All the GOP presidential candidates agree on one thing: The United States should cut foreign assistance and international humanitarian assistance programs. Their only differences are over how much.
"The American people are suffering in our country right now. Why do we continue to send foreign aid to other countries when we need all the help we can get for ourselves?" asked a woman in the audience of Tuesday's GOP primary debate in Las Vegas.
Rick Perry started off the responses by calling for "a very serious discussion about defunding the United Nations." The crowd cheered and applauded.
Calling the Palestinian drive to seek member status at the United Nations in September a travesty, Perry said that was reason enough to stop contributing. "Why are we funding that organization?" he asked.
Mitt Romney said that defense-related portions of the foreign aid budget should be transferred to the Defense Department and humanitarian aid responsibilities should be ceded to the Chinese government.
"I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give it to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are -- and think of that borrowed money," he said to applause from the crowd.
If either of the leading candidates were somewhat measured, Ron Paul was not. He said that foreign aid "should be the easiest thing to cut" because it's not explicitly authorized in the Constitution. "To me, foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country and giving it to rich people in poor countries, and it becomes weapons of war, essentially, no matter how well motivated it is," he said.
Paul also said we should cut all foreign aid to Israel. Michele Bachmann disagreed, taking the opportunity to make the case that President Barack Obama is the first president to put "daylight" between the United States and Israel.
"That's heavily contributed to the current hostilities that we see in the Middle East region," she said, reprising her criticism of the entire Arab Spring.
The candidates also weighed in on defense spending. Bachmann was asked if defense spending should be on the table for cuts, and wavered somewhat, opening the door to cuts while saying that $500 billion in defense budget cuts that would be triggered if the congressional supercommittee can't come to a deal to find at least $1.2 trillion in cuts was too much.
Newt Gingrich, calling himself a "cheap hawk," said that the supercommittee was not qualified to make such decisions and said the defense budget should be driven by strategy and threats, not arbitrary numbers.
"The idea that you'll have a bunch [of] historically illiterate politicians who have no sophistication about national security trying to make a numerical decision about the size of the defense budget tells you everything you need to know about the bankruptcy of the current elite in this country -- in both parties," he said.
For FP Passport's compilation of the debate's foreign policy highlights, click here.
The Israeli government is proud of the agreement it struck that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit today after five years of imprisonment, but don't expect any change in its approach to Hamas, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told The Cable today.
"Hamas remains a terrorist organization. It doesn't meet any of the Quartet's criteria for negotiating. Its charter still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people worldwide. It's a genocidal organization," Oren said in an interview. "Hamas itself is not saying it's a partner for peace talks. That's not in the bargain."
The deal to trade Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners was mediated by the Egyptian government and German mediators; no further deals or indirect interactions between the Israeli government and Hamas are in the works.
Those prisoners included Nasser Yateima, who was imprisoned for his role in a 2002 suicide bombing at an Israeli hotel on Passover, Walid Abdel-Hadi, who was involved in several attacks including a 2002 suicide bombing in a Jerusalem cafe that killed 11, and Ahlam Tamimi, who participated in bombing of a Sbarro's restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001 where 16 died.
Oren said the reason that the Israeli government took the risk of releasing so many dangerous prisoners was due to the unwritten social contract between the state and the people that Israel will do everything in its power to recover captured citizens.
"This deal goes to the very heart of the relationship between the State of Israel and the army of Israel. At the end of the day, yes, there's a heavy price to pay here, but as a result of Gilad Shalit's release, are we more motivated to go out and defend our country? Unquestionably, yes," he said. "That's the true strategic value, not just the humanitarian value, of what we've done."
But why did Hamas make the deal, in Oren's view?
"I think they're weak, weakened by the situation in Syria. They have been weakened by the situation in Gaza, where there's been a complete implosion of support for them in Gaza, where the economic situation is deplorable," he said.
Oren said that this weakened position led to a steady decline in Hamas' demands over the past two and a half years, which created a situation that made the terms of the deal amenable to Israel. Oren argued that the success of the deal does not strengthen Hamas, either in Gaza or with regard to their competition with the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
"They may celebrate for a few hours, but the people in Gaza are going to wake up tomorrow in the same position that were in today, and that's not a very favorable position at all," Oren said. "There's no obscuring that fact.... It's not a victory for them."
Despite some criticism inside Israel against the government for striking the deal, Oren said that the takeaway lesson of today's events is that the current Israeli government is capable of making hard and painful decisions -- and can deliver if there's a fair deal on the table. He also said that the reaction of the Palestinians to the deal highlights a fundamental difference between the two peoples.
"Today's events really showed a gap between Israeli society and Palestinian society. We celebrated life. They celebrated death," Oren said. "They celebrated the release of people who have killed dozens of men, women, and children. And it's a huge ethical difference."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a very high-level delegation to Pakistan later this week to try one more time to set U.S.-Pakistan relations back on track, before they go off the rails altogether.
The State Department won't confirm that Clinton is visiting Pakistan as part of her tour this week, which we're told will include stops in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Oman. But two senior officials have confirmed to The Cable that when Clinton arrives in Pakistan (we'll keep dates secret for security reasons), she'll be joined by CIA Director David Petraeus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, and several other administration officials.
Pakistani media already reported that the very senior U.S. delegation will have meetings with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The trip was set up by the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, who was in Islamabad last week.
"It's Hillary's initiative," one senior official told The Cable. "This is what Hillary convinced the administration to do because although the relationship has been at its lowest in some years, the U.S. side doesn't want to pronounce their effort to improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship dead."
The Obama team had been playing a game of "good cop, bad cop" with the Pakistanis as a means of ratcheting up pressure, following the uptick of attacks on Americans traced back to militant groups residing in Pakistan. U.S. officials have stated publicly that these groups are working with either the implicit or the explicit sanctioning of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
"Hillary is trying to position herself in the middle and say to Pakistan that there are those of us who want to engage and others who want to fold. How long do you want to play this game of poker?" the official said.
The mixture of threats and outreach coming from different parts of the Obama administration had the side effect of confusing their Pakistani interlocutors, according to experts. Now the administration wants to put forth one clear message, delivered by top diplomats and top military and intelligence officials all in the same room.
"The problem is still that different parts of the U.S. government, as far as Pakistan is concerned, are giving different messages," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "There needs to be a concise, unified message from Washington as to what the intentions are. In terms of high-level contact, we really haven't had that for a long while, so it's very critical."
The Obama administration is also trying to reprise the basic idea of the now defunct U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which was meant to improve coordination of policy within both governments and also move the relationship from a "transactional" to a "strategic" one.
Some top officials no longer believe that a "strategic" relationship with Pakistan is possible, and around Washington, there is a growing realization that U.S. and Pakistani long-term strategic interests may not align, said Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who led Obama's first review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy in 2009.
"We must recognize that the two countries' strategic interests are in conflict, not harmony, and will remain that way as long as Pakistan's army controls Pakistan's strategic policies," Riedel wrote in an Oct. 15 New York Times op-ed. "We must contain the Pakistani Army's ambitions until real civilian rule returns and Pakistanis set a new direction for their foreign policy."
In an interview Monday, Riedel told The Cable that the administration should abandon its efforts to seek help from the Pakistanis in bringing the Haqqani network and other militant groups to the table for peace negotiations, especially after the killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani by the Pakistan-based Taliban leadership.
"Grossman's primary mission of trying to find political reconciliation with the Taliban has been overtaken by events," Riedel said. "When one party murders the leader on the other side, we pretty much have an answer as to whether or not there's going to be a political reconciliation process."
The administration plans to warn the Pakistani government about the turning tide of public opinion in Washington against Pakistan and congressional threats to punish Pakistan. But if the Pakistanis don't change their approach to these groups, it's unclear what sticks the administration could really use against Pakistan to compel better behavior.
Overall, the Obama administration wants Pakistan to know it can't accept Americans being killed because of what's happening inside Pakistan. But there aren't expected to be any grand, new initiatives or new proposals to lift bilateral relations from what all sides agree is the lowest point in years.
"The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has been deteriorating all year, from the Raymond Davis case to the Osama bin Laden raid to the attack on the American Embassy in Kabul," said Riedel. "And there's really no evidence the bottom is in sight; it may be getting worse and worse."
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) lifted a longstanding secret hold on Sung Kim, the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea, only minutes before the South Korean president was set to speak to a joint session of Congress. The Senate confirmed Kim just now.
"Jon Kyl is holding up Sung Kim and he won't budge," Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) told The Cable only two hours ago, over a drink just before President Lee Myung-bak was honored in a lunch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden.
Several administration officials at the lunch told The Cable that after weeks of frustration, Kyl's office had finally agreed to receive a briefing on North Korea policy from State Department officials, which took place yesterday on Capitol Hill. Officials were working hard to convince Kyl's staff to allow the Kim nomination to go through in conjunction with Lee's visit and as part of this week's celebration of the U.S.-South Korean relationship.
There were various accounts of what exactly Kyl wanted from the administration in exchange for lifting the hold on Kim. Some administration officials said Kyl was requesting a series of letters that defined the administration's engagement with North Korea and made pledges to limit that engagement.
