsored by Menendez, Kyl, Lieberman, Kirk, and Gillibrand. That bill, a version of which was passed by the House in December, would tighten current sanctions by doing three main things: 1) remove some of the flexibility the Obama administration enjoys to delay enforcement of certain measures; 2) target Iran's shipping and trade; and 3) push the administration to increase promotion of human rights, democracy, and greater access to information inside Iran.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but Hill aides expect it to be reintroduced and referred to the Senate Banking Committee, which traditionally has jurisdiction over Iran sanctions matters. That could happen as early as next month.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is traveling to Beijing this week to try to convince the Chinese to go along with the existing sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which require the United States to punish any country's central bank if it does business with the CBI. The Chinese preemptively announced that they have no intention of going along with that plan.
The choice of Geithner for the job struck many on Capitol Hill as odd, considering Geithner is on record as opposing the CBI sanctions and was reportedly personally involved in the administration's efforts to water down the legislation, even writing a letter opposing the stricter measures.
"I am writing to express the administration's strong opposition to this amendment because, in its current form, it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have taken to build strong international pressure against Iran," wrote Geithner in December. "In addition, the amendment would potentially yield a net economic benefit to the Iranian regime."
"What a great irony that a month ago he puts his signature to a letter opposing the sanctions that he is now going around the world to seek enforcement of," a senior GOP congressional aide said, adding that the Hill is waiting for Treasury to issue its final rule for implementation of the CBI sanctions.
"We will be watching closely to see if they try to narrow the scope and what they try to do to water down sanctions now that they tried very hard unsuccessfully to water down before."
The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy "unconvincing," "unacceptable," "a broken record," and "condescending."
The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers to questions posed over Twitter following each Friday press briefing in January, is an experiment in State's ever-evolving strategy that it has dubbed "21st Century Statecraft."
Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations, suggested one of the five tweets that was chosen and answered by Nuland, but the group is unhappy with the result.
The tweet, sent by @ObSilence but identical to the tweet suggested by Act for Sudan, was: "Why doesn't @StateDept support regime change in #Sudan where government-led genocide continues? Why Syria+Libya but not #Sudan?"
"Well, first of all, ObSilence, each country and each situation is different," Nuland responded. "But I will say that in Sudan, for many years, we have continued to press for concrete, meaningful, democratic reforms and accountability and an end to the violence. We have pushed hard for an end to the fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and a full resolution of the Darfur conflict. Those responsible for crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable."
Nuland went on to say that normalization between the United States and Sudan could only progress when violence ends, and she called on the government to work with civilians to resolve their issues. She also acknowledged that "deplorable human rights conditions and unacceptable practices of bombing innocent civilians and denying humanitarian access continue."
Act for Sudan put out a release today saying that several of its members were wholly unsatisfied by that answer, and believed that Nuland sidestepped the question in a way that downplayed the tragedy of the human rights situation in Sudan.
"Of course, we realize that all countries and situations are different, but does the United States of America have no standards regarding its responsibilities in the face of genocide and crimes against humanity?" said Eric Cohen, an Act for Sudan spokesman.
"In Libya, with thousand of civilians in danger, President Obama rightly authorized limited military action to help protect them, and publicly called for Libya's brutal dictator to step aside," said Cohen. "Why then, with millions of civilians endangered in Sudan by their own government, is the U.S. not leading the international community in its responsibility to protect the people of Sudan, by all means necessary, including military options? Why are we not leading the call for the ouster of Sudan's president and his cronies, who are indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes?"
Act for Sudan coordinated an open letter in November signed by 66 organizations to President Barack Obama asking the United States to urgently address civilian protection and humanitarian assistance for Sudanese under attack by their own government. Among other recommendations, the letter asked Obama to instruct the National Security Council to accelerate decisions regarding protection of Nuba, Blue Nile, and Darfuri populations from air attacks and to seriously consider the destruction of offensive aerial assets and the imposition of a no-fly zone. It also requests the immediate initiation of a cross-border emergency aid program to the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, Blue Nile and Abyei regions.
The Obama administration may be experimenting with unique ways to engage with the world through this Twitter press conference, but as this latest scuffle shows, social media remains a two-way street. And the Twitter world can now experience what reporters have known all along - answers given during press conferences rarely fully answer the question, much less satisfy the questioner.
A bipartisan group of foreign-policy experts is calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do all she can to ensure the fair treatment and safety of former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, who fears for his life in Pakistan due to fallout from the Memogate scandal.
Haqqani, who resigned and returned to Pakistan last November, told the New York Times this weekend that he was under virtual house arrest in the guest quarters of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's compound in Islamabad because he fears he could be murdered if he leaves the grounds. His lawyer said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "might pick him up and torture him" to elicit a confession of treason.
Last week, three U.S. senators issued a statement calling for fair treatment of Haqqani and criticizing the Pakistani government's decision to confiscate his passport, despite the fact that he has not been formally charged with any crime. Today, 16 leading regional experts sent a letter to Clinton, obtained by The Cable, asking her to pressure the Pakistani government to make sure Haqqani's rights aren't violated.
"While we, as individuals, may not have always agreed with Ambassador Haqqani's views, we regarded him as an effective presenter of Pakistani positions in the Washington context. In keeping with its traditional support for human rights and its deep interest in a firmly democratic Pakistan, the U.S. government should do all it can to ensure Haqqani receives due process without any threat of physical harm," said the letter, which was organized by Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation and Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.
"We commend the State Department for its statement on Friday calling for fair and transparent treatment of Ambassador Haqqani in accordance with Pakistani law and international legal standards. We would urge the U.S. government to continue to weigh in with key Pakistani leaders and to make appropriate public statements to ensure that Husain Haqqani is not physically harmed and that due process of law is followed."
The experts noted that Haqqani's lawyer, Asma Jehangir, recently quit, citing her lack of confidence in the judicial commission established by the Pakistani Supreme Court to investigate the case. They also said that Haqqani's case follows an "ominous trend" of pro-democracy figures in Pakistan being silenced by Islamist forces.
"The case against Haqqani follows an ominous trend in Pakistan. The assassinations of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, and journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad this past year have created a culture of intimidation and fear that is stifling efforts to promote a more tolerant and democratic society," the experts wrote. "Significant segments of the Pakistani media have already judged Haqqani to be guilty of treason, which could inspire religious extremists to take the law into their own hands as they did with Taseer and Bhatti."
Riedel led the Obama administration's 2009 Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review, which focused heavily on engaging Pakistan. But since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Riedel has been calling for a wholesale course change in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
The State Department is continuing to roll out big changes to its bureaucracy, inaugurating today a new "super office" to focus on protecting individuals by working outside of formal state-to-state channels, called the Office of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
Similar to last month's rollout of the super office of economics, energy, and the environment, this new office combines new and existing bureaus at State to increase coordination and tackle these issues more efficiently. The changes were spelled out last year in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and take effect today. The new structure will be described in State's brief shorthand as the "J" family.
The office's main mission is to improve the ways in which the U.S. government can promote the protection of individuals abroad and increase interactions with foreign civilian organizations.
"As we are seeing the increasing importance of using non-military tools to address transnational threats, it is very important for the State Department to develop its own capacity to address civilian security," said Maria Otero, the leader of the new office, in a Thursday interview with The Cable. Otero was previously the undersecretary of State for democracy and global affairs. In her new position, she will be charged with overseeing over 1,500 people all over the world.
"This piece focuses on protecting individuals. It focuses not just engaging state to state, but taking on the bold foreign policy statement that we need to engage also with players and actors outside of the traditional ones we've engaged in."
State will now be able to better coordinate its engagement with civil society, the private sector, and other non-governmental actors, she said. She referenced Egypt, where State works on security sector reform and human rights, as an example. Now officials can coordinate to "be able to engage not only with the SCAF but also with the bloggers," Otero said.
Other regions where Otero is looking to focus the attention of her new super office are Burma, Central America, Africa's Great Lakes region, and North Africa. Otero has visited Central America, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Tunisia, and several other countries over the last year.
Otero said the changes will allow State to do more without an increase in financial resources, but will require a light increase in staffing.
She will now be in charge of 5 functional bureaus and three offices. They are the brand new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), to be led by nominated Assistant Secretary Rick Barton; the brand new Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT), to be led by Amb. Daniel Benjamin; the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), which is led by Assistant Secretary Michael Posner; the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), led by Assistant Secretary William Brownfield; and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) led by acting Assistant Secretary David Robinson.
Otero already had jurisdiction over DRL and PRM, but is now taking over INL from the office of Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of political affairs. The SCO and CT bureaus were offices reporting directly to Clinton before.
The J family also now includes the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), led by Ambassador Luis CdeBaca; the Office of Global Criminal Justice (CGJ), formerly the Office of War Crimes Issues (WCI), led by Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp; and the Office of Global Youth Issues, led by future Rhodes scholar, Yale Law graduate, and country-music recording artist Ronan Farrow.
Some in State see the recent bureaucratic changes there as part of Clinton's plan to institutionalize her priorities by turning individual offices that reported directly to her into permanent structures that will remain after her departure, which is widely expected to occur next year. Otero said the changes were a response to the changing diplomatic landscape, which is increasingly influenced by non-state actors.
"This is the implementation of the vision the secretary had," she said. "She's done a strategic review, she's made changes, and now the form is following the substance."
The organizational chart for the new office can be found here.
As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama's administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.
Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where more than 5,000 people have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again "leading from behind," while the Turks, the French, and the Arab League -- which sent an observer mission to Syria this week -- pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials insist that they are moving cautiously to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country's complex dynamics before getting more involved.
The administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. Bashar al-Assad's regime is a "dead man walking," State Department official Fred Hof said this month. Now, the administration is ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue after several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis. The National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.
The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee, Deputies Committee, or Principals Committee meetings, the officials said. (Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.)
The options under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.
"The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it's still at the preliminary stage," one official said. "There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future."
After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials -- one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally careful out of concern about what comes next in Syria.
"Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious," the official said. "The criticism could be we're not doing enough to change the status quo because we're leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it's mindboggling."
A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.
"This isn't Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher," the official said. "Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow."
The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.
"That's theoretically one of the options, but it's so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment," another administration official said.
Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
"Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine," said Ghalioun. "We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights."
Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?
Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Assad to step aside and emphasizing the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve either result. "The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn't let the Arab League monitors do their work. "If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The SNC, the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, "Safe Area for Syria," edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.
"The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact," the paper stated.
But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime -- a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.
There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.
For now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.
The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad's human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn't flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.
There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.
"This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time," said one administration official.
"[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre," said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. "We're intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing."
Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught offguard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration's message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.
"We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections," he said. "But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn't happen."
Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.
The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military's role in cracking down on the protesters.
"It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission," said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative."
Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.
"Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors," he said. "It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus."
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.
"The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That's another feature of this administration," said Katulis. "And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Your humble Cable guy appeared on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night to discuss the international efforts to increase pressure on Iran and Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.
Take a look:
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates championed a rebalancing of foreign policy funding away from the military, arguing that the United States should pool soldiers' and diplomats' shared resources to better manage projects in warzones. Now, after his departure, the first true test of that idea is going into effect.
Gates, who famously warned in 2008 of the "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, was talking about his idea for a new $2 billion pooled fund that State and Defense would share for security capacity building, stabilization, and conflict prevention in dangerous areas of the world, where both the military and the diplomatic core operate, until his departure this year.
The Obama administration acted on that idea this year by proposing a $50 million starter fund in its fiscal 2012 budget request which it called the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), meant for responding to "urgent and emergent challenges." The idea is that approval to spend the money would require the approval of both secretaries, but the State Department would be more or less in charge.
"Secretary Gates called for pooled funding and this is the direct result of that and the first test of whether State and DOD can really work together on this kind of thing," a senior State Department official said in an interview with The Cable. "This is really an example of how State and DOD, rather than engage in bureaucratic gamesmanship, have decided to work together to solve these problems."
"For us, GSCF is the new model," the official said. "This is the model we think makes the most sense, particularly in budget-constrained times."
The new GSCF office will have a State Department official as a director, a Pentagon official as a deputy director, and will be located at the State Department, the official said. Nobody has been selected for the positions yet. The rough model for the office is the interagency "Pakistan cell," which manages various aspects of Pakistan funding now.
There's only one hitch: Congress. In the fiscal 2012 budget bill passed by Congress last week and signed by President Barack Obama, the $50 million to start GCSF was omitted. But Congress did give the administration the authority to start the project using funding from other accounts, including money earmarked for the Pakistani military.
Accordingly, GSCF will be funded this year by money appropriated to Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and what's called the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF), a pool of cash that is used to reimburse the Pakistani military for money it spends helping the United States fight Islamic extremists.
The PCCF program, meanwhile, is another ongoing saga in the jostling between State and DOD for control over money and power in countries where they both operate.
Originally housed at the Pentagon as the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Fund (PCF), the program was originally supposed to be transferred over to State in 2009. But at that time, State didn't have the capacity to manage it, so the transfer was delayed. In 2010, State finally took over the program, only to lose it again in 2011 during the last-minute budget slashing that accompanied the April 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. Now for 2012, the program is back at State again.
State will receive $850 million for PCCF in fiscal 2012, and this year State put the funding in its Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. By placing the program in the OCO account, the money is not counted as part of State's regular budget and therefore is more protected from the budget-cutting knives on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon is still heavily involved: In order to get the money to the Pakistani military, State actually passes the funds through the Pentagon, which implements the program on the ground by doling out the cash to the Pakistani army.
Passing the PCCF funds though the Pentagon this year will subject them to new policy restrictions in the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that require the administration to certify that Pakistan is using the money to fight extremists, rather than to build up conventional forces opposite India.
"The administration did have concerns that [these new restrictions] would hinder the flexibility of the program, but the Congress, obviously concerned about the nature of our relationship with Pakistan, insisted on these requirements," the State Department official said.
But how do you certify the Pakistanis are spending the money as intended? "That's going to be the issue," the official said.
While Washington grappled with the consequences of Kim Jong Il's death, the United States, Japan, and India held the first meeting of what is shaping up to be a robust trilateral dialogue -- but all sides have been quick to say that it's not aimed at isolating China.
The four-hour meeting was held at the State Department on Dec. 19, and the U.S. delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Bob Blake. Other U.S. officials in attendance included State Department Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and Pacific Affairs Peter Lavoy, and NSC Senior Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet.
The Japanese contingent was led by Koji Tsuruoka, deputy vice minister for foreign policy, who was visiting Washington with Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. The Indians flew in two officials, Joint Secretary for the Americas Jawed Ashraf and Joint Secretary for East Asia Gautam Bambawale.
Two State Department officials described the meeting for The Cable. "What I really loved about it was that it just seemed like a very natural conversation among friends," one of the officials said. "The amazing thing about our governments is that we really have shared values. That's the foundation of it all. That's the glue that binds us together."
The officials defined those shared values as democracy, human rights, rule of law, transparency, open markets, freedom of navigation, and an interest in international development work. "There wasn't a moment of dissonance in the whole thing," the official said. "The challenge now is to figure out what specifically we can focus on."
This was the first trilateral meeting between the three countries; the main objective of which was to set the foundation for future talks, discuss what issues would be on the agenda going forward, and set the goal of meeting again in Tokyo next year.
Topics that were discussed inside the meeting included Afghanistan, where Japan and India are large donors, the recent East Asia Summit, Central Asia, and Burma.
"We talked about how we can work together within all these Asian organizations to advance our shared values ... and what can do to help improve the workings of all these various fora," the State Department official said. "We agreed that we need to focus our collective efforts in Afghanistan to make sure all the values we share in Afghanistan are upheld and observed."
The U.S.-Japan-India trilateral dialogue is just the latest of the "mini-laterals" that the United States has undertaken recently. These groupings, which are smaller than often cumbersome multilateral groups, are becoming a preferred way for the United States to build consensus around policies with friends and allies.
There is another trilateral strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, and Australia that has been ongoing for five years, and now has half a dozen working groups. The United States and India have had a bilateral dialogue about East Asia for over two years now, led by Campbell and Blake. That dialogue has held four official meetings.
The State Department official said the United States is interested in setting up some "mini-lateral" structures that include China. U.S. policymakers also want to start a U.S.-India-China trilateral dialogue, the official said, but the Chinese won't sign on.
"Our Indian friends are happy to do it, we're willing to do it, but our Chinese friends are a little wary," the official said. The Japanese have also put forth the idea of a U.S.-Japan-China trilateral dialogue.
The State Department wants to be clear that this week's meetings were not about China. In fact, they said that the rise of China and how to deal with it wasn't discussed at the Dec. 19 trilateral meetings.
"We did talk about China, but it was in the context of other things," the official said. "We were actually looking for things we could do jointly with China."
Experts said that even if the trilateral dialogue wasn't about China, the fact that all three countries are cooperating in the effort to deal with China's rise looms over the discussions.
"The growing cooperation with India and Japan is driven by China's rise, there's no doubt about that. That doesn't mean it's directly aimed at China," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). "They are all trying to respond to China's rise but not antagonizing China. From China's perspective, any cooperation is encirclement."
The initial Chinese reaction to the meeting was cautious. "U.S., Japan and India are countries with great influence in the Asia-Pacific region. We hope the trilateral meeting will be conducive to regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.
Countries like India are interested in deepening their ties with China as well as the United States, but joining U.S.-brokered diplomatic architectures allows India to approach its engagement with China from a position of greater strength, said Cronin.
He also said that the effort was part of the U.S. goal of increased burden sharing with India, to offset the financial cost of maintaining the U.S. presence in East Asia.
"The U.S. is not looking to spend a fortune, it's looking to be a facilitator," he said. "It brings India into East Asia and Japan into the Indian Ocean and it does that at a very low cost to the United States."
The State Department officials acknowledged that part of the driving force behind encouraging India to take on more responsibility was to shift some of the financial responsibility to countries whose economies are on the rise.
"The Indian government, for the first time in a long time, has money. It's a country that can greatly complement U.S. efforts in the region.... This theme of them being a net provider of security takes on more significance when all of a sudden they finally have the resources to expand their role," the official said.
"The whole world has been a free-rider on the United States for so long, if the Indians can help with that in an era when we face budgetary constraints, the more the better," the official said. "The U.S. has had the luxury in the past of going it alone, but it certainly makes sense to do it with your friends."
Vice President Joe Biden made waves this week when he told Newsweek that "the Taliban per se is not our enemy." The State Department said this week it agrees with that assertion, as new reports surfaced that an initial confidence building deal with the Taliban in the works had fallen apart
"There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests," Biden said. "If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us."
Biden went on to say that there is a dual-track policy in place: One track is continuing to put pressure on al Qaeda, and the other is convincing the Taliban that reconciliation and a renunciation of international terrorism is in its best interests.
Republicans pounced on Biden's remarks. GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tweeted that the comments were "an outrageous affront to our troops carrying on the fight in Afghanistan." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Fox News that the comments were an "insult to the men and women who are serving today."
White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, backed up Biden, saying, "It is a simple fact that we went into Afghanistan because of the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. We are there now to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, to stabilize Afghanistan and stabilize it in part so that al Qaeda or other terrorists who have as their aim attacks on the United States cannot establish a foothold again in that country."
The Cable asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland if she agreed with Biden that the Taliban were not "per se" the enemy of the United States.
"Obviously we've made clear that those Taliban who are willing to come off the battlefield, renounce violence, break ties with al Qaeda, support the constitution of Afghanistan, be part of a political process -- we would support reconciliation with them led by the Afghans," Nuland said. "We're less interested in what folks call themselves, as we've said in other parts of the world. We're more interested in what they do and in the actions that they take."
The Washington Post reported today that months-long negotiations between the United States and the Taliban have broken down. According to the Post, the deal would have included the transfer of five Afghans out of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, in exchange for the Taliban publicly renouncing international terrorism. The Taliban prisoners would have been allowed to live under house arrest in Qatar , where the Taliban plan to open an office.
The deal reportedly broke down due to the objections of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On Dec. 18, Karzai told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that months of negotiations with the Taliban were revealed to be a farce when the purported Taliban negotiators assassinated Karzai's top negotiator, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
"The assassination of President Rabbani brought us in a shock to the recognition that we were actually talking to nobody, that those who came in the name of the peace process were assassins, were killers, were terrorists rather than negotiators," Karzai said.
"We've seen ups, and we've seen significant downs in the Afghans' efforts to create a reconciliation process," Nuland said on Dec. 19, before the reports of the secret negotiations surfaced. "I mean, the Rabbani assassination was obviously a very serious step backwards. With regard to, you know, whether we're going to have serious steps forward, I think, you know, only time will tell."
The Pentagon issued its report on the Nov. 25 raid where NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at an outpost along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, admitting that the U.S. military made mistakes that led to the incident. The Pentagon and State Department "deeply regret" the attack, but refuse to accede to Pakistani demands they issue an explicit apology.
"For the loss of life -- and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses -- we express our deepest regret," the Pentagon said in a Thursday statement about the incident, which has pushed U.S.-Pakistani relations to new lows and has resulted in Pakistan cutting off supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan, which are still closed.
U.S. and NATO investigators found that the NATO forces "acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon." The investigators also determined "there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military, or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials."
That quote refers to the Pakistani claim that NATO identified a location for the attack nine miles away from where they were actually attacking, which is what led to Pakistan telling NATO there were no Pakistani troops there troops in the area they were attacking.
The NATO explanation of the incident directly conflicts with the Pakistani military's own account of the incident, as explained by a Pakistani defense official to reporters in Washington last week. Pakistan's military has concluded that the NATO helicopters and planes strafed two Pakistani outposts intentionally, and they say that repeated pleas by Pakistani officials to halt the operation as it was being carried out were ignored.
At a Thursday morning briefing, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who led the investigation, acknowledged that NATO was using the wrong map template and therefore gave the Pakistanis the wrong location during the attack
Clark also said there was reluctance to share the information about the ongoing attack with the Pakistani side because of an "overarching lack of trust" between the two militaries. The report said both sides had made mistakes during the incident due to poor coordination and communication.
At the State Department today, reporters pressed spokesman Mark Toner to explain why the U.S. government won't just say "I'm sorry," as the Pakistanis are demanding.
"We've expressed our deep regret for the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between the U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to these losses. And you know, we do accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made," said Toner. "I think there's a shared responsibility in this incident."