One official said that Kyl's demands seemed to change over time, but centered around assurances that the United States would not continue to meet with the North Koreans. A second U.S.-North Korea meeting is expected to be announced soon and would probably take place in a third country, such as Sweden.
Regardless, before Kyl lifted his hold, administration officials expressed frustration and embarrassment that they had not been able to push through Kim's confirmation. "It's a disgrace," one official at the lunch told The Cable.
"Koreans take this kind of thing very seriously," said another U.S. official, who happened to be of Korean descent.
The lunch itself was an elegant affair in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room on the State Department's 8th floor.
The appetizer was a roasted tomato, avocado, quinoa tower with pistachio mint pesto, fennel, caper dressing. For the entrée we had lemongrass sesame chicken with ginger-tamarind sauce, carrot-ginger puree, broccolini, and pearl onions. Dessert was a warm chocolate tart with milk chocolate mousse and malted milk ice cream.
Clinton's opening remarks praised the passage of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement last night and said the pact will "spur economic growth, bringing our nations even closer together," and is "another clear example of the United States' commitment to the Asia Pacific region."
"We are a resident military, diplomatic and economic power and we are in Asia to stay," she said, reprising the themes in her Foreign Policy article to applause.
Biden spoke next and talked about how Lee's nickname was "the bulldozer," which he earned early in his career when he dismantled a bulldozer to learn how to build one and make it work better
"I wondered how in the Lord's name you got that nickname," Biden said, noting that Lee doesn't look like an NFL linebacker. But, Biden said, "his persistence exceeds any linebacker who ever hit me."
Lee began his remarks by pointing out that that the bulldozer he took apart was made by Caterpillar, a not-so-subtle gesture to the crowd, which included dozens of U.S. and South Korean business executives.
Administration officials in attendance included Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, Counselor Harold Koh, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, CIA Director David Petraeus, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer, NSC Senior Director Gary Samore, DNI's Joe DeTrani, and Sung Kim himself.
Other notables at the lunch included Lugar, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), former NSC Senior Director Jeff Bader, former NSC Director Victor Cha, former North Korea Special Envoy Jack Pritchard, and former NSC Director Chuck Jones.
Your humble Cable guy rode the elevator with actor Ken Jeong, who flew in for the event from Los Angeles with his father. Jeong told us there is a third installment of the movie The Hangover in the works, but claimed he didn't have any plot details.
Obama and Lee had a private dinner Wednesday evening at Woo Lae Oak, a Korean restaurant in Tyson's Corner, VA. Tomorrow, they will travel to Detroit to visit a General Motors plant.
Read President Lee's speech to Congress here.
The Obama administration is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of reengagement with Burma, and the State Department is busily preparing a host of new rewards for the ruling junta if and when their promises of reform ever become a reality.
"We're going to meet their action with action," Derek Mitchell, the new special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, told The New York Times. "If they take steps, we will take steps to demonstrate that we are supportive of the path to reform."
But is Burma actually on the path to reform? The main pieces of evidence that change is afoot are that the new government, led by President Thein Sein, paused construction of a huge dam being built with China, which would have displaced thousands and wrecked the local environment, released 220 prisoners, and promised to release thousands more. But those changes alone aren't going to convince anyone in the administration -- or Congress, for that matter -- that the government is really committed to wholesale reform.
While the Obama administration sees some signs of change in Burma, it has no idea why they are occurring and has communicated that the United States will only ease sanctions after Burmese reforms. Administration officials are also trying their best to be clear eyed about the possibility that the junta is only trying to appease the international community, and has no intention of instituting real, actual change.
The Cable sat down with a senior State Department official to flesh out the administration's new approach to Burma, and gauge whether the Obama team really thinks that the Burmese junta is changing its tune.The official said that State has actually taken several steps in planning exactly what the United States is prepared to do if and when the junta takes steps to increase democracy and respect for human rights.
"We're far along," said the State Department official. "We're thinking about it very actively and we have some ideas of things we might do if we see the concrete steps."
The administration's strategy is to focus on steps the administration can take without needing to go through Congress, which is always skeptical of the Junta and never eager to loosen sanctions. For example, a ban on Burmese imports was implemented through a legislative maneuver, and would therefore need congressional action to remove. A ban on investment in Burma, however, was made by executive order, so the administration could remove that on its own.
"We would be consulting with Congress on the ideas that we have," the official said. "You can't have a perfect roadmap because there are many different scenarios to their actions and we'll calibrate it accordingly. So that's the art rather than the science to all of this."
Banking sanctions on Burma were authorized through Congress, but the sanctions placed on individual Burmese officials are an executive prerogative, so the administration could remove holds on specific Burmese officials who make positive steps.
The administration is still grappling with what it can do about removing restrictions on lending to Burma by international financial institutions, a key aspiration of the Burmese government. The New York Times reported that the administration is "considering waiving some restrictions on trade and financial assistance and lifting prohibitions on assistance by global financial institutions, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund."
We're told that the administration isn't quite there yet. Rather, officials are conducting an assessment of the conditions on the ground as to what would be needed as a precursor to considering waiving restrictions. For close observers of the Burma issue, that's a small but important distinction.
The administration is also being careful not to get ahead of reformers on the ground, specifically Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
The official noted that the administration has already provided some carrots to the Burmese. It invited Burma to be an observer in the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is the U.S. effort to deepen ties with certain Southeast Asian countries. It eased travel restrictions on Burmese officials so that Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin could come to Washington last month and visit the State Department.
There is a short and clear list of things the Obama administration has told junta leaders would constitute action deserving of reciprocal action on the part of the United States. They are to release political prisoners, amend the political party law to allow Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party to run in the next elections, and stop violence against ethnic minorities in Burma's rural areas.
The official said that, despite a feeling of political change in the urban areas of Burma, government violence against civilians near Burma's borders is actually getting worse. And there is still the unresolved issue of Burma's relationship with North Korea, which may include missile transfers and nuclear weapons cooperation.
"The ceasefires have been violated and there is continued military aggression and credible reports of abuses, including against women and children, that come out, which is typical of the past in Burma," the official said.
And what if the Burmese don't actually reform or even backslide on their progress? Is the administration willing to use the sticks -- including additional sanctions?
"We would look at everything.... It's fair to say we would be looking at that if things reverse," the official said.
Special Representative Mitchell's office, created in this year, is made up of just him and one assistant. He sits inside the offices of the East Asian and Pacific Bureau at State, but he reports directly up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has responsibility for coordinating the entire interagency policy on Burma.
Burma experts believe the new office is useful, and see Mitchell as the right man for the job. But Burma watchers are also wary that the cautious optimism of the administration doesn't turn into naiveté.
"There's a lot of hype right now about everything is changing in Burma," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "There's always a bureaucratic impulse to believe that positive change is happening in situations where a lot of U.S. diplomatic effort has been expended."
"That's the danger that there's so much positive rhetoric out there that the Burmese will think, aha, we don't actually have to do these things, all we have to do is talk about them," Malinowski said.
The State Department official said the administration was well aware of that risk, and was making sure the Burmese knew that they would have to implement real reforms to renew their relationship with the United States.
"I think [Burmese leaders] recognize that folks are waiting and see what's going to happen. People are restraining themselves from assuming that individual moves are somehow representative of something fundamentally different," the official said.
The other main administration officials involved in U.S. Burma policy are Adam Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Senior Director Dan Russel and Director Colin Willet in the NSC's Asia team, NSC's Senior Director Samantha Power on human rights, East Asia Pacific Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell and Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun, and Southeast Asia Office Director Patrick Murphy at State.
Top officials in the State Department are going to extensive lengths to coordinate international pressure on Iran in the wake of the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, although it remains unclear exactly what the Obama administration's next retaliatory steps might be.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns have been calling leaders around the world to discuss the indictment against a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and an Iranian member of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps al-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which alleges that they hatched an elaborate plan to kill Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington, possibly Café Milano in Georgetown.
Clinton has personally spoken with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal al-Saud, her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will be making several more calls today. Burns hosted a meeting of dozens of foreign diplomats this morning at the State Department on the plot, urging foreign ambassadors to convey a message back to their capitals that the United States is seeking more international pressure and condemnation of Iran.
Clinton and Burns met Wednesday morning with the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran through their embassy there because the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations. The meeting was previously scheduled, but the focus was switched to discuss the bomb plot.
The State Department also sent a message to all U.S. ambassadors and chiefs of mission around the world directing them to meet with officials in their host countries to brief them on the situation and encourage them to aid the United States in increasing pressure on the Iranian government.
The administration sent briefers to talk to congressional staffers in a classified setting today, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will testify tomorrow in an open hearing that is now expected to focus on the plot.
The State Department is also offering to send briefing teams to any embassy in Washington that wants more detailed information about the plot.
In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is holding individual meetings will all 14 other countries on the U.N. Security Council on the issue today and tomorrow.