The New York Times reported last month that the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter had urged the White House to issue an apology to quell Pakistani outrage, at both the official and the popular level, but the Pentagon objected.
The U.S. government is working hard behind the scenes to smooth over relations. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday and offered to send a briefing team to Islamabad. CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis also called Kayani. Munter spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
After being pressed several times on the question of the difference between expressing "regret" and issuing an "apology," Toner finally parsed it out the best he could.
"I think ‘we regret' speaks to a sense of sympathy with the Pakistani people, I mean, in this case, but more broadly with the people affected by any incident or tragedy and, you know, speaks to the fact that we're accepting responsibility for any of our actions that may have contributed to it," said Toner. "I don't know -- an apology -- you know, you can figure that out for your own. I can only say what we're trying to express through this investigation and through the conclusion of this investigation."
"It's pretty clear from this entire conversation that you're under orders not to use the words ‘sorry' or ‘apologize,'" one reporter said to Toner.
Toner's only response to that was: "Ok. Next question?"
The Iraqi government has promised to shutter Camp Ashraf -- the home of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) -- by Dec. 31. Now, the United Nations and the State Department are scrambling to move the MEK to another location inside Iraq, which just may be a former U.S. military base.
The saga puts the United Nations and President Barack Obama's administration in the middle of a struggle between the Iraqi government, a new and fragile ally, and the MEK, a persecuted group that is also on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The Marxist-Islamist group, which was formed in 1965, was used by Saddam Hussein to attack the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and has been implicated in the deaths of U.S. military personnel and civilians. The new Iraqi government has been trying to evict them from Camp Ashraf since the United States toppled Saddam in 2003. The U.S. military guarded the outside of the camp until handing over external security to the Iraqis in 2009. The Iraqi Army has since tried twice to enter Camp Ashraf, resulting in bloody clashes with the MEK both times.
Now the United Nations, led by Martin Kobler, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), is working with the State Department to convince the Iraqi government and the MEK to open up a new home for MEK members inside Iraq, at a facility near the Baghdad airport. U.S. officials won't confirm, but also won't deny, that facility is a U.S. military base that was recently handed over to the Iraqis.
"Ambassador Kobler and we are working flat out to put together the deal for the beginning of the implementation of his plan, which is to move the people in Camp Ashraf to a new facility," a State Department official told reporters in a special Monday briefing. The United Nations and State are hoping that if an agreement is reached, the Iraqi government will push back the deadline and not invade Camp Ashraf on Dec. 31 and forcibly extradite the MEK to Iran. But time is running out.
"Time is extraordinarily short," the State Department official said. "Oh yes, we're talking days."
The State Department official said the new facility under discussion is near the Baghdad airport, and has extensive infrastructure that "is very well known to the United States." Pressed by The Cable, the official refused to confirm that it was a former U.S. military base, but wouldn't deny it either. "It's a highly credible facility," the official said.
The official could not say if there was any precedent for a group that the United States labels a foreign terrorist organization being housed in a facility built by the U.S. military with U.S. taxpayer dollars, but emphasized that all U.S. military installations have now been turned over to the Iraqi government. The Victory Base Complex near the airport has several facilities that could be used for the Camp Ashraf residents.
Nobody knows how many people are in Camp Ashraf, because nobody can go inside. The residents are also suspected to be well armed. There could be as many as 3,200 people there, according to the State Department. If they are evicted from the camp, some will voluntarily go back to Iran and some will go to other countries. Others still may not actually be MEK members but could be living there for their own reason, making their relocation easier, the official said. The unknown number of "card-carrying members" of the MEK who can't or won't be relocated are the ones who the United Nations and State are trying to move to the new camp.
The United Nations and the Iraqi government have agreed on the basic way forward, but the MEK is not on board, the State Department official said. The Iraqi government won't talk directly to the MEK, and the MEK leadership living in Paris may have different priorities than the people actually living in Camp Ashraf.
Of course, the Iraqis have been warning for months that they would close Camp Ashraf by the end of the year. So why is everybody scrambling in the last two weeks? The State Department is placing the blame squarely on the MEK.
"For a long time, the MEK position was ‘here we are and here we stay, period,'" a State Department official said. "In recent days we've had the first signs that the MEK is finally, at long last, beginning to engage in a serious way, rather than simply politically through its many, many advocates. This is a good sign."
Reporters at the briefing wondered why the United Nations and State think simply relocating the MEK to another facility will solve the problem of its status as a terrorist group whose members are unable to get refugee status in a country where they are not welcome. The official said the new facility would be better because it would give the Iraqi government some control over what goes on there.
"[Camp Ashraf] is a state within a state. It is run by the MEK and when anybody else tries to enter, well, we've seen what occurs," one State Department official said, explaining that the new camp would have some type of Iraqi government administration and yet not be in total control of the MEK. "Iraqi soveriegnty will prevail with a robust set or arrangements and U.N. monitoring."
Another reason the United Nations and State are pushing for the MEK to be moved from Camp Ashraf to another facility is that the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has refused to give refugee status to Ashraf residents because of the MEK's tight control over the people there.
"Many international observers have regarding the current facility at Camp Ashraf as a coercive environment. Independent observers have called it a cult," the State Department said. "The UNHCR requires an atmosphere in which people can make their own choice free of group pressure. What's happened in Camp Ashraf has not been conducive to this."
Advocating for the MEK is a tricky proposition for the State Department, because the organization is on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The MEK has been lobbying hard for its removal from that list and State's review of their status has been "ongoing" for years.
As part of its multi-million dollar lobbying effort, the MEK has paid dozens of top U.S. officials and former officials to speak on its behalf, sometimes at rallies on the State Department's doorstep. MEK supporters have been stationed outside the State Department non-stop for months now, and are even showing up at Congressional hearings.
Their list of advocates, most who have admitted being paid, includes Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano, former National Security Advisor James Jones, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, Gen. Wesley Clark, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, former CIA Director Porter Goss, senior advisor to the Romney campaign Mitchell Reiss, Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Sen. Evan Bayh, and many others.
The State Department officials didn't say outright that these officials are making the challenge of dealing with the MEK worse by shilling for the organization around Washington. But they did call on the MEK's paid representatives to use whatever clout they have to urge the MEK to go along with the relocation now.
"It is important for those advocates to support a solution that is feasible. Because maximalist demands and echoing a kind of martyrdom and complex of defiance and blood will produce the results they fear. Now is the time for everybody who says they want a peaceful solution to back that solution right now," the official said.
But what happens after the MEK moves to the new facility, even if the current deal is worked out in time? What's the plan to deal with these people over the long run?
"Right now our priority is in a successful, peaceful relocation," the State Department official said. "One huge problem at a time."
UPDATE: The AP reported has just reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided to grant a 6-month extenstion on the closing of Camp Ashraf, although he is backdating the start of the extension to November.
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
As of last Friday, President Barack Obama's administration was considering announcing a new package of food aid to North Korea and working toward the resumption of talks about North Korea's nuclear program. Today, that whole plan has been upended due to the death of Kim Jong Il, forcing the administration to grapple with a whole new set of North Korea problems.
On Dec. 15-16, the State Department's Special Envoy for Human Rights Bob King met with North Korean foreign ministry official Ri Gun in Beijing to work out the details for monitoring the distribution of huge new shipments of food aid from the United States to North Korea, which claims to be in dire need. The South Korean press reported on Dec. 17 that an agreement had been struck for the United States to send 20,000 tons of food aid a month to North Korea for the next 12 months, or a grand total of 240,000 tons of food assistance.
The U.S. Special Representative on North Korea Glyn Davies was also in Beijing Dec. 15 and 16, coincidentally. On Dec. 17, news reports quoted an anonymous diplomatic source as saying that Pyongyang had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment -- one of Washington's key demands for the resumption of Six Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program, which have been defunct since 2008. Davies was supposed to travel to Beijing to firm up the details of that arrangement with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan on Dec. 22.
All of those arrangements are now on hold indefinitely, as the United States regroups with allies Japan and South Korea to try to assess the current situation inside North Korea, prepare for the downside risk of a violent transition, and figure out how to proceed in dealing with a regime that has nuclear weapons and a very uncertain future.
"Where we were headed was the giving of food aid, the restart of the [prisoner of war] remains recovery project (to return U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean war), and these would be the two goodies that North Korea would get to undertake the pre-steps to restarting the Six Party Talks. The administration was going to announce the food aid this week and Davies was supposed to be in Beijing by Thursday," said Victor Cha, former Asia director at the National Security Council, who now holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Now we've got a whole new problem, not just seeing if we can get back to where we were Friday," said Cha. "This transition may not go well. It completely changes the whole character of the North Korea problem overnight. A runaway nuclear program, the sudden death of Kim Jong Il, and we know nothing about the new leadership. You can't imagine a worse problem than this."
At today's State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized that no final decisions had been made on granting food aid to North Korea or sending Davies to Beijing. In fact, she said that there was supposed to be a high-level interagency meeting today at the White House with King and Davies to make these very decisions.
That meeting did take place early on Monday, but did not focus on food aid, uranium enrichment, the Six Party talks, or any other bilateral issue, according to Nuland.
"Meetings that might have happened today with our travelers who just got back instead were focused on maintaining close contact with our other partners in the Six Party Talks and on ensuring calm and regional stability on the peninsula," Nuland said. "So we have yet to have the internal review of these issues that we need to have."
Nuland also said that the Obama administration wanted "to be respectful of the North Korean period of mourning," so no further negotiations are expected for a while. North Korea does not intend to invite foreign delegations to Kim's Dec. 28 funeral.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed on the situation in North Korea twice on Sunday night by Davies and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. She just happened to be meeting Monday at the State Department with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, after which told reporters, "We both share a common interest in a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea, as well as in ensuring regional peace and stability."
Clinton said that Obama had spoken with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday night, and officials were reaching out to their counterparts in Russia and China as well. Clinton made no mention of the recent U.S.-North Korea bilateral diplomacy, nor did she reiterate calls for North Korea to honor its previous agreements to denuclearize and rejoin multilateral talks on that issue.
Clinton and Gemba took no questions at their post-meeting "press conference."
One Asia hand close to the administration told The Cable today that the bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea were even more advanced than had been reported. According to this expert, the North Koreans had also discussed a moratorium on missile testing, which would have been announced after the resumption of the Six Party Talks. The North Koreans were also asking the United States to resume its assistance in building a light water commercial nuclear reactor in North Korea, an idea that has been part of past negotiations but was scuttled when the 1994 Agreed Framework, which was meant to govern North Korea's nuclear program, broke down in 2002.
That 1994 agreement is seen by some as a positive indicator that progress can be made with North Korea despite a leadership transition. The agreement was signed only months after Kim Jong Il took power following the death of his father, Kim Il Sung.
"We want to continue forward and see if there's continuity in their policy," the Asia hand said.. "If we're in a holding pattern for too long, things could shift in the other direction. That's the danger here."
If and when the food aid decision finally comes, it will be controversial here in Washington. Several GOP senators are opposed to what they see as bribing the North Koreans to come back to the negotiating table. In fact, some senators will likely point to assurances the administration gave Congress that it wouldn't bribe North Korea, which were made as part of the deal to confirm the U.S. envoy to South Korea, Sung Kim, in October.
The State Department always claims that food aid decisions are made on humanitarian grounds and not linked to policy decisions, but the timing of the negotiations is not seen as a coincidence by those on Capitol Hill.
"Food aid is always classified as separate, however, if the press reports are accurate it is clear that the administration was prepared to link food aid to a suspension of North Korea's uranium enrichment program," one Senate GOP aide told The Cable. "Of course food aid is a financial reward.... Leave it to North Korea -- Kim's untimely death -- to save the administration from its own worst impulses. How long they can resist repeating the mistakes of 1994 remains to be seen."
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones has submitted a confidential affidavit, obtained by The Cable, in which he swears that he has no reason to believe that former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had any role in the scandal known as "memogate."
Jones was the go-between in the transmission of a secret memo from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. The memo, purportedly from the Pakistani civilian leadership, asked for U.S. government help to avoid a pending military coup in Pakistan and pledged, in return, to reorient Pakistan's foreign and national security policy to be more in line with U.S. interests.
Ijaz has claimed over and over that the memo and the scheme it contained was derived and driven by Haqqani, who has since resigned over the scandal and is now in Islamabad without permission to leave the country. Ijaz also claims that that Haqqani discussed the scheme with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who faces increasing domestic political pressure from opponents and is in Dubai due to what is being described as a recent "mini-stroke."
Haqqani has always claimed that he had no role in the writing or delivery of the memo. Earlier this week, Jones broke his silence on the issue by signing a confidential affidavit about his role in "memogate," which he sent to Haqqani's lawyers as part of their planned libel suit against Ijaz. In the affidavit, Jones states that Ijaz never mentioned to him that the memo came from Haqqani.
"A few days before May 9, 2011, I received a phone call from Mr. Mansoor ljaz. I have known Mr. ljaz in a personal capacity since 2006. During the call Mr. Ijaz mentioned that he had a message from the ‘highest authority' in the Pakistan government which he asked me to relay to then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen," Jones wrote in the confidential affidavit.
"At no time during the call do I remember Mr. Ijaz mentioning Ambassador Haqqani, and he gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message."
Jones told Ijaz he would only forward the message to Mullen if it was in writing. On May 9, Ijaz sent the unsigned memo to Jones's personal e-mail account and Jones passed it on to Mullen. Mullen has acknowledged that he received the memo but claims he gave it no credence and took no action on it whatsoever.
"It was my assumption that the memo was written by Mr. Ijaz, since the memo essentially put into writing the language he had used in our telephone conversation earlier," Jones wrote in his affidavit. "I do not recall whether Mr. Ijaz claimed that Ambassador Haqqani had anything to do with the creation of the memo. I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
The Jones affidavit will be used by Haqqani's legal team to bolster Haqqani's claims that Ijaz was the author's memo, not him. Ijaz's main evidence of Haqqani's involvement is a series of Blackberry Messenger communications that Ijaz claims he had with Haqqani to discuss the memo during its formation. Ijaz has said his Blackberry is being examined by Pakistani forensic experts as part of the ongoing investigation.
Ijaz's activity throughout the scandal has raised several questions about his motives. For example, he publicly disclosed the existence of the memo in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, purportedly to defend Mullen from attacks and slanders in Pakistan. Then, on Oct. 22, he met in London with Pakistan's Gen. Shuja Pasha, the leader of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which Ijaz's memo promised would be replaced with new, U.S.-friendly national security leaders in Pakistan.
Last week, Ijaz claimed in a Newsweek article that Haqqani and Zardari knew of the raid to kill bin Laden in advance and may have given the U.S. military tacit permission to violate Pakistani airspace. Haqqani has initiated legal action against Ijaz over those claims and the Jones affidavit is part of that litigation.
In the most interesting part of the affidavit, Jones states his personal opinion that the memo probably did not come from the Pakistani government at all.
"Upon my reading of the memo that I was asked to forward to Admiral Mullen, it struck me as highly unusual that the ‘highest authority' in the Pakistan government would use Mr. ljaz, a private citizen and part-time journalist living in Europe, as a conduit for this communication," Jones wrote. "My personal opinion was that the memo was probably not credible."
Asked for comment on Friday by The Cable, Jones declined to elaborate.
Ijaz responded to Jones' affidavit with a lengthy comment to The Cable. Here are some excerpts, after the jump:
Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones called today for quick action on the Keystone XL pipeline construction, directly opposing the White House he worked for only a few months ago.
Jones, who rarely speaks in public and almost never contradicts his former boss President Barack Obama, lashed out against the administration in a press call and warned of grave consequences to U.S. national security if the project to build the pipeline doesn't move forward immediately. The call was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute and Jones was joined on the call by API President and CEO Jack Gerard.
"In a tightly contested global economy, where securing energy resources is a national must, we should be able to act with speed and agility. And any threat to this project, by delay or otherwise, would constitute a significant setback," said Jones. "The failure to [move forward with the project] will prolong the risk to our economy and our energy security" and "send the wrong message to job creators."
The comments come at the worst possible moment for the Obama administration, which is trying to beat back an effort from congressional Republicans to attach language that would force a decision on the pipeline to legislation that extends unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday for middle class Americans.
Obama has promised to veto any bill that comes to his desk with the Keystone XL pipeline language, and the State Department has said that if it is forced to come to a quick decision on the pipeline, that decision would be no because there has not been enough time to properly evaluate environmental and logistical considerations.
The Cable asked Jones if he was getting paid by API for supporting its cause. Jones said he was not getting paid, and was speaking out because he believed in the pipeline cause.
"I've known Jack Gerard for a number of years... and when he called me a few days ago and asked me if I was willing to participate in this because of my interest in energy issues, I agreed to do so," Jones said.
Jones said the project was an important piece of the U.S.-Canada relationship and that if the United States doesn't act, Canada may decide to cancel the project and give its energy resources to the Chinese. He also said if they United States doesn't move forward with the pipeline, that would be another signal of fading U.S. leadership in the world.
"If we get to a point where the nation cannot bring itself to do, for whatever reason, those things that we all know is in our national interest... then we are definitely in a period of decline in terms of our global leadership and in terms of our ability to compete in the 21st century," said Jones.
Jones said that he was not in touch with the administration directly on this issue, but that he told Obama personally just before resigning that Obama had a chance to be the "energy president," but was failing to distinguish himself on the issue.
"I do not think the United States has a comprehensive strategy for energy writ large and that's a critical shortfall. Nor do I think we are properly organized," Jones said. "In my last few days I communicated that to the president."
UPDATE: A reader passes on this 2008 article from ThinkProgress that points out Jones was the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a organization closely affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to the article, Jones' Transition Plan at the Institute "calls for billions of dollars in subsidies for the nuclear and coal industry, a dramatic expansion in domestic oil and natural gas drilling into protected areas, and massive new energy industry tax breaks and loopholes."
NATO forces deliberately attacked two Pakistani Army outposts and ignored established rules of cooperation in the Nov. 26 assault that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, a senior Pakistani defense official said today.
The attack sparked the latest rift in the sinking U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Pakistani government shut down NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in response to the attack, refused to attend the Bonn conference on Afghanistan reconstruction this month, and indicated it would undertake a full review of its security cooperation with NATO and the United States. The U.S. government and the Obama administration expressed private "condolences" for the attack, which is currently under investigation by NATO, but has refused to explicitly apologize.
A senior defense official at the Pakistani embassy in Washington invited a group of national security reporters on Thursday morning to give an extensive briefing on the events of Nov. 26 -- from the Pakistani point of view.
The official placed the blame squarely on NATO forces and said it was completely impossible that the killings were accidental.
"I have a story to tell and this is the story of those brave people who left us in the middle of a cold, November night on a barren mountain top," the official said, before going into intricate details of what he called the "Mohmand Incident," named after the region where the attack took place.
The attack started at about midnight, the official said, with a helicopter assault on the Pakistani outpost named "Volcano," a small bunker on a mountain ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistani soldiers at the neighboring "Boulder" outpost responded by firing at the helicopters, after which helicopters and fixed-wing NATO aircraft strafed both outposts, destroying them, the official said.
The Pakistani conclusion that this was a "deliberate" attack is based on the belief that these areas had been cleared of terrorist activity, that there was no indication of insurgent activity at the time, and that there was no way to mistake the Pakistani outposts as terrorist encampments, the official argued.
"This was in plain view on a barren ridge, not a place terrorists would be inclined to use as a hideout," the official said.
Moreover, NATO and Pakistani officials had put in place an intricate system of operational information sharing that was completely violated, according to the official, which reinforced the Pakistani conclusion that the attack was intentional.
The official refused to speculate as to why NATO would deliberately attack and kill two dozen Pakistani soldiers, only saying that this was the official conclusion of the Pakistani military leadership.
The Pakistani official also claimed that the NATO official in charge at the nearby Pakistani-NATO coordination center had apologized for giving the Pakistani Army incomplete and incorrect information regarding where NATO forces were attacking. In fact, the official claimed that the apology came in the middle of the attack, but that the NATO airplanes kept attacking.
According to the official, NATO officials notified the Pakistani side of the operation just before it began, but gave Pakistan incorrect coordinates that indicated it was actually taking place nine miles to the north of the actual attack site. The Pakistanis asked NATO to delay the operation amid the confusion, the official said, but the NATO official in charge refused, only to apologize later as the attack was taking place.
About an hour into the attack, at approximately 1 a.m., NATO then told the Pakistani side the attack had stopped, the official said, but the Pakistanis later discovered it continued until about 2:15 a.m.
"This was at least one hour and 10 minutes beyond when our friends in NATO told us that the helicopters had pulled back," the official said. "The actual magnitude of this tragedy we knew only when day broke."
Well-established operating procedures should have dictated that the attack stop as soon as communications with the Pakistani forces in the area were established, but that didn't happen, the official said.
"We are supposed to share information about impending operations regardless of size.... And in case we are fired upon, the responsibility to take action is on the country from where the fire is originating," the official said. "It's not for the U.S. military to engage. NATO is supposed to pass on the information regarding the point of origin [of the fire]."
The official also rejected the idea that the NATO helicopters were responding to fire coming from the Pakistani side or chasing insurgents as part of some sort of hot pursuit.
"There was no prior firefight," the official said.
NATO is expected to release the results of its own investigation into the assault next week, and the Pakistani claims today could be an attempt to pre-empt that announcement by establishing its own narrative beforehand.
Either way, the fallout from the incident has already had a detrimental effect on Pakistani military and popular opinion toward cooperation with NATO and U.S. military forces.
"There is a sense of outrage," the official said. "It's there on the street, amongst the leadership -- political as well as military -- and among the rank and file of the military. The sheer magnitude of this thing is unbelievable."
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
The nomination of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia cleared one major hurdle Thursday as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) lifted his hold. The administration was working hard Thursday to satsify other GOP senators' concerns as the Senate prepares to adjourn for the year.
If McFaul is not confirmed by the Senate this month, there will be a vacancy atop the U.S. embassy in Moscow as of next week, when Amb. John Beyrle leaves. Kirk had been very public about his reasons for placing a hold on the McFaul nomination, saying that he was seeking written assurances that President Barack Obama's administration will not provide Russia with any currently classified information on the U.S. missile defense system. Several other members of Congress -- and some experts outside Congress, such as former Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Trey Obering - echoed Kirk's concern.