"We are looking for countries to join us in increasing the political and the economic pressure on Iran," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing. "We believe that all countries should look hard at how they can tighten sanctions, how they can enforce sanctions and whether sanctions are well-enforced to the limits of their own national law."
Iran's permanent representative to the U.N. Mohammad Khazaee sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon denying any role in the plot and stating that, "Iran has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."
The State Department has made no decisions on whether to seek formal U.N. action against Iran, such as a Security Council resolution or presidential statement, Nuland said, and she wouldn't comment on Sen. Mark Kirk's (R-IL) demand that the administration sanction the Central Bank of Iran, an idea supported by over 90 senators.
Nuland said the administration doesn't know why Iran decided to attempt such an attack, but she dismissed the notion that the plot was out of character for the Iranian government.
"You know, Iran has a long history of using cut-outs. It also has some clumsy efforts in its past. I can't speak to what they were thinking when they planned this, but our concern is that it appears to be an escalation in tactics, and a dangerous one," she said.
Clinton spoke about the plot on Wednesday morning during remarks at the Center for American Progress.
"This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law, and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government's long-standing use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism.... This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system," she said.
"Iran must be held accountable for its actions....We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security."
The FBI arrested and charged Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, 47, a resident of Leesburg, VA, for spying on Syrian-American protesters in the Washington area on behalf of the Syrian government.
The Justice Department announced the arrest and charges in a Wednesday press release, alleging that Soueid was involved "in a conspiracy to collect video and audio recordings and other information about individuals in the United States and Syria who were protesting the government of Syria and to provide these materials to Syrian intelligence agencies in order to silence, intimidate and potentially harm the protestors."
The Syrian government has vehemently denied the accusation that it is gathering information on protesting Syrian-Americans and punishing their families back in Syria. But last month, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told The Cable that he had evidence of multiple family members of Syrian-American protesters being rounded up and tortured by the Syrian regime.
Soueid, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested on Tuesday and will appear before a judge this afternoon. He is charged with conspiring to act and acting as an agent of the Syrian government in the United States without notifying the attorney general, as required by law; two counts of providing false statements on a firearms purchase form; and two counts of providing false statements to federal law enforcement.
The indictment charges Soueid with making video and audio recordings of Syrian-American protesters, including personal conversations with them, and providing them to the Syrian intelligence services. He also provided protesters' phone numbers and e-mail addresses and also gave that information to officials at the Syrian embassy in Washington, the indictment alleges.
In June, according to the indictment, the Syrian government paid for Soueid to travel to Syria, where he met with Syrian officials and also directly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In July, he bought a Baretta pistol but lied about his address on the registration forms. In August, he was interviewed by the FBI and allegedly lied about his activities.
If convicted on all counts, he could face a maximum of 40 years in prison.
"Spying for another country is a serious threat to our national security, especially when it threatens the ability of U.S. citizens to engage in political speech within our own borders," said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Mike McFaul, the National Security Council senior director for Russia, will testify before senators this afternoon and say that that the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia is working and that Congress must terminate an antiquated law that prevents full and normalized trade relations with Moscow.
McFaul is nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow. Although several GOP senators have serious concerns about the reset policy and are critical of what they see as Obama's concessions to Russia, McFaul is expected to be confirmed. In his testimony this afternoon before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he will argue for the repeal of what's known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a 1974 legal provision that punished the Soviet Union for restricting Jewish emigration, and which continues to prevent the United States from granting Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status.
"In order for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers to receive the maximum benefit from Russia's WTO accession ... we will need to give the same unconditional permanent normal trading relations treatment to Russia's goods that we provide to those of all other WTO members," McFaul will say in his opening statement, obtained in advance by The Cable. "That commitment requires us to terminate the application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and extend permanent normal trading relations to Russia."
WTO membership for Russia is a key goal of Obama's reset policy and the administration has been working hard behind the scenes to help Moscow finalize its bid. But several senior Republican lawmakers want to keep Jackson-Vanik in place to keep the pressure on Russia and prevent further backsliding on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
McFaul will testify that the administration wants to terminate Jackson-Vanik before Russia joins WTO. Russia could win membership as early as December, if they are able to strike a deal with Georgia. The WTO typically only accepts new members by consensus. The agreement between the two nations would likely have to do with international customs monitoring along the Russia-Georgia border, which is currently run by the Russian military. The Obama administration said it's not involved in the Russia-Georgia negotiations, but at other times officials have admitted that it is.
Either way, it's unclear how the administration plans to convince intransigent GOP leaders, such as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), to abandon their opposition to granting Russia PNTR status, much less before December.
But the Obama administration has decided to make the termination of Jackson-Vanik a jobs issue, thus placing the GOP in the position of being against American workers.
"Four decades after Jackson-Vanik was passed, a vote to grant Russia PNTR is a vote to help our economy and create jobs," McFaul will say. "At a time when we need to increase exports to preserve and create American jobs, we cannot afford to put our farmers, manufacturers, and workers at a disadvantage when competing against other WTO members for market share in Russia."
Support in both parties is strong for McFaul's ambassador nomination, despite that he is a key architect of the reset policy that many Republicans oppose. McFaul has a long track record as a democracy advocate, and unlike most other top administration officials, he has maintained close and longstanding relationships with leaders on the GOP side of the aisle.
McFaul often engages with a wide range of people in the broader policy community, meets with administration critics and even meets with representatives from countries he doesn't cover, such as European officials who have an interest in U.S.-Russia relations.
McFaul's attitude and relationships have bought him a measure of credibility and support from the GOP. Several typically hawkish Russia experts have been lobbying GOP senators on behalf of McFaul's nomination. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), had threatened to hold the nomination, but now that hold is not expected to materialize.
"People have a lot of respect for Mike. Everybody knows that is a very passionate supporter of democracy," said Bob Kagan, a Brookings Institution scholar who co-authored a Washington Post op-ed in support of the nomination with Freedom House's David Kramer. "He's got a long reputation, good contacts, and he's part of a larger pro-democracy community, so the opposition in Russia will feel like it has somebody they can talk to, which isn't always the case."
The Obama administration is scrambling right now to find a way around the fact that existing U.S. law could force the United States to stop participating in the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO if the Palestinians are given member state status, setting a precedent that could repeat itself in a host of other U.N. organizations.
The administration is contending with a 1994 law (P.L. 103-236, Title IV), which would bar U.S. contributions "to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood."
Another law (P.L. 101-246, Title IV), from 1990, states that, "No funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any other act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states."
The Palestinians cleared a hurdle this week when the UNESCO executive board approved their bid to join the organization, sending the matter to a vote by UNESCO's 193-nation General Conference. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized UNESCO on Wednesday for taking up the issue.
"I think that that is a very odd procedure indeed and would urge the governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote," Clinton told reporters in the Dominican Republic.
She acknowledged the "strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition."
The U.S. has not yet paid their bills on UNESCO for 2011, about $80 million, which is 22 percent of UNESCO's budget. If the law is triggered and the U.S. does not pay in 2012, the U.S. would lose its vote in the organization. Plus, UNESCO officials have told the U.S. that if U.S. funds are not expected over the next two years, they may have to initiate massive layoffs beginning in January to account for the shortfall in funds.
Palestinian membership in UNESCO would also grant them immediate membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The U.S. would have to stop contributing to WIPO but America is not a member of UNIDO.
We're told that the State Department is currently having their attorneys draft a legal opinion on how U.S. laws would affect U.S. participations in U.N. bodies that grant the Palestinians member state status. Their ruling will have ramifications not only for UNESCO, but for all other U.N. specialized agencies that the PLO is expected to submit their application to, such as the IAEA, WTO, WHO, World Bank, and others.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the administration was "still working" on what the legislative triggers regarding funding would mean. But a State Department official said that the administration has not been able to find a way around the law.
"We have a suicide vest padlocked around our torso and the Palestinians have the remote control," the State Department official said. "They get to decide whether they blow us up or not. It's 100 percent up to them."
Meanwhile, Congress is ratcheting up its own involvement on the issue. Later today, 10 House appropriators will call on UNESCO not to move forward with consideration of Palestinian membership, in a letter to UNESCO Executive Director Irina Bokova obtained by The Cable.
"We... respectfully request that you do everything in your power to ensure that the Palestine Liberation Organization's application to become a Member State does not come before the UNESCO General Conference," states the letter, prepared by the office of Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ). "Any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would not only jeopardize the hope for a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but would endanger the United States' contribution to UNESCO."
Signatories of the letter include the heads of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Steve Austria (R-IL), Charles Dent (R-PA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
One senior Republican staffer pointed out the irony that it was President George W. Bush who brought the United States back into UNESCO, and now the United States might be forced to leave the organization by Obama -- a president who came to office promising to reverse what he argued was Bush's tendency to ignore the international community.
"Remember, we joined UNESCO in part because we needed them to help de-radicalize textbooks particularly in the Muslim world after 9/11 and as a platform to counter expanding anti-American attitudes in academia," the staffer said "And now, by de-funding UNESCO, we lose all the leverage we had gained."
President Obama opined on Chinese currency legislation, Pakistani double dealing, and the European debt crisis during his Thursday morning press conference, which was supposed to focus on his jobs bill. Here are the foreign policy highlights of his remarks.