On Tuesday, Robert Nabors, director of the White House office of legislative affairs, wrote a letter to Kirk on the matter that was obtained by The Cable.
"We will not provide Russia with sensitive information about our missile defense systems that would in any way compromise our national security. For example, hit-to-kill technology and interceptor telemetry will under no circumstances be provided to Russia," wrote Nabors. "However, in the event that the exchange of classified information with Russia on missile defense will increase the president's ability to defend the American people, the president will retain the right to do that."
In a Thursday interview with The Cable, Kirk said that this assurance, combined with new language in the defense authorization bill requiring 60 days notice before any classified missile defense data is shared with Russia, was enough to reassure him that no classified missile defense data will ever be shared. The law also requires the president to certify in writing that Russia won't share the data with any third parties, such as Iran.
Kirk said that the administration can't possibly certify that Russia won't share the information, so there won't be any way for the administration to meet the defense bill's requirement. If the administration does try to notify Congress it plans to share classified missile defense data with Russia, Kirk promised there would be hearings, legislative action, and a full-court press to oppose it.
"They would have a two-month all out fight on their hands," he said.
Kirk also pointed out that the Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin, who has been insulting Kirk on Twitter, is set to travel to Iran next month. "There is no doubt that Iran will share with Russia the technologies found in our RQ-170 drone," Kirk said. "It's extremely troubling that Russia's top official on missile defense is deepening his relationship with Iran."
Kirk praised McFaul and said his record on promoting democracy and human rights will be an asset if and when he takes over the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The hold was never about McFaul personally, Kirk said.
With Kirk's hold gone, that leaves four other GOP senators who had expressed public or private objections to the McFaul nomination: Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), James Risch (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Richard Burr (R-NC), who has threatened to hold all State Department nominees until State designates the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization..
Corker had placed a hold on McFaul to ensure that the United States fully funds the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) budget, which includes funding for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, for FY 2012. If Congress passes the omnibus bill with full NNSA funding this week, that should take care of Corker's concerns.
DeMint's objection, which is especially important because he controls the Republican Steering Committee, is over the administration's refusal to share internal documents related to its negotiations with Russia over missile defense. Examples of documents sought by DeMint include the draft of the U.S.-Russia Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement.
DeMint has taken multiple hostages in his fight with the State Department over these documents, including holding the nomination of Mike Hammer to be assistant secretary of State for public affairs.
DeMint and the other GOP senators met with McFaul in the Capitol today for a briefing and McFaul showed the senators the draft DTCA. The hope is that this meeting was enough to satisfy their concerns about U.S. policy toward Russia and information sharing with Congress.
Meanwhile, 36 conservative foreign policy experts wrote to top senators today to plead for the confirmation of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan. Bryza is currently serving under a recess appointment that expires next month.
His nomination was being held up last year by two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are seen to be representing the concerns of their Armenian constituencies, which are unhappy with the administration's policy opposing a Congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.
"It is understandable that Armenian Americans and even some Senators will disagree with the U.S. policy concerning whether to call the events of 1915 a genocide. That is an argument to be hashed out with the U.S. Administration on the merits," the experts wrote. "But holding up a qualified career nominee who is already serving in a key position will not change U.S. policy, and does a disservice to U.S. interests in a critical region."
The Obama administration may not be getting a whole lot of love from the pro-Israel community these days, but tonight, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is giving their annual National Service Award to U.N. Representative Susan Rice.
Rice plans to use her acceptance speech at tonight's event in New York to both defend the Obama administration's record on Israel and spell out the increased military and security cooperation that's taken place on Obama's watch. Previous winners include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
Here are some excerpts of Rice's speech, obtained by The Cable:
"America remains deeply and permanently committed to Israel's peace and security. It is a commitment for this president and this Administration. It spans generations. It spans political parties. It is not negotiable. And it never will be," Rice will say.
"From the moment he took office, President Obama's guidance has been clear: to strengthen and deepen that commitment. He has been clear all along that our special relationship with Israel is deeply rooted in our common interests and our common values."
"That's why we've increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. That's why, even in these tough fiscal times, we've increased foreign military financing to record levels. That's why we've also included additional support for the lifesaving Iron Dome anti-rocket system -- which saw action just days ago in defense of innocent Israelis who live near the Gaza frontier."
"That's why we're working jointly to toughen up Israel's security through the Arrow system; and through David's Sling; and through joint military exercises that have never been more robust."
"That's why, if you ask members of the uniformed military of Israel or the United States, if you talk to leaders at the Kirya or the Pentagon, you'll hear the same assessment: the American commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge has never been stronger. That's a fact, plain and simple."
"Of course, the Arab world is undergoing unprecedented political change, and the calls for freedom across the region have brought legitimate security concerns. But let there be no doubt: we are doing all we can to ensure that Israel remains secure even as the region becomes more free."
If President Barack Obama's administration wants to share sensitive data about U.S. missile defense systems with Russia, it now must at least tell Congress in advance, according to the final version of the defense authorization bill.
It was revealed in November that the Obama administration was considering sharing sensitive missile defense information with Russia in a bid to assure the Russians that U.S. missile defense capabilities in Europe were not a threat to their ballistic missile forces. For example, the United States reportedly offered to give Russia the details of the burnout velocity of the SM-3 interceptor missile, which would tell the Russians how far our interceptor missiles could chase their missiles.
The House version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill banned any such sharing, but the conference report issued Monday evening softened that restriction. The final version of the legislation, which will land on Obama's desk later this week, requires that the administration give Congress 60 days notice before giving any classified missile defense information to the Russians. The defense bill is considered a "must pass" bill and Obama won't likely veto it over this provision.
The notification must include a detailed description of the information to be shared, an explanation for why such sharing is in the U.S. national security interest, an explanation of what the Russians are giving in return, and an explanation of how the administration can be sure the information won't be shared with third parties, such as Iran.
Of course, the future of U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation is unclear. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev seemed to announce the failure of the talks on Nov. 23, when he also announced a series of retaliatory measures to counter U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe and threatened to withdraw from the New START treaty. But the administration still insists that it plans to continue U.S.-Russian negotiations over how to work together on missile defense.
The concern on Capitol Hill is that the administration will give up valuable information before striking a deal, thereby undermining the effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses before they are even fully deployed.
"It's not at all clear that the Russians have any interest in so-called missile defense cooperation with the United States, but, assuming that the State Department or Defense Department propose to offer classified information to Russia on U.S. missile defenses, for the first time, they will have to tell Congress before they do so," a GOP congressional aide close to the issue told The Cable today. "Congress will have plenty of time to evaluate the proposal and raise objections as necessary."
Meanwhile, the top Russian official dealing with the issue, Russia's NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, has a new side job: accusing the United States of fomenting unrest in Russia. He gave a speech stoking fears of U.S. aggression against Russia at a rally this week for the ruling United Russia party. The demonstration was called to counter the protests that broke out last week in Moscow and elsewhere around the country after Russia's flawed parliamentary elections.
"There are forces today that consider Russia easy prey," Rogozin said. "They bombed Iraq. They destroyed Libya. They are approaching Syria. They stepped all over the people of Yugoslavia. And they are now thinking about Russia and are waiting for a moment when it is weak."
Rogozin, who got the red carpet treatment from the administration when he visited the United States in July, has also been keeping up his war of words on Twitter with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whom he in July called a "monster of the Cold War," along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
"My friend Kerk [sic] is relentless. He is now stifling Amb. Michael McFaul," Rogozin tweeted Dec. 4, linking to The Cable's article on Kirk's hold on McFaul's nomination to become ambassador to Russia. "With guys like Kerk US is pushing its way ahead."
At least five U.S. embassies could begin the New Year without an official ambassador at the helm, due to the ongoing feud between the State Department and the Senate over several ambassadorial nominees and secret Senate holds.
As of Jan. 1, if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, there will be no U.S. ambassador in Russia, India, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan. Three of the current ambassadors at those posts (Czech, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan) were placed there by President Barack Obama through recess appointments that expire at the end of this month, but face stiff opposition in the Senate and may not be confirmed for their posts. The nominee for the fourth (Russia) is being held up by GOP senators over issues not related to his qualifications for the job. The India ambassador slot is vacant now and nobody has been nominated to fill it.
U.S. ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle will leave Moscow this month and return to the United States, multiple administration officials confirmed. Obama has nominated National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul to replace him, but McFaul's nomination is being held up in the Senate by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who wants the administration to give Congress assurances that the United States will not share sensitive missile defense data with the Russian Federation. Several other senators may also emerge to oppose the McFaul nomination, several Hill sources report, not due to any personal objections to McFaul, but due to their unhappiness with Obama's reset policy with Russia.
Eight prominent conservative foreign policy experts wrote to Obama today to ask the administration to strike a deal with Kirk in order to facilitate McFaul's confirmation and avoid having a vacancy at the top of the Moscow embassy.
"Time is short if Dr. McFaul is to be in Moscow before the New Year. In the aftermath of the deeply flawed Duma election, it is imperative to have Dr. McFaul's voice heard in Russia as soon as possible. We urge you to work with Senator Kirk's office in order both to protect our national security and to expedite Ambassador-Designate McFaul's confirmation," wrote Eric Edelman, Jamie Fly, Bruce Jackson, Robert Kagan, David Kramer, David Merkel, Steve Rademaker and Randy Scheunemann.
The same group wrote a letter last month praising McFaul as a good choice for ambassador to Russia. Conservatives are torn between their desire to see Congress push back against Obama's Russia policies and their support for McFaul personally.
Another U.S. ambassador nominee that has a lot of conservative support is Norm Eisen, the current ambassador to the Czech Republic. Eisen was sent to the Prague as a recess appointment because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO). Grassley is still upset over the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a position where he oversaw government programs such as AmeriCorps.
Eisen, the former White House ethic czar, was a key figure in the controversy and defended the White House's actions. He also made the case to Congress that Walpin was unfit for his position, writing in a letter to senators shortly after the sacking that Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Walpin called those allegations "absolutely amazing."
Grassley, along with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), has never dropped the issue of Walpin's firing. Grassley's shop contributed heavily to a joint House-Senate report released last November they say alleged not only that Walpin's firing was handled improperly, but also that Eisen misled Congress about the matter.
A slightly different group of conservative foreign policy hands wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to urge them to push the Eisen confirmation process forward.
"Ambassador Eisen's appointment was already delayed after his initial nomination in 2010, leaving us without an ambassador in Prague at a key moment in U.S.-Czech relations. The absence of an ambassador in 2012 would again send the wrong message to our Czech allies," the experts wrote. "While we support the prerogative of senators to raise concerns about presidential nominees, we believe that in this case, the importance of having an ambassador in Prague as well as Ambassador Eisen's record over the last year should ensure his speedy confirmation."
letter was signed by Fly, Jackson, Scheunemann, Rick Graber, Stuart Levey, Michael Makovsky, Clifford D. May, John
O'Sullivan, Gary Schmitt, Kurt Volker, and Ken Weinstein.
The Cable reported last week that Mari Carmen Aponte, the currently serving U.S ambassador to El Salvador, might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year because her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who allegedly had ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation at the time. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
DeMint shows no signs of backing down and Aponte was barely approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with a 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
Another U.S. ambassador who may have to pack his bags this month is Matthew Bryza, Obama's envoy to Azerbaijan. His nomination was being held up last year by two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are seen to be representing the Armenian voting constituencies unhappy with the administration's policy opposing a congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN), an Azeri diaspora group, has started a public awareness campaign to push for Bryza's confirmation.
"Armenians are working to get Bryza [to] return to America in January 2012, seeking thereby to paralyze the mission of the US ambassador to Azerbaijan and to show that the Armenian lobby has a veto in relation to who will be the next U.S. ambassador to Baku," USAN said in a statement on Tuesday.
Former Ambassador to India Tim Roemer left his post in June for family reasons. The Obama has yet to nominate anyone to replace him in New Delhi.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left Pakistan suddenly on Tuesday, complaining of heart pains, and is now in Dubai. His planned testimony before a joint session of Pakistan's parliament on the Memogate scandal is now postponed indefinitely.
On Dec. 4, Zardari announced that he would address Pakistan's parliament about the Memogate issue, in which his former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani stands accused of orchestrating a scheme to take power away from Pakistan's senior military and intelligence leadership and asking for U.S. help in preventing a military coup. Haqqani has denied that he wrote the memo at the heart of the scheme, which also asked for U.S. support for the Zardari government and promised to realign Pakistani foreign policy to match U.S. interests.
The memo was passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to former National Security Advisor Jim Jones, to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on May 10, only nine days after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad.
Ijaz has repeatedly accused Haqqani of being behind the memo, and Ijaz claims that Haqqani was working with Zardari's implicit support.
Early on Tuesday morning, Zardari's spokesman revealed that the president had traveled to Dubai to see his children and undergo medical tests linked to a previously diagnosed "cardiovascular condition."
A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO's killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was "incoherent." The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. "The noose was getting tighter -- it was only a matter of time," the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.
The former U.S. official said that parts of the U.S. government were informed that Zardari had a "minor heart attack" on Monday night and flew to Dubai via air ambulance today. He may have angioplasty on Wednesday and may also resign on account of "ill health."
"If true, this is the ‘in-house change option' that has been talked about," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Nawaz said that under this scenario, Zardari would step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military's wishes to get rid of Zardari.
In Islamabad, some papers have reported that before Zardari left Pakistan, the Pakistani Army insisted that Zardari be examined by their own physicians, and that the Army doctors determined that Zardari was fine and did not need to leave the country for medical reasons. Zardari's spokesman has denied that he met with the Army doctors.
One Pakistani source told The Cable that Zardari was informed on Monday that none of the opposition party members nor any of the service chiefs would attend his remarks to the parliament as a protest against his continued tenure. This source also said that over a dozen of Zardari's ambassadors in foreign countries were in the process of being recalled in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down as president, taking many of his cronies with him.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported that before leaving, Zardari met separately with Gilani, Chairman of the Senate Farooq H Naik, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
This past weekend, the Memogate scandal worsened for Zardari when Ijaz alleged in a Newsweek opinion piece that Zardari and Haqqani had prior knowledge of the U.S. raid to kill bin Laden, and may have given permission for the United States to violate Pakistan's airspace to conduct the raid.
On May 2, the day after bin Laden was killed, Wajid Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, said in an interview with CNN that Pakistan, "did know that this was going to happen because we have been keeping -- we were monitoring him and America was monitoring him. But Americans got to where he was first."
In a statement given to the Associated Press of Pakistan Monday, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that information on the actual operation to kill bin Laden was not given to anyone in Pakistan.
"As we've said repeatedly, given the sensitivity of the operation, to protect our operators we did not inform the Pakistani government, or any other government, in advance," she said.
Zardari lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai from 2004 through 2007 after being released from prison, where he had been held for eight years on corruption charges. His three children live there, but his 23-year son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), is in Pakistan now.
UPDATE: A Pakistani source close to Zardari e-mailed into The Cable to say that Zardari is simply ill and is not stepping down. Rumors of Zardari stepping down might be part of a behind the scenes power play but Zardari confidante Senate Chairman Farooq Naek will be acting president while Zardari is out of the country and Gilani remains loyal to Zardari, flanked by Zardari's son Bilawal. "The rumors of a silent coup are sometimes a way of trying to effect a silent coup. It won't happen," the source said.
President Barack Obama's administration is working behind the scenes to water down congressional language that would impose crippling sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).
The Obama administration sent to Congress this week a list of requested changes to the sanctions language found in the Senate's version of the defense authorization bill, which was passed last week. Those sanctions, which would punish any bank that does business with the CBI, were part of an amendment authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that passed the Senate over the administration's objections by a vote of 100 to 0.
The House and the Senate are negotiating over the defense authorization bill this week behind closed doors, so the administration has one more chance to try to change the sanctions language before the bill lands on Obama's desk. If the Kirk-Menendez language is sent to the president without any alterations, he will be forced to either accept it or veto the entire defense authorization bill. There's no indication yet which way he would go.
The administration's laundry list of requested changes to the bill was sent to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The administration wants to delay the implementation of sanctions not related to oil purchases from 60 to 180 days, and wants to water down the severity of sanctions measures if and when they are put into effect.
Kirk and Menendez sent a letter on Monday night to House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA), which was obtained by The Cable, urging them to hold the line and keep the Senate language as-is.
"The Menendez/Kirk amendment is tough, responsible and, most importantly, bipartisan. It provides the Administration another key tool to curb Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons while keeping oil markets stable and encouraging other nations to reduce Iranian oil purchases. With the support of every single United States Senator, it needs no alterations," they wrote.
"We understand the administration has submitted to your Committee a list of proposed changes to the Menendez/Kirk amendment -- both ‘technical fixes' and ‘alterations.' We would note that proposals to delay sanctions implementation and water down the amendment's penalties are not ‘technical' in nature and should be rejected."
Menendez had been working with the administration on how to sanction the CBI, but publicly announced on Dec. 1 that he felt burned by the administration's public opposition to his amendment. "This certainly undermines your relationship with me for the future," Menendez told administration officials at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
So the administration must now look toward Howard Berman (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for help in altering the Kirk-Menendez amendment. Berman's committee has shared jurisdiction on the bill, and Berman has been active in sponsoring legislation to sanction Iran and the CBI.
In a statement e-mailed to The Cable, Berman indicated that the Kirk-Menendez language might not be the final say in how Congress moves to sanction Iran.
"As the original author of the House amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, I am pleased that the Senate has taken action on this urgent issue. In the near future, the House will pass the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which includes my amendment," Berman said. "Meanwhile, I will be working with my colleagues in the House, the Senate, and the Administration in an effort to ensure that the final language of the Kirk-Menendez amendment is as tough and sensible as possible and provides a time-frame that corresponds to the rapid progress Iran is making toward developing nuclear weapons."
One GOP congressional aide told The Cable that if Berman seems to be working to weaken the Senate language, Republicans are ready to use that as fodder against him in his upcoming primary fight against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). The two lawmakers' districts were combined due to redistricting, and they now have to run against each other next year.
"I can't imagine why Howard Berman would want to put his seat at risk by helping the Obama administration weaken Iran sanctions," the GOP aide said. "All he needs to say is 'The House recedes' and the Menendez/Kirk amendment becomes law. Brad Sherman must be licking his chops."
President Barack Obama's administration has sided with Bahrain's ruling regime over its domestic protest movement more clearly than in any other country affected by the Arab Spring. But that position is unwise and unsustainable, according to one of Bahrain's leading human rights activists, who visited Washington last week.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, came to Washington to receive the Woodrow Wilson Center's 2011 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award for his work documenting human rights abuses conducted by the Bahraini ruling family's security forces since protesters took to the streets in the capital of Manama in February. He was not invited to the State Department for any meetings whatsoever. He did visit the National Security Council, and met with senior director for democracy Gayle Smith, but wasn't given time by any official who works directly on Bahrain.
Rajab sat down on Dec. 4 for an exclusive interview with The Cable. His main message was that the Obama administration's defense of the Bahraini government, including a new push to sell it more weapons, is sowing seeds of distrust and resentment of the United States among the Bahraini people. He urged the Obama administration to use its influence in Bahrain to press the regime for improvements on human rights.
Rajab said that the United States was repeating the mistakes of the past by siding with a minority regime that has brutalized its Shiite majority population. Here are some excerpts:
JR: What is your main message to the Washington foreign policy community?
NR: What I have realized is that there's a difference between the way the American government and the American people look at the Arab uprisings or the Arab revolution. I have received great support from American civil society, human rights groups, etc., in support of the Bahraini revolution. But that is totally different than the position of the United States government, which has disappointed many people in the Gulf region. And they have seen how the U.S. has acted differently and has different responses for different countries. There is full support for revolutions in countries where [the U.S. government] has a problem with their leadership, but when it comes to allied dictators in the Gulf countries, they have a much softer position and that was very upsetting to many people in Bahrain and the Gulf region. This will not serve your long strategic interest, to strengthen and continue your relations with dictators and repressive regimes.... You should have taken a lesson from Tunisia and Egypt, but now you are repeating the same thing by ignoring all those people struggling for democracy and human rights.... Those dictators will not be there forever. Relationships should be maintained with people, not families.
JR: The Obama administration says they are encouraging both sides to work together toward reform. Do you not see that as helpful?
NR: The U.S. is more influential in Bahrain than the United Nations. If they are serious about something, they could do it. They have lots of means to pressure the Bahraini government but so far they are soft. They act as if both sides are equal. You have people fighting for democracy and human rights and struggling for social justice. Then you have a repressive government with an army. You can't speak as if they can be treated in an equal manner. It's the government that is killing people. It's the government that is committing the crimes. The pressure should be put on the government. All of the statements by [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and [President] Barack Obama have no impact on the ground because the government was not really being forced to listen to it.... This government has to be told that their relationship with the United States is not a green light to commit crimes, because that's how it is understood by the government. And no one in the United States has told them, no, it's not like that.
JR: What do you say to those who argue that revolution in Bahrain risks instability and the rise of anti-Americanism?
NR: This is the image of the United States in our country: that this superpower supports dictators and doesn't want democracy in our region, because they [are] told that democracy would not serve their interests. They were misled by governments in our region that democracy will bring extremists to power who will fight against U.S. interests. Democracy is not against anybody's interests. Democracy is about living together, sharing together, tolerance, working together, and that's what we are fighting for.
JR: What's the significance of the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was released last week?
NR: It was not perfect, it was not an independent group, it was a group made by the government. But a big part of the report is good and talks about the abuses we have been talking about... It needs to be implemented and I don't see so far any positive reaction from the government. They appointed a commission to implement the report, a big part of which is made up of people who were part of the problem. Here is where the United States needs to speak, to tell them not to waste this opportunity to create real reform.
JR: What does the U.S. sale of $53 million worth of new weapons say to you and your fellow activists?
NR: This is the hypocrisy, this is the double standard. You can't ask Russia to stop selling arms to Syria at the same time you are selling arms to Bahrain while they are killing their own people. How do you convince the Bahraini people this is for their own benefit? What message are you trying to send to the Bahraini people when you try to sell arms? Even now, there are people in the State Department who want to push this sale. Rather than this, there should be more sanctions on the Bahraini government.