On Chinese currency manipulation:
Obviously we've been seeing a remarkable transformation of China over the last two decades, and it's helped to lift millions of people out of poverty in China. We have stabilized our relationship with China in a healthy way. But what is also true is that China has been very aggressive in gaming the trading system to its advantage and to the disadvantage of other countries, particularly the United States. And I have said that publicly but I've also said it privately to Chinese leaders.
And currency manipulation is one example of it, or at least intervening in the currency markets in ways that have led their currency to be valued lower than the market would normally dictate. And that makes their exports cheaper and that makes our exports to them more expensive. So we've seen some improvement, some slight appreciation over the last year, but it's not enough.
It's not just currency, though. We've also seen, for example, you know, intellectual property, technologies that were created by U.S. companies with a lot of investment, a lot of up-front capital, taken, not protected properly, by Chinese firms. And we've pushed China on that issue as well. Ultimately, I think that you can have a win-win trading relationship with China. I'm very pleased that we're going to be able to potentially get a trade deal with South Korea. But I believe what I think most Americans believe, which is trade is great as long as everybody is playing by the same rules.
On the legislation to penalize currently manipulation currently being considered by Congress:
My main concern -- and I've expressed this to Senator Schumer -- is whatever tools we put in place, let's make sure that these are tools that can actually work, that they're consistent with our international treaties and obligations. I don't want a situation where we're just passing laws that are symbolic, knowing that they're probably not going to be upheld by the World Trade Organization for example, and then suddenly U.S. companies are subject to a whole bunch of sanctions. We've got a -- I think we've got a strong case to make, but we've just got to make sure that we do it in a way that's going to be effective.
Last point is, my administration has actually been more aggressive than any in recent years in going after some of these practices. We've brought very aggressive enforcement actions against China for violations in the tire case for example, where it's been upheld by the World Trade Organization that they were engaging in unfair trading practices, and that's given companies here in the United States a lot of relief.
So, you know, my overall goal is, I believe U.S. companies, U.S. workers, we can compete with anybody in the world. I think we -- we can make the best products. And a huge part of us winning the future, a huge part of rebuilding this economy on a firm basis -- that's not just reliant on, you know, maxed-out credit cards and a housing bubble and financial speculation, but is -- is dependent on us making things and selling things -- I am absolutely confident that we can win that competition. But in order to do it, we've got to make sure that we're aggressive in looking out for the interests of American workers and American businesses, and that everybody's playing by the same rules, and that we're not getting -- getting cheated in the process.
On Pakistan's hedging strategy:
With respect to Pakistan, I have said that my number-one goal is to make sure that al-Qaida cannot attack the U.S. homeland and cannot affect U.S. interests around the world. And we have done an outstanding job, I think, in going after directly al-Qaida in this border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We could not have been as successful as we have been without the cooperation of the Pakistan government. And so on a whole range of issues, they have been an effective partner with us.
What is also true is that our goal of being able to transition out of Afghanistan and leave a stable government behind -- one that is independent, one that is respectful of human rights, one that is democratic -- that Pakistan I think has been more ambivalent about some of our goals there. And you know, I think that they have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like, and part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left.
What we've tried to persuade Pakistan of is that it is in their interest to have a stable Afghanistan; that they should not be feeling threatened by a stable, independent Afghanistan. We've tried to get the conversations between Afghans and Pakistans (sic) going more effectively than they have been in the past. But we've still got more work to do. And there is no doubt that there's some connections that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have with certain individuals that we find trouble (sic). And I've said that publicly and I've said it privately to Pakistani officials as well.
On the Pakistan-India relationship:
[The Pakistanis] see their security interests threatened by an independent Afghanistan, in part because they think it will ally itself to India, and Pakistan still considers India their mortal enemy. Part of what we want to do is actually get Pakistan to realize that a peaceful approach towards India would be in everybody's interests and would help Pakistan actually develop -- because one of the biggest problems we have in Pakistan right now is poverty, illiteracy, a lack of development, you know, civil institutions that aren't strong enough to deliver for the Pakistani people. And in that environment you've seen extremism grow. You've seen militancy grow that doesn't just threaten our efforts in Afghanistan but also threatens the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people as well.
So trying to get that reorientation is something that we're continuing to work on. It's -- it's not easy.
On cutting off aid to Pakistan:
You know, we will constantly evaluate our relationship with Pakistan, based on, is overall this helping to protect Americans and our interests? We have a great desire to help the Pakistani people strengthen their own society and their own government. And so, you know, I'd be hesitant to punish, you know, aid for flood victims in Pakistan because of poor decisions by their intelligence services. But there's no doubt that, you know, we're not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don't think that they're mindful of our interests as well.
On the European debt crisis:
The biggest headwind the American economy is facing right now is uncertainty about Europe, because it is affecting global markets. The slow-down that we're seeing is not just happening here in the United States: It's happening everywhere. Even in some of the emerging markets like China you're seeing greater caution, less investment, deep concern.
I speak frequently with Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy. They are mindful of these challenges. I think they want to act to prevent a sovereign debt crisis from spinning out of control, or seeing the potential breakup of the euro. I think they're very committed to the European project. But their politics is tough because, essentially, they've got to get agreement with not only their own parliaments, they've got to get agreement with 20 parliaments, or 24 parliaments, or 27 parliaments. And engineering that kind of coordinated action is very difficult.
You know, but what I've been seeing over the last month is a recognition by European leaders of the urgency of the situation. And nobody's, obviously, going to be affected more than they will be if the situation there spins out of control. So I'm confident that they want to get this done. I think there are some technical issues that they're working on in terms of how they get a big enough -- how do they get enough fire power to let the markets know that they're going to be standing behind euro members whose -- you know, who may be in a weaker position. But they've got to act fast.
And we've got a G-20 meeting coming up in November. My strong hope is that by the time of that G-20 meeting, that they have a very clear, concrete plan of action that is sufficient to the task.
The Cable reported yesterday that President Barack Obama waived penalties on several countries that recruit child soldiers for the second year in a row. Today, lawmakers moved to ensure that the administration won't keep funding governments that use child soldiers next year.
The administration waived penalties mandated under the Child Soldiers Protection Act (CSPA) against Yemen, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The administration didn't provide a justification for not penalizing South Sudan, because the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which was released on June 27 and triggers the penalties, names "Sudan," not "South Sudan," as an abuser. South Sudan was declared independent on July 9, 12 days after the report came out.
"South Sudan wasn't a country during the reporting period and isn't subject to the CSPA; there are no penalties to waive under the law," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable.
That explanation struck several congressional aides and human rights activists we spoke with today as too clever by half. After all, the TIP report was referring to use of child soldiers by the government of "Southern Sudan" and the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which hasn't stopped the practice and will receive $100 million of U.S. taxpayers' money this year.
"They're using a legal and technical loophole to continue to build up partnership with a government that needs to be reminded how serious this problem is," said Sarah Margon, associate director for sustainable security and peace building at the Center for American Progress. "It's exactly how not to establish the message that they need to set up their government with full respect for human rights and transparency."
"At the time the TIP report came out, it was obvious South Sudan was going to be an independent country so any responsible person would have taken that into consideration," one senior House aide told The Cable. "Apart from the law, the White House still had discretion to address the issue as a policy matter and it chose not to condition any of the aid on the SPLA completing its demobilization of child soldiers."
The administration made the case that Chad has made sufficient progress on the child soldiers issue, and is no longer subject to penalties. "We've seen the government take concrete steps over the last year to implement policies and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent future government or government-supported use of child soldiers," Vietor said.
"The U.N.'s Chad Country Task Force has reported no verified cases of child soldiers in 2011, and Chad has put in place safeguards to prevent further use or recruitment of child soldiers. The president's reinstatement of assistance to Chad reflects this progress," he explained.
But several activists noted that the United Nations and State Department both kept Chad on their list of countries violating international standards for child recruitment this year, and that international monitors' limited access in Chad calls into question anybody's ability to verify whether the government has stopped using child soldiers.
Several aides and activists were angry at the administration for failing to adequately consult or even inform them of the waivers before they were announced. Administration officials briefed congressional staffers and NGO leaders yesterday, and journalists not at all.
"It also says something about the State Department's willingness to engage with civil society actors," said Margon. "It's a black mark on them in their ability to work with friends and allies on these issues. Why alienate the people who want to work with you on this stuff? It just doesn't make any sense."
Congress has no intention of letting this scenario play out again next year. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, successfully added an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorization bill today that would force the administration to give Congress 15 days notice before issuing waivers for the child-soldier penalties.
The amendment would also expand the law to include peacekeeping funds given to violator countries (such as Somalia), and force the White House to show that countries are making progress toward eliminating the use of child soldiers before receiving a waiver. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and John Boozman (R-AR) have already introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Not all Capitol Hill staffers were completely unsympathetic to the administration's arguments, however.
One Senate aide referred to the progress noted by the Obama administration in Chad and the partial cut of U.S. military assistance in the DRC as "welcome steps -- steps that might not have occurred without the force of the Child Soldier Prevention Act," noting that they "will require serious follow up attention."
But overall, the administration's roll out of the decision was panned by the NGO and human rights communities, which see the administration's action as undermining the intent of the legislation.
"At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I've ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children," said Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy advisor for children in crisis. "This is a very weak decision by an administration paralyzed with inaction. And the worst part is that thousands of children around the world -- not the politicians in the White House or the State Department -- are the ones who will suffer."
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last month after returning from a trip to Moscow. They are the only two members of the caucus, just yet, but they're canvassing for new members now. They plan to build connections with Russian officials, increase legislative exchanges with the Russian Duma, and advocate for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 U.S. law that prevents the United States from granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.
"When you think about Russia, they are an important nation in an important part of the world. And we have to make sure we begin to work with them in a post-Cold War way," Meeks told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Meeks said he has been coordinating with the Obama administration, which is supporting Russia's WTO bid as part of its overall effort to reset relations with Russia.
"The administration was very appreciative of us starting this caucus; they thought it was a good idea. They said they looked forward to working with us," Meeks said.
Both Meeks and Burton said they were encouraged to start the caucus after meeting with American businessmen and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. Both denied they had benefited financially as a result of their efforts on behalf of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We want to engage Russians on economics and trade affairs," Burton said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Regarding the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, Burton said, "That's something that the Congress has to do for the U.S. to get all the benefits of Russia joining the WTO. If that doesn't happen, Russia would be entitled to all its benefits [as a WTO member] but the U.S. would be disadvantaged."
Russia's accession to the WTO and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik "would be good for Russia and the world," Burton said.
Burton's position on Russian accession to the WTO and Jackson-Vanik puts him in direct opposition to his own committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said in July that repeal of Jackson-Vanik was impossible. And she's no fan of Russia's once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin.
"Putin's present-day Russia is taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day," Ros-Lehtinen said in July. "The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the U.S. or an improvement in Russia's human rights record."
Meeks and Burton both also said that they could use the caucus to press Russia toward more progress on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
"We do care about those things. What we're going to do is open a dialogue on all these things so we can move in the right direction," Burton said.
Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo will meet President Barack Obama today to renew the friendship between the two countries, and ask for help in fighting Honduras's drug war. The meeting comes two years after the Obama administration sided against the process that brought Lobo to power, before reversing itself and embracing the Lobo presidency.
Lobo sat down for an interview with The Cable on Tuesday to talk about his country's 2009 political crisis, the role of the United States in that drama, and the need for strong ties between Washington and Tegucigalpa, which he described as two like-minded democracies fighting together against drugs and for democracy.
"The United States is our most important foreign ally, it's our strongest relationship and it has been so historically," Lobo said. "That's the way it is and I'm sure it will continue to be so."
Back in 2009, the State Department sided strongly with former President Manuel Zelaya, who was seized by the military and taken out of Honduras in what some called a coup. Zelaya snuck back into Honduras in September 2009 and holed up in the Brazilian embassy while the Obama administration worked to restore him to power.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even met with Zelaya in Washington, suspended aid to Honduras, and revoked the visas of Honduran officials. Later, Honduras was cut off from Millennium Challenge Corporation assistance.
Eventually, it became apparent that the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, was winning the internal struggle and that new elections would take place. The administration began shifting its position in October 2009 and finally threw Zelaya under the bus when Lobo won the election and Zelaya rejected a deal that would have returned him temporarily to power.
Zelaya hurt his case and alienated the Obama administration when he starting accusing "Israeli mercenaries" of poisoning him with mind-altering gas and radiation while he was inside the Brazilian embassy.
But that's all water under the bridge as far as Lobo is concerned.
"The Unites States has always supported democracy and the rule of law. Whether it is Zelaya, whether it is Lobo, this is what the United States has always looked for," Lobo said. "They always said that as soon as there are elections and the Hondurans elect the president, the situation with Honduras would be the same as it had always been, and this is the way it happened."
Most U.S. trade and assistance to Honduras has been restored, although they are still not able to receive grants from the MCC.
We asked Lobo if he forgave the Obama administration for sticking with Zelaya for so long and initially opposing the process that led to his election.
"They haven't done anything to us!" Lobo exclaimed. "The United States was the only country that maintained an ambassador in Honduras and was extremely helpful in eventually finding a path out of the crisis."
Lobo is meeting with a host of senior officials in addition to Obama, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Attorney General Eric Holder. He'll also hold meetings with leaders at the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Dialogue.
His main goal is to seek financial and technical assistance for Honduras's worsening problem with drug cartels, which have increasingly moved into Central America due to the crackdown in Mexico.
"[W]e need to have help to do more investigations and we need to seek reforms in the national police as well as in the armed forces," Lobo said. "We have a strong ally in the U.S. because this is the market, this is where the consumers are. We are basically on the corridor and this we cannot change. We also seek the United States to launch an effective fight against consumption."
On Tuesday morning, Lobo had breakfast with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-DL). DeMint was key in shifting U.S. policy away from Zelaya and traveled to Honduras in the middle of the crisis, against the State Department's objections, to meet with Zelaya's foes.
DeMint told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday that the Lobo government had made progress in repairing its relationships around the world but that more attention from the United States was needed.
"If we focus on Mexico and Columbia, the criminals move to places like Honduras," DeMint said. "They are a good friend and they are very pro-American and there aren't many pro-American countries left in the world."
What a difference a year makes. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was confirmed by the Senate on Monday evening after serving under a recess appointment because the Senate would not confirm him the first time around.
It didn't take much to win the Senate's approval. All Ford had to do was get attacked by pro-regime thugs while attending a meeting of Syrian lawyers, attend a funeral of a Syrian activist right before it was attacked by Syrian government forces, and get his car pelted with eggs, tomatoes, concrete blocks, and iron bars as he was chased by a violent mob after visiting a Syrian politician.
In short, the Senate finally saw that Ford was more of an irritant to the Syrian regime than a concession to them, and so the GOP foreign policy brain trust reversed itself and supported his confirmation.
After Ford's latest run in with violent pro-regime Syrians, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the incident to make a push for his confirmation.
"Ambassador Ford has shown admirable courage putting himself on the line to bear witness to the situation on the ground in Syria. He is a vital advocate for the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people now under siege by the Asad regime," Clinton said Sept. 29. "I encourage the United States Senate to show our support for Ambassador Ford by confirming him as soon as possible, so he can continue, fully confirmed, his critical and courageous work."
White House spokesman Jay Carney piled on the same day.
"Day after day, Ambassador Ford puts himself at great personal risk to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said at the Sept. 29 briefing. "And I'd like to make this point: that we urge the Senate to show Ambassador Ford its support by confirming him and allowing his courageous work to continue."
Ford described the latest attack in his most recent Facebook post.
"Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars. One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car's side window. When the embassy car moved through the crowd, the man fell off the car," he wrote.
"Americans understand that we are seeing the ugly side of the Syrian regime which uses brutal force, repression and intimidation to stay in power."
Top Obama administration officials have divided up responsibilities for applying pressure and offering an outstretched hand to the Pakistani government, in a new diplomatic strategy that some officials have dubbed "coercive diplomacy."
"The Obama administration is totally fed up and have decided to up the ante," said one official familiar with the new approach, explaining that inside the administration, "pressing for Pakistani behavior change is the new mantra."
Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 27 times since 2008, clearly assumed the role of "bad cop" when he testified on Sept. 22 that the U.S. government believes the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, with the help of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for the recent bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Mullen upped the ante further, saying the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI, a charge anonymous U.S. officials walked back on Tuesday.
Also heading up the "bad cop" team is new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who seemed to threaten increased U.S. military incursions into Pakistan on Sept. 16. An official familiar with the strategy said that even more threatening statements by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who declared on Sept. 25 that there would be broad bipartisan support for U.S. military attack on Pakistan, were coordinated with the administration as part of their new campaign to apply pressure on Pakistan. The State Department is also considering whether to add the entire Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, but no decision has yet been made.
The administration may also be using the media as part of its new campaign to exert new pressure on Pakistan. On Monday, a story appeared in the New York Times with an excruciatingly detailed account of a 2007 ambush of American officials by Pakistani militants.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a parallel "good cop" effort with the Pakistani government. She has sought ways out of the current diplomatic crisis by increasing her personal engagement with her Pakistani counterparts, as evidenced by her three-and-a-half hour meeting with new Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Sept. 18 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
According to one official inside the meeting, Clinton told Khar, "We want this relationship to work. Give us something to work with."
"The secretary's message was that, given the efforts of the Haqqani Network on the 13th of September [the day of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul], that this was an issue that we had to deal with and that this is a threat to both Pakistan and the United States," a senior State Department official said about the meeting. "That part of the conversation concluded that joint efforts need to be made to end this threat from the Haqqanis, and that Pakistan and the United States ought to be working together on this and not separately."
Other U.S. officials inside that meeting included Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and his deputy Dan Feldman. Afghan reconciliation was also a main topic of the meeting.
In her meeting with Khar, Clinton tried to find specific ways to address the threat of Pakistan-based extremists operating with impunity in Afghanistan.
"It is possible for the United States and Pakistan to work together to identify those interests that we have in common and then figure out how to act on them together," the State Department official said. "And I'd say that that if that could be the overriding philosophy or kind of headline that came out of this meeting, that'd be a very good thing for both sides."
After initially making some harsh statements against the U.S. Khar has now settled on a message that mixes her desire to defend Pakistani pride with the need to project the Pakistani civilian government's willingness to find a way out of the crisis.
Khar said this morning on NPR that the U.S. and Pakistan "need each other" and "are fighting against the same people" but "Pakistan's dignity must not be compromised."
Clinton's strategy is also reflective of the feeling of some inside the administration that the late Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's drive to transform the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from a "transactional" one to a "strategic" relationship is now a lost cause.
"The strategic relationship is over, we're back to transactional with Pakistan," one U.S. official recently told The Cable. "We can call it ‘long-term transactional' if we want, but that's the way it is now."
Amid all the tough talk, on-the-ground intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan continues. CIA Director David Petraeus and ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha met in Washington on Sept. 20 and put into force a new intelligence sharing agreement, an official briefed on the agreement said. Pasha also reportedly met with top White House officials at the residence of Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
Inside Pakistan, there is speculation that the United States may be bluffing about its threat to increase military strikes inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government is also grappling with a fervent anti-U.S. media and a realization that its control over the ISI, much less the Haqqani network, is ultimately limited. But U.S. aid to Pakistan will never be effective leverage in convincing Pakistani to change its basic approach to dealing with groups like the Haqqani network, the official said.
"Pakistan is unwilling to align its strategic vision with America's worldview," the official said. "Meanwhile, the mood toward Pakistan in Washington is the worst it's ever been."
The foreign minister of Georgia told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Georgia can't consent to Russia joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), if Russia doesn't agree to international monitors on the Russian-Georgian border.
Clinton met with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Monday morning for about 25 minutes in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The bulk of that meeting was spent discussing the Swiss effort to mediate between Russia and Georgia over the former's application to join the WTO, a major goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy, a senior State Department official said.
No country has been admitted to the WTO without the consensus of all existing members and the Obama administration has been pressing both sides to strike a deal that would allow Georgia to support Russia's bid.
"As she did with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov last week, Secretary [Clinton] urged Foreign Minister Vashadze to make the most of the Swiss mediation proposal and to try to make progress to close the gaps when the delegations meet in the next week and a half," the official said.
Giga Bokeria, Georgia's national security advisor, was also inside the meeting between Clinton and Vashadze. He told The Cable in an interview today that, while the Georgian government appreciates and agrees with the Obama administration's emphasis on the Swiss process, which was initiated because Russia and Georgia severed diplomatic relations after their 2008 war, Moscow has shown no signs of moving toward Tbilisi's basic demands. Thus, Georgia is not yet willing to support Russia's WTO accession.
"The Obama administration is urging all parties to compromise. We are doing that; the Russians are not. It's up to the Russians, either they want to compromise or they don't," he said. "The process exists, but as it stands there will be no Georgian consent. The ball is in Russia's court."
Georgia wants international monitors stationed as customs officers on the borders between Russia and the Russian-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, borders currently manned by Russian troops. We're told that the Russians have thus far refused to agree to allow independent monitors on that border.
Russia is also insisting that any agreement with Georgia not be included in its actual WTO accession agreement, so that Georgia would not be able to use the WTO dispute resolution mechanisms to enforce the agreement. The Georgians are demanding the right to use the WTO to enforce any agreement with Russia.
"Unfortunately, what we see at the moment is that Russia is completely inflexible to find a reasonable compromise in terms of transparency along the Russian-Georgian border," Bokeria said.
"We just want to reach a meaningful compromise to achieve transparency through international monitoring," he added, pointing out there is no precedent for a country joining the WTO without consensus from all WTO members.
Bokeria also commented on the recent announcement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin intend to swap jobs for next year's election in Russia. But he said he doesn't anticipate any big changes in Russian foreign policy.
"It was clear throughout this time that Prime Minister Putin was in charge. The Russian policy toward Georgia and its other neighbors has not changed and unfortunately there's no sign it will change in the immediate future," he said. "It will be aggressive as it was."
"For some analysts who had some illusions that there was some internal struggle, that we always thought were unserious, this is an eye opener now," said Bokeria. "It's an insult to Russian citizens the way this has been presented to them."
One of the "analysts" who believed that Medvedev and Putin were locked in an internal struggle for control of Russia's government was Vice President Joseph Biden, who argued last year that the New START arms control agreement was key to strengthening Medvedev against Putin.
"Medvedev has rested everything on this notion of a reset. Who knows what Putin would do? My guess is he would not have gone there [in terms of committing to the reset], but maybe," Biden said.
That's quite different from the White House's message this week, which claims the Obama administration knew all along that Putin was in control.
"Everyone knows that Putin runs Russia," a U.S. official told the New York Times this week. "Remembering this obvious fact means that Putin has supported the reset with the U.S."
Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who served under President Putin, apparently had it right in an interview last November with Foreign Policy, when he described the Medvedev-Putin relationship as that between "a boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."
When asked if he thought Putin would run for president in 2012, Kasyanov said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford confirmed to The Cable widely held suspicions that the Syrian government is arresting and torturing Syrians whose family members have spoken out against the regime here in the United States.
The FBI is investigating claims that the Syrian embassy staff in Washington has been collecting information on Syrian-Americans in and around Washington, especially those who dare to protest against the regime. That embassy is led by Ambassador Imad Moustapha, who has updated his blog only intermittently since the outbreak of violence in Syria.
Ford did not directly accuse Moustapha of spying on American citizens and transmitting that information back to the regime, to be used to punish family members as part of an organized campaign of fear and intimidation. But he said that those families are being tortured.
"We know of families here in Syria who have been arrested, who have been beaten, whose homes have been broken into, because of activities against the Syrian government - participation in marches, for example - by family members in the United States," Ford said in a phone call from his post in Damascus.
Ford said he couldn't comment on the Moustapha investigation specifically, but confirmed that the State Department is tracking these cases and has evidence of multiple instances of retribution against Syrian-Americans by the Assad regime.
"We know of at least three instances of that. How does the Syrian government know about [the Syrian-Americans' activities]? You and I can speculate," Ford said. "We do know of families that were attacked here. It's really serious."
Without directly accusing the Syrian embassy in Washington of spying, Ford said, "It is entirely unacceptable for any foreign embassy in the United States to facilitate the harassment of American citizens."
The Wall Street Journal has reported on several claims by activists of retribution brought down on their Syrian-based family members. Ford's comments represent the highest level public acknowledgment of these activities to date.
At Ford's confirmation hearing in August, Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) spoke about how the regime treats those Syrians who try to maintain contacts in the United States.
"The terrible reach of this regime has directly affected constituents in my home state of Pennsylvania," said Casey, who told the story of Sakher Hallak, a Syrian who traveled to the United States to attend a medical conference with his brother Hazem Hallak, a Syrian-American living near Philadelphia.
"Upon his return to Syria, Sakher was missing. His wife contacted the authority to confirm that he was in their custody but would be released shortly," Casey said. "Two days later, his body was discovered in a village 20 miles south of Aleppo. The authorities then denied that he was ever in their custody and claimed that they found his body in a ditch, by the side of the road."
"Sakher's body was subjected to brutal torture. His bones were broken and his body was mutilated in unspeakable ways," said Casey. "Sakher was not a political activist. He was not involved in the demonstrations. His sole offense appears to be his visit to the medical conference and his visit with his brother in the United States of America."
If the Syrian regime's intention was to intimidate Hazem Hallak, their strategy surely backfired. He became an outspoken and fierce critic of the regime in response to his brother's death.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded tonight to criticisms leveled on Thursday by former President Bill Clinton, who blamed Netanyahu for creating obstacles to a Middle East peace deal.
"The two great tragedies in modern Middle Eastern politics, which make you wonder if God wants Middle East peace or not, were [Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination and [Ariel] Sharon's stroke," Clinton said on Thursday, in remarks reported exclusively on The Cable.
Clinton said that Netanyahu moved the goalposts and made reaching a comprehensive peace deal more difficult upon taking office.
"The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn't seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu," Clinton said, referring to what he called fair offers from the Palestinian government and the other Arab nations. "Now that they have those things, they don't seem so important to this current Israeli government."
Clinton also said that the Palestinians have offered Netanyahu the same deal the two sides almost agreed to in 2000 at Camp David, but Netanyahu refuses now to accept it.
Netanyahu shot back at Clinton when asked about the remarks in an interview with ABC News.
"I respectfully disagree," Netanyahu said. "The Palestinians are basically trying to shortcut this. They're trying to get a state without giving us peace, without giving us security."
"President Clinton knows very well [that] in 2000 at Camp David ... who really made the generous offer and the Palestinians refused to come," he said. "I'm sure that President Bush can tell you what happened at Camp David a few years later, when another Israeli prime minister made a generous offer, and the Palestinians refused to come."
When asked if he had moved the goalposts, Netanyahu said, "Not at all."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late on Thursday praised a new statement issued by the Middle East Quartet calling for new negotiations, a statement neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have endorsed.
"The Quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties," she said. "Therefore, we urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talks, and the United States pledges our support as the parties themselves take the important next steps for a two-state solution, which is what all of us are hoping to achieve."
The State Department may be facing its toughest budget season ever, but there are still plenty of lawmakers who are ready to defend funding for diplomacy and development, according to Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides.
Congress rejected, by a 20 to 78 vote, an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last week to fund $6.9 billion in emergency disaster relief by taking the money out of the State Department's foreign assistance budget. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) all came to the State Department's defense.
"I think getting 78 votes against it was pretty darn good," Nides told The Cable in an interview. "We have bipartisan support. Clearly the great majority of the Senate thought it was not the right thing to do... Even in difficult times, people don't want to do things that would dramatically impact our national security."
Graham responded to Paul and defended foreign aid funding in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Sept. 16. Graham explained how he defends foreign aid to the man on the street, a man he called "Bubba."
"Here's what I'd tell ‘Bubba,' when he asked," Graham said. "I'd say, listen, I got it, pal. We're not going to write any more checks to dictators and let them waste your money. We're just not going to through money. But less than 1 percent of what we spend at the federal level is on foreign assistance."
Nides said that Graham has been "enormously helpful" in defending foreign assistance. "He fundamentally believes that the funding of State Department and USAID is critical to our national security. His argument is not that we should be funding these things just based on humanitarian grounds, as important as that may be."
The chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa subcommittee, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have also emerged as advocates for foreign assistance funding. In a Sept. 19 letter to the chairs of the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign ops subcommittee, obtained by The Cable, they defended funding for development assistance and the USAID operations accounts, both of which are slashed in the House version of next year's appropriations bill.
"Development assistance is a reflection of our moral imperative to assist others in need, a critical demonstration of American leadership in the world," they wrote. "We are keenly aware of the budgetary pressures facing Congress... we are concerned that reductions to development assistance will undermine U.S. priorities in Africa and throughout the developing world."
Nides said that the House version of the State and Foreign Ops appropriations bill, which would give $39.6 billion in fiscal 2012 to international affairs funding, "would have dramatic impact on the operations of the State Department." The Senate version, which would provide about $44.6 billion, is "more reasonable," he said.
Nides said that the State Department and USAID have succeeded in being added to the national security discussion -- but that also places diplomacy and development funding in competition with national security accounts, including the defense budget.
"You've got to fund defense, but not at the cost of depleting your diplomacy and development. That would be shortsighted," he said.
The supercommittee that is working on discretionary budget cuts this fall must deal with caps on "security" spending, which bundles defense, diplomacy, and development funding into one big pool of money. And that could leave the U.S. diplomatic corps as the odd man out.
The State Department does have one very powerful friend who sits on that committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). So does Nides think Kerry will use his supercommittee perch to come to State's defense?
"My assumption is that he'll do whatever he can to be supportive, but first and foremost he's going to have to do what's in the best interest of the American people," said Nides. "I think he will determine that that includes protecting our national security, and that includes funding for State and USAID."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford's once unlikely bid for Senate confirmation gained traction this week, as multiple GOP senators and a host of conservative foreign policy leaders changed their tune toward his nomination.
Placed in his post via a recess appointment last year, Ford would have to return to Washington at the end of December if the Senate does not vote to confirm him. Over the summer, Ford has actively engaged with Syrian opposition groups and has put himself at personal risk by attending meetings of opposition leaders and funerals of Syrian activists. These efforts have convinced a large portion of the GOP, which stymied his confirmation last year, that his presence in Damascus is a useful way of confronting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and not a concession to the brutal dictator.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) was the first critic of Ford's presence in Syria to reverse himself and come out in support of Ford's confirmation. Now, several GOP senators who have criticized Obama's Syria policy are following suit.
"Robert Ford has shown personal bravery and increasing effectiveness for advancing human rights in Syria and I am in support of his nomination," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) told The Cable.
Congressional Quarterly reported on Thursday that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who voted no on Ford during committee consideration in July, is now a supporter. "He's demonstrated very clearly that he can handle the tough job he's doing in Syria," Inhofe said.
Also, a group of conservative pundits, under the banner of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), released a statement supporting Ford's confirmation. FPI is led by Bill Kristol, Bob Kagan, and Jamie Fly.
"Whatever reason people had for wanting to withdraw our ambassador from Damascus before -- and they were legitimate -- circumstances have changed," Kagan told The Cable. "Ford is, very bravely, acting as a kind of U.S. representative to the opposition in Syria and is making clear to the Syrian people that the US stands with them and against Assad."
"It's pretty clear the Republican tide is now turning in Ford's favor," a senior Senate aide close to the issue told The Cable. "The reason, ironically, isn't because Republicans have been persuaded by the administration to support a policy of engagement. It's because the administration has been persuaded, by the facts on the ground, to abandon engagement... Everyone realizes Ford is now in Syria not as a bridge to Assad, but as a bridge to what comes after Assad."
The State Department senses that the tide is turning on the Ford nomination as well, and is pushing Ford out to the media this week. He conducted on-the-record interviews with The Daily Caller¸ the Huffington Post¸ and with your humble Cable guy.
In a phone call with The Cable, Ford laid out the reasons he believes that he should be allowed to stay in Damascus.
"When an ambassador makes a statement in a country that's critical of that country's government, when that government visits an opposition or a site where a protest is taking place, the statement is much more powerful -- and the impact and the attention it gets is much more powerful if it's an ambassador rather than a low-level diplomat," Ford said.
Ford said he still meets with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials, as has as recently as last week, but only about routine diplomatic business and not about the regime or overall U.S. policy. "There really is not a lot that we need to say to the Syrian government," Ford said. "We don't need to discuss their reform initiative because we don't take it seriously."
Ford said he is definitely not trying to get himself kicked out of Damascus, as some in Washington believe. He is also meeting frequently with Syrians who are "on the fence," and could be turned against the Assad regime, such as business leaders, government employees, Christians, and the Allawite community, which has until recently been loyal to Assad.
Amid discord between various opposition groups inside and outside Syria, Ford's message to the Syrian opposition is that it should unite and put together a plan for transitioning to a new government. "Otherwise it's just going to be very bloody and bad later," he said. He is also urging them to keep the protests peaceful in order to maintain international sympathy.
There has been some discussion in Washington about why Ford doesn't announce his activities in Syria or post about them on his Facebook page, which he has used to criticize the Assad regime. Ford said his activities are well-covered in Syria and around the region by the Arab language press.
"I'm thinking much more about my audience here in Syria; I'm not so worried about the Washington repercussions," he said.
What's clear is that Ford has had some close calls. In addition to being assaulted by a pro-regime thug, the funeral he attended of slain activist Giyath Matar was attacked by regime forces just after he left. In fact, he said, he was only a block away in his car when the attack occurred.
At first, the crowd at the funeral was chanting, "God, Syria, freedom, and that's all," Ford remembered. He and the other seven ambassadors at the funeral left, however, when the crowd started shouting, "The people want to bring the downfall of the regime."
"I don't want to be an American ambassador encouraging a crowd to bring down the regime. That would be incitement, that's the red line," Ford said.
It seems that Ford's actions are getting under the skin of the Syrian regime. Ford said that after trashing Matar's funeral, Syrian forces spray painted on the side of Matar's house, "The Matar family is an agent of the American ambassador."
Top Obama administration officials here in New York are working hard with Quartet members, including Russia, to come up with language for a new statement on the Middle East Peace Process, one that would be viable no matter what happens with the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the U.N. this week.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and the Palestinian U.N. gambit was a major part of their conversation. Following the meeting, State Department officials said that Clinton was focused on the longer-term diplomatic picture.
"Both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton agreed that the Quartet envoys should continue working to find a way forward among the Quartet in the form of a statement that can help establish a pathway back to negotiations over time," a senior State Department official told reporters in a read out of the meeting.
But when pressed, the official could not note any progress or agreement between the U.S. and Russia on the contents of the statement. The official said, however, that the meeting was only the first of what will be several U.S.-Russian interactions on this issue this week.
"They talked about what the purpose or nature of a Quartet statement and product would look like and the desire by both of them to have the Quartet play a constructive role in producing a pathway that could lead back towards negotiations," the official said. "And they also talked about what some of the elements might look like in a statement that could provide a useful framework or context for negotiations between the two sides. And then they agreed that the envoys should continue working."
The Cable reported last week that among the issues under consideration within the discussions over a Quartet statement were two specific items: modified language to acknowledge the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and a U.S.-proposed timeline for resuming direct negotiations within four to six weeks.
But Clinton and Lavrov didn't get to that level of details on Monday evening. "Their conversation tonight was at more of a strategic level than at a level of text," the official said, adding that Clinton affirmed the U.S. position opposing the Palestinians move at the U.N., a move the Russian government is publicly supporting.
The official's briefing seemed to signal that the Obama administration has somewhat resigned itself to the fact that the Palestinians plan to move forward at the U.N. this week and that the administration is now looking over the horizon to minimize the damage to the peace process and focus on what happens after all parties leave New York.
"And so the question is: How do you deal with all the elements that are at play in the discussions here in New York in a way that can produce a pathway when people leave New York back to negotiations and then have those negotiations ultimately yield the two-state solution that everybody wants," the official said.
The reporters at the briefing repeatedly noted the administration change of emphasis away from criticizing the Palestinian U.N. activity and toward a diplomatic path that would begin after the General Assembly ends.
The official acknowledged that in Clinton's meeting with Lavrov, she didn't spend a lot of time trying to convince the Russians not to support the Palestinian statehood bid.
"I think she laid out her position on why she believes that action at the United Nations is not the best way forward, and she spent the bulk of her time encouraging the foreign minister to work with her on finding a way forward that would get the two parties back into negotiations."
The Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its as yet unannounced decision to sell Taiwan a new arms package that does not include new F-16 fighter planes, and a senior administration official used some verbal gymnastics to offer a defense of the decision without actually confirming it.
"This is with regard to Taiwan and the question of a U.S. decision one way or the other, which as you know, has not yet been formally notified to Congress with regard to the sale of F-16s," a senior administration official told reporters at the Waldolf Astoria hotel in New York on Monday evening. "Our view is that something has gotten lost in translation in the last couple of days on this issue."
The official couldn't acknowledge that reports of the sale were true, because Congress has to be notified before officials talk about foreign military sales to the press. So the official defended the decision by temporarily "assuming" the news reports were accurate.
"I will base my comments on those assuming that those leaks are true. But of course, I can't confirm them until after formal congressional notification this week," the official said.
"Assuming the reports leaked about the proposal to refurbish F-16s are true and that obviously can't be confirmed even on background until a formal congressional notification later this week -- weapons sales to Taiwan since 2009 will be greater than in the previous four years, and they will be double the sales that occurred between 2004 and 2008."
The official then defended the offer to Taiwan of upgrades for its aging fleet of F-16 A/B fighters and the rejection of Taiwan's request for 66 new F-16 C/D fighters, again without confirming that's the administration's decision.
"Assuming the decision is to upgrade F-16 A/B, they will provide essentially the same quality as new F-16 C/D aircraft at a far cheaper price. And Taiwan would stand to get 145 A/Bs versus only 66 C/Ds. And we're obviously prepared to consider further sales in the future," the official said.
The official then argued that the Obama administration has been active on strengthening relations with Taiwan.
"In addition, the administration has taken strong steps to deepen relations with Taiwan in concrete ways beyond this dossier, including Visa Waiver Program, education initiatives, trade and energy initiatives, and helping Taiwan to have more access to international fora like the World Health Organization."
The actual announcement of the Taiwan arms sales decision and its actual defense are expected later this week.
UPDATE: Earlier today Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) filed his bill to require the administration to sell at least 66 new F-16 C/D multirole fighter jets to Taiwan as an amendment to the Generalized System of Preferences bill that is currently on the Senate floor, which is a vehicle for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
The White House today adopted Rep. Paul Ryan's dubious claim that winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would save $1 trillion over the next decade.
"The plan produces approximately $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction net the cost of the American Jobs Act," the White House said in a fact sheet issued to accompany President Barack Obama's new plan to cut the deficit. "$1.1 trillion from the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and transition from a military to a civilian-led mission in Iraq."
The more than $1 trillion in defense "savings" that the White House claims is based on a projection the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put out last March, which found that war costs would top $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. However, that projection was never meant to accurately forecast the costs of the wars over the next decade. The report just took this year's costs for Iraq and Afghanistan ($159 billion) and added inflation for every year in the future.
In other words, the CBO number was the projection if the United States kept the current number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020. However, nobody ever thought that was the plan. The CBO was required to do the math that way, as they do with all such projections.
At today's White House briefing, reporters were quick to point out that Obama never planned to keep that many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next ten years. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew's response was to point out that the House GOP had used the same faulty logic in Paul Ryan's budget plan.
"There is no doubt that those are going to be savings when presented to Congress. The Republican budget in the House took account of them," Lew said, referring to the Ryan budget plan that the House passed in April.
It's also true that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) claimed the same "savings" in the plan he released to avert a debt ceiling crisis, although that plan never got any traction. But the CBO issued a report on the day Reid's plan was released to make it clear that its projection should not be used in this way.
"It is important to note that the administration projection is not really a policy-based estimate -- CBO takes the most recent number and that becomes their baseline," said the report, which was crafted for congressional offices and obtained by The Cable.
The White House's gambit is only its latest attempts to claim savings from cutting defense when actually no cuts exist. The White House claimed it had cut $350 billion from defense over ten years as part of the debt ceiling deal, but actually there are no defense cuts in the bill.
What the bill does is set spending caps for "security" spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There's no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there's no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from "defense." Moreover, the spending caps are split between "security" and "non-security" discretionary spending only for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.
If the next five Congresses actually cut the defense budget by $350 billion and if the Congressional supercommittee fails to find another $900 billion in discretionary cuts, that would "trigger" another $600 billion cuts in defense over ten years. Added to the $350, that would total about $1 trillion in defense "savings."
But Lew was clear that the trigger, which officials are now referring to as "sequestration," is not something the administration wants to happen.
"I don't know any serious policymakers on either side of the aisle who think sequestration is a good place to go," he said. "It was designed to be something that would have bad consequences wherever you look because it is not a serious set of policies."
The United States and Turkey signed an agreement to station U.S. missile defense radar in Turkey, just as Ankara's relations with the West seem to be deteriorating.
The Sept. 14 agreement signed between the two governments will allow a Raytheon-produced AN/TPY-2 X-band radar to be based in the Turkish city of Kurecik. Turkey will be responsible for management of the installation, but the site will be protected by 50 U.S. soldiers and will be funded by the United States. Some residents have already planned an event to protest the new site.
"This is probably the biggest strategic decision between the United States and Turkey in the last 20 years. It is a major strategic decision by Turkey," a senior administration official said in a Sept. 15 briefing for a small group of reporters at the White House.
President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to meet Tuesday in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. They've met and spoken often and their personal closeness was key to the success of the missile defense agreement negotiations, another senior administration official said.
"This was a decision that could only be taken by Prime Minister Erdogan. [He and Obama] have built a relationship of respect, they've built a relationship which is very candid, and they've talked through many difficult issues," a third senior administration official said. "The Prime Minister assured the president that he wanted this to happen and he directed his bureaucracy to make it happen."
Meanwhile, in Congress, lawmakers are ramping up their criticism of the Turkish government. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) led a bipartisan letter signed by seven senators, which was sent today to Obama that cited "concern regarding the Turkish Government's recent foreign policy decisions that call into question its commitment to the NATO alliance, threaten regional stability and undermine U.S. interests."
The letter charges that the Turkish government led by Erdogan has taken several foreign decisions that are adverse to U.S. interests. These include expelling the Israeli ambassador and recalling its ambassador to Israel in retribution for Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla; cancelling NATO's 2011 Anatolian Eagle air defense exercise, in which Israel has participated in since 2001; inviting Chinese military planes to replace U.S. and Israeli aircraft at such exercises; and banning Israeli commercial aircraft from Turkish airspace.
"Mr. President, it appears that Turkey is shifting to a policy of confrontation, if not hostility, towards our allies in Israel and we urge you to mount a diplomatic offensive to reverse this course," the senators wrote. "We ask you to outline Turkey's eroding support in Congress with Prime Minister Erdogan at the earliest opportunity and how its current ill-advised policy toward the State of Israel will also negatively reflect on U.S.-Turkish relations and Turkey's role in the future of NATO."
Also signing the letter were Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA).
The senators also want the administration to assure Congress that the missile-defense data collected from the Turkish radar system will be shared with Israel in real time. Turkish media had reported that Turkish officials wanted assurances that the data would not be shared with Israel.
The administration officials described how they dealt with that issue inside the negotiations. The U.S. officials said there is no deal that prevents the information from Turkish radar from being shared with Israel, as all the U.S.' military intelligence is fused together.
"There is an understanding that the radar is a NATO system that is designed to protect NATO from threats from the Middle East. It's understood that the U.S. has a separate and robust missile defense cooperation program with Israel," a senior administration official said, noting that Israel also hosts an identical AN/TPY-2 radar, which they argued makes the radar in Turkey of marginal importance to the defense of Israel.
"At the same time, it's also understood that the data from any U.S. radars and sensors around the world may be fused with other data to maximize the effectiveness of our missile defenses worldwide," the senior administration official said.
Another senior administration official explained that there was no agreement from the U.S. side not to share data from the Turkish-based radar with others, including Israel.
"Data from all U.S. missile defense assets worldwide, including not only from radars in Turkey and Israel, but from other sensors as well, is fused to maximize the effectiveness of our missile defenses worldwide; this data can be shared with our allies and partners