JR: The Bahraini foreign minister told us in an interview that the police, not the military, have been dealing with the protests. Is it true?
NR: The military has taken part in suppressing the protests. They have killed people, they have tortured people, they have arrested people, they have detained people. They have established checkpoints and humiliated people at checkpoints, raided houses, robbed houses, demolished mosques. They have taken part in every crime committed in the past months.
JR: You are not seeking total regime change, so what is the end state you want to see in Bahrain?
NR: When the people of Bahrain came out on Feb. 14, they didn't want to overthrow the government, they wanted to reform the government. They want elected government. We've had a corrupt prime minister for over 40 years. We want to separate the government from the royal family. We want a parliament that has power... We want to have an end to the corruption, we want human rights violations to stop, we want sectarian discrimination to be stopped. But the resistance of the government has created a movement to overthrow the government. And if they will continue to resist reforms, that movement to overthrow the government will increase.
JR: What has the government done to you to try to silence you?
NR: They have attacked my house on a weekly basis, you can see it on YouTube. They attacked me, 25 masked men kidnapped me from my home last March. They blindfolded me, handcuffed me, beat me, then took me back home. This has happened a few times. My house is targeted, my mother's house is targeted, all because of my work. But I am better off than the others, because I am free and not dead, because there are people who have been killed and who are behind bars now.
The Obama administration keeps on naming new ambassadors, but several key State Department nominees remain stalled in the Senate.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Joseph Macmanus to be U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), William Todd to be ambassador to Cambodia, Jonathan Farrar to be ambassador to Panama, and Phyllis Powers to be ambassador to Nicaragua.
Macmanus, who is now principal deputy assistant secretary of state (PDAS) for legislative affairs, replaces Glyn Davies, the new special coordinator for North Korea policy. Previously, Macmanus has served as the executive assistant to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.
Todd, who spent the last year in the U.S. embassy in Kabul coordinating development and economic affairs, was previously the U.S. ambassador to Brunei. Joe Donovan, the recently departed PDAS for East Asian and Pacific affairs, had been rumored to be in line for the Cambodia post -- a consolation prize after he was considered as U.S. ambassador to Seoul but then was not selected. Inside South Korea, there was some criticism of Donovan's relatively low profile compared to other U.S. ambassadors in East Asia.
The Obama administration eventually picked Sung Kim as the U.S. envoy to Seoul and he's been welcomed warmly by the South Koreans as he's the first Korean-American to hold the post. Donovan is now working at the National Defense University. We're told that Tokyo Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Zumwalt is expected to return to Washington as the new deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, although nothing has been formally announced.
Meanwhile, several State Department nominations remained stalled in the Senate due to various objections by GOP senators. The Cable has confirmed that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) placed a hold Thursday on the nomination of National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul, who has been nominated as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Kirk and McFaul met on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Apparently, the meeting did not go well.
Kirk told the Associated Press on Thursday that "he wants written assurances that the United States will not provide Russia with any currently classified information on the missile defense system."
Other State Department nominations currently facing GOP Senate opposition include the nominations of Norm Eisen to be ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador, and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Eisen and Aponte are currently serving in their posts under recess appointment that expire at the end of this month.
Here we go again. Only months after the United States and Iraq failed to come to an agreement on a post-2011 troop presence, NATO is now scrambling to negotiate an extension of its own training mission in Iraq, and the prospects don't look good.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly asked NATO to stay," Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said at a Friday morning breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group, an organization that brings reporters together with senior officials to discuss world affairs over greasy eggs and bacon.
"We are trying to make that desire for the NATO training mission to stay a reality," said Daalder, explaining that intense negotiations are underway but that, without an agreement by Dec. 31, all NATO trainers will have to leave Iraq.
Daalder acknowledged that the main sticking point in the negotiations is the requirement that NATO troops in Iraq be given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. The lack of an agreement on immunity for U.S. troops was the main reason that the American presence was not extended beyond this year.
The White House maintains that President Barack Obama always wanted to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but several officials in the Defense and State Departments had publicly and privately been working hard to negotiate an extension. Ultimately, all the senior officials within the Obama administration agreed that, without immunity for U.S. troops, an extension was not possible.
The Obama administration had demanded in its negotiations with the Iraqi government that any immunity agreement would have to be formally approved by Iraq's parliament, known as the Council of Representatives (COR), in order to reassure the U.S. government that the immunity would be honored. Due to the explosiveness of the issue in domestic Iraqi politics, that proved impossible.
Pressed by The Cable, Daalder wouldn't say whether the NATO negotiators were demanding that any immunity agreement be passed by the COR, but he did say that any agreement on immunity would have to be acceptable to all 28 NATO member states, including the U.S. government.
"The same immunity problem of the American trainers' agreement is facing us today with NATO," Qassim al-Aaraji, a member of the COR's security and defense committee, told Military Times on Thursday.
The Iraqi army is badly in need of assistance as it tries to make up for the lack of U.S. military support. The Iraqi armed forces have not developed to the point where they can conduct large-scale maneuvers, coordinate air and ground forces, or manage a complicated logistics system for military supply, according to several reports from Iraq.
NATO hasn't given up on the negotiations, but it now has less than one month to complete the negotiations, and then to receive approval of any agreement by both NATO and Iraq.
"We are working it hard. Time is running out," Daalder said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Iraq this week has ended. Administration officials traveling with him made clear that, after U.S. troops leave this month, they are not coming back.
"There is no discussion, no contemplation, no thought of returning U.S. troops to Iraq," a senior administration official told reporters traveling with Biden on Wednesday.
That seems to contradict what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, when he said, "Our hope would be that this isn't just a State Department presence, but that ultimately we'll be able to negotiate a further presence for the military as well."
Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
At today's business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aponte's nomination was narrowly approved by 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
"This nomination needs a vote by the end of the year otherwise we won't have an ambassador in El Salvador," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at the meeting. Other senators that spoke up for Aponte included chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Menendez and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) were initially the only senators allowed to review Aponte's FBI file, but DeMint eventually got permission to view the file. He said at today's meeting that the file was incomplete and that it hadn't been updated since 1998. He asked for a closed hearing on Aponte, but Kerry said that was not an option.
"She has done a solid job as ambassador," Kerry said today, pointing out that under Aponte's tenure, El Salvador became the first Latin American country to send troops to aid NATO forces in Afghanistan. He asked at the hearing for DeMint to work with him to move the nomination but the other GOP committee members backed up DeMint's objection.
"There are legitimate questions about Miss Aponte," DeMint said, arguing that his concerns were not limited to her relationship with Tamayo. "This is not a witch hunt."
Durbin pointed out that, since 1998, when Aponte withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, she has twice received Top Secret security clearances. "Obviously, many tough questions have been asked and answered," Durbin said, arguing that Aponte's personal background was no longer an issue.
DeMint alleged that political people in the Obama administration overruled intelligence officials in granting Aponte security clearances, but he offered no evidence of that in the public business meeting.
Boxer said she suspected DeMint's problems with Aponte stemmed from a June 2011 op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadorian newspaper promoting tolerance and acceptance of people in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community.
"Ms. Aponte's decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans, presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job," DeMint wrote in a response on the Human Events conservative news and opinion website. "The Senate should reject her nomination when her recess appointment expires at the end of this Congress and force the president to appoint a new nominee who will respect the pro-family values upheld by the people of El Salvador."
But Durbin said at today's business meeting that Aponte was simply following a State Department cable sent to all diplomatic posts that they publish op-eds in support of LGBT awareness month.
Regardless, Aponte's re-nomination bid seems to be in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, SFRC approved the nominations of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Two Republicans voted against the McFaul nomination: Bob Corker (R-TN) and James Risch (R-ID).
Corker didn't object to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but rather used the nomination to press for administration assurances that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which includes the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, will be fully funded for Fiscal Year 2012. He told The Cable today that he was working with the administration on the issue.
"I just want to see the administration work with us to follow through on commitments made to us last December," said Corker.
Risch, however, is one of several GOP senators who want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage to press the administration to hand over information on various aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, such as the details of missile defense cooperation discussions with Russia. It's not clear whether the administration is willing to give those senators enough information to facilitate the McFaul nomination.
The McFaul nomination is now headed to the senate floor, where several GOP senators not on the committee are expected to voice objections. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is expected to place a formal hold on the McFaul nomination due to ongoing concerns on the lack of disclosure of documents related to U.S. missile defense cooperation and questions as to whether the administration will be sharing classified missile defense data with the Russian Federation, a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.
As for Jacobson, only one senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) objected to the nomination. He said at the meeting that he was concerned with the Obama administration's overall policy in Latin America and that he would hold all related nominees until the administration engages with him more directly on these issues.
SFRC was also supposed to bring up a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the Libya war, but that resolution was not offered at today's meeting and no explanation was given as to why it has disappeared.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Baghdad right now on a surprise visit before he travels this weekend to Turkey and Greece.
Biden landed on Tuesday afternoon in Baghdad and is expected to hold meetings with top Iraqi officials about the future of the U.S.-Iraqi partnership. He will stay for two days, multiple news outlets reported.
"Vice President Biden has arrived in Baghdad, Iraq," his office said in a release. "While there, the Vice President will co-chair a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee. He will also meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, and other political leaders. The Vice President will also participate in, and give remarks at, an event to commemorate the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi troops."
On Friday, Dec. 2, Biden will arrive in Ankara, where he'll have meetings with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and lay a wreath at the Ataturk Mausoleum before continuing on to Istanbul. In Istanbul, Biden will attend a global entrepreneurship summit hosted by Erdogan.
National Security Advisor to the Vice President Tony Blinken told reporters on Monday that he expects Biden to discuss U.S. assistance in fighting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been attacking Turkish forces recently.
"The PKK is a common enemy of Turkey, the United States, and Iraq, and we expect to focus on that," Blinken said.
Blinken also said Biden hopes to discuss the situation in Syria, the upcoming meeting of Cypriot leaders in January, the war in Afghanistan, "and the prospects for progress in normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia." He'll also meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Orthodox Christian Church.
Regarding Turkey's deteriorating relationship with Israel, Blinken said, "I suspect that that will come up."
"It pains us to see the two of them at odds because they're both such close partners of the United States," Blinken said. "And the bottom line is that improved relations between Turkey and Israel would be good for Turkey, good for Israel, and good for the United States and indeed good for the region and the world so that's something we will continue to encourage."
Biden will then travel to Athens on Monday, Dec. 5, where he will hold the administration's first meeting with new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos. He'll also meet with President Karolos Papoulias, as well as former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who heads the largest party in Parliament, and Antonio Samaras, who heads the second largest party.
But the Greeks shouldn't expect any direct financial assistance as they struggle with their fiscal crisis.
"I think the U.S. very much recognizes the sacrifices being made by the Greek people as they pursue this reform process and view the fiscal and structural reforms that have been agreed on with the European partners and with the IMF as critical," said Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman. "On the economic situation, the Vice President will be supportive of the overall reform effort and the package of measures that have been put in place by the European partners and by the IMF."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) threatened today to place a hold on the nomination of President Barack Obama's confidant Mark Lippert, who has been nominated as the Pentagon's top official for Asia.
Lippert, who had his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for the position of assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, is a close confidant of the president: He was the top foreign policy advisor in Obama's Senate office, and a key campaign advisor during the presidential campaign as well. Lippert served as National Security Council chief of staff, until he was reportedly pushed out by then National Security Advisor Jim Jones over a dispute regarding negative leaks about Jones in the press, which Jones thought came from Lippert.
Since then, Lippert had been deployed to the warzone in his capacity as a reserve Naval officer. But now that he's back, he's poised to take over the Asia office inside the Pentagon's policy shop at a crucial time -- assuming Congress gives him the green light. Some critics have pointed out that Lippert is light on experience dealing with East Asia and there is some bad blood left over in GOP circles from the 2008 campaign -- but Cornyn's threatened hold is about the administration's Taiwan policy, not Lippert personally.
Cornyn has been leading the congressional drive to pressure the administration to sell Taiwan the 66 new F-16 C/D fighters its government has been requesting. He's still unhappy about the result of the last time he used his Senate holding power to force administration action on the issue. In July, he successfully pressured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into publicly announcing the sale of retrofit packages for Taiwan's aging fleet of F-16 A/B fighters, in exchange for Cornyn lifting his hold on Deputy Secretary of State nominee Bill Burns.
At Thursday's hearing, Cornyn pressed Lippert on the issue (watch the video here) and then introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that seeks to force the administration to sell Taiwan new F-16s. That amendment has been voted down in the Senate once before.
When asked if he had an opinion on Taiwan's air defense needs, Lippert said he didn't, but he felt confident the Obama administration was fulfilling its responsibilities to provide for Taiwan's defense as mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act.
"That's based on the decision to upgrade the F-16 A and B's. That's based on the $12 billion in sales over the last two years to Taiwan, and that's based on the close coordination and consultation with the Taiwan government," Lippert said.
Apparently, that didn't satisfy Cornyn. He wrote a letter threatening to hold the Lippert nomination unless he gets some satisfaction on the issue.
"I remain disappointed by your de facto denial of Taiwan's request to 66 new F-16 C/D fighter aircraft, and I believe it sends a damaging message to nations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond that the U.S. is willing to abandon our friends in the face of Communist China's intimidation tactics," Cornyn wrote. "I hope to be able to support the confirmation of this nominee (Lippert). However, I ask that you decide on a near term course of action to address Taiwan's looming fighter shortfall and provide me with the specific actions you plan to take."
Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved two bills this week aimed at supporting arms sales to Taiwan, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2011, and the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act of 2011. Both bills support the sale of F-16 C/D fighter planes to Taiwan, and were authored by the committee's chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and foreign operations.
Ros-Lehtinen criticized what she saw as the administration's "regrettable and short-sighted decision not to sell the next generation of F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan, despite growing evidence of China's increasing military threat to the island."
"Taiwan needs those F-16s and she needs them now to defend the skies over the Taiwan Strait," she said.
Also this week, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan commission that advises Congress, argued in its new annual report for the sale of new planes to Taiwan. The commission recommended that Congress "urge the administration to sell Taiwan the additional fighter aircraft it needs to recapitalize its aging and retiring fleet."
The Cable has obtained the document at the center of the "memo-gate" controversy, sent allegedly from the highest echelons of Pakistani's civilian leadership to Adm. Michael Mullen in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The memo offered to reshape Pakistan's national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamic radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy -- and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.
The Cable confirmed that the memo is authentic and that it was received by Mullen. The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani -- the rumored author of the memo -- has offered to resign over what has become a full-fledged scandal in Islamabad. The Cable spoke this evening to the man at the center of the controversy and the conduit of the memo, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.
"Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the Army to succumb to wholesale changes," reads the memo, sent to Mullen via an unidentified U.S. interlocutor by Ijaz. "If civilians are forced from power, Pakistan becomes a sanctuary for UBL's [Osama bin Laden's] legacy and potentially the platform for far more rapid spread of al Qaeda's brand of fanaticism and terror. A unique window of opportunity exists for the civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates due to their complicity in the UBL matter."
The memo -- delivered just 9 days after the killing of bin Laden -- requests Mullen's help "in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani that delivers Washington's demand for him and [Inter-Services Intelligence chief] Gen [Ahmad Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus."
"Should you be willing to do so, Washington's political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that, while weak at the top echelon in terms of strategic direction and implementation (even though mandated by domestic political forces), in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington, each of whom have long and historical ties to the US military, political and intelligence communities," the memo states.
The memo offers a six-point plan for how Pakistan's national security leadership would be altered in favor of U.S. interests. President Asif Ali Zardari would start a formal "independent" inquiry to investigate the harboring of bin Laden and take suggestions from Washington on who would conduct that inquiry. The memo promised this inquiry would identify and punish the Pakistani officials responsible for harboring bin Laden.
The memo pledges that Pakistan would then hand over top al Qaeda and Taliban officials residing in Pakistan, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, or give U.S. military forces a "green light" to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil, with the support of Islamabad. "This commitment has the backing of the top echelon on the civilian side of our house," the memo states.
The memo also promises a new Pakistani national security leadership that would bring transparency and "discipline" to Pakistan's nuclear program, cut ties with Section S of the ISI, which is "charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network" and other rogue elements, and work with the Indian government to punish the perpetrators of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Ijaz, who has a long and controversial record of acting as an unofficial messenger for the Pakistani and U.S. governments, has claimed repeatedly that the memo came from a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari and was given to Mullen through a U.S. interlocutor close to the then-serving Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Today, in an exclusive interview with The Cable, Ijaz alleged that Pakistan's U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was not only the author of the memo, but the "architect" of the entire plan to overthrow Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership, and was seeking U.S. help.
"Haqqani believed he and the president (Zardari) could redraft the architectural blueprint of how Pakistan should be governed in the future -- with civilians in command of the armed forces and intelligence services and the memorandum's content was geared in that direction," Ijaz said.
Over the past month, the rumors of the memo and its contents have ballooned into a huge political crisis in Pakistan. Islamabad's military leadership has pressed Zardari to start a full inquiry and the president has summoned Haqqani to the capital to explain himself. Haqqani offered to resign from his post on Wednesday, and told The Cable that he will travel to Pakistan on Friday.
On Wednesday, The Cable first reported that Mullen confirmed the existence of the secret memo delivered to him through an intermediary from Ijaz on May 10. On Nov. 8, Mullen's former spokesman Capt. John Kirby told The Cable that Mullen had no recollection of receiving the memo, but a week later, Kirby confirmed that Mullen had searched his records and discovered that he had indeed received the Ijaz memo -- but that he gave it no credibility and never acted on it.
Ijaz said Haqqani's proposal, as detailed in the memo and in a series of Blackberry Messenger conversations between Ijaz and Haqqani, included the establishment of a "new national security team" in which the ambassador would be National Security Advisor of Pakistan. An official with the initials "JK" would be the new foreign minister and an official with the initials "NB" would assume a new civilian post in charge of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies.
Ijaz read out several alleged Blackberry Messenger conversations he alleges he had with Haqqani while planning the scheme and drafting the memo. The Cable was unable to verify the veracity of these conversations; as read out by Ijaz, they paint a picture of him and Haqqani devising a coded language worthy of a spy movie to discuss the memo while under possible surveillance.
For example, when Ijaz asked Haqqani to consider adding access by U.S. investigators to bin Laden's wives to the offer, the wives were referred to as "the three stooges," Ijaz said. Haqqani would use the words "my friend" or "boss" to refer to Zardari. "There was an orchestration to cover our tracks even at that moment because there was always a possibility this could get out," Ijaz said.
Once the memo was final, Ijaz said he approached three U.S. interlocutors, all of whom had served at the highest levels of the U.S. government. One of them was a current serving official, one was a former military official, and one was a former civilian government official, Ijaz said.
"All three of them expressed skepticism about the offers that were being made. Frankly, when you read it, you will see that these offers are sort of a sellout of Pakistan to the United States," Ijaz said.
Ijaz said the text of the memo proves Haqqani's involvement because it is full of detailed Pakistani government information that a mere businessman would never have had access to. Ijaz said, however, that he can't confirm whether Zardari had any direct knowledge of the memo or the promises contained therein. All the assurances that Zardari was involved and approved of the memo came from Haqqani, he said.
"I believe, with what we know today, that the president probably gave him a blanket power of attorney to conduct the stealth operation and never wanted to know the details, which he left to Haqqani happily," Ijaz said.
But why would Haqqani, who has extensive connections throughout the U.S. government, need to pass the memo through Ijaz? Haqqani and Zardari needed plausible deniability, said Ijaz, in case the issue blew up into a scandal.
And it has.
"Haqqani was likely the sole architect of the back-channel intervention and needed a plausibly deniable go-between to make it work. I fit that bill perfectly because he knew the Pakistanis, who have been assassinating my character and diminishing my person for decades, would have at me with glee if things went wrong ... if a leak occurred purposefully or accidentally," Ijaz said.
Why did Ijaz decide to reveal the existence of the memo in the first place, as he did in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, especially if he really is a secret go-between? Ijaz said it was his effort to defend Mullen from attacks in the Pakistani press after Mullen sharply criticized the ISI and its links to the Haqqani network in his harshly worded closing congressional testimony on Sept. 22.
"I felt very strongly about how Adm. Mullen was mistreated by the Pakistani press after he had testified in Congress and shed light on the harsh truth about Pakistan's intelligence service brinkmanship," Ijaz said. "So I felt it was necessary to set the record straight."
The whole story is mired in the web of relationships and dealings both Haqqani and Ijaz have had over the years in their roles as members of the Pakistani elite in Washington. Ijaz had considered Haqqani a friend and Haqqani had even spoken at one of the charity events Ijaz organized.
Ijaz said he respects Haqqani, believes his motives are patriotic, and sees him as a needed presence in the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
"Haqqani has had a reputation since he became ambassador as being more of America's ambassador to Pakistan than Pakistan's Ambassador to America, but that's an unfair charge," Ijaz said. "He is someone who is trying to help people there understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is."
"In that sense, he's done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz said. "I still consider him a friend."
In a long statement given to The Cable over e-mail today, Haqqani flatly denied all of Ijaz's allegations:
I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz's claims and assertions. I did not write or deliver the memo he describes not did I authorize anyone including Mr Ijaz to do so.
I was in London and stayed at the Park Lane Intercontinental on the date in May mentioned in one of the alleged conversations but I was there to meet senior British govt officials, including Sir David Richards Chief Of General Staff and Mr Tobias Ellwood then parliamentary Secretary for Defense. These officials will confirm that threat of a coup was not on my mind at the time, the state of US-Pakistan relations was.
I fail to understand why Mr Ijaz claims on the one hand to have helped the civilian government by delivering his memo and on the other insists on trying to destroy democracy by driving a wedge between elected civilians and the military in Pakistan with his persistent claims. It is bizarre to say the least.
Mr Ijaz, whom I have known and communicated with off and on for ten years, once said to me he was richer and smarter than me so I should pay attention to him. Clearly he does not think about the consequences of his actions.
He may be the only so-called secret emissary in the world who likes so much publicity. He has yet to explain why, if all he says is correct, he wrote his Oct 10 oped and himself deliberately blew the cover off his own secret memo and mission.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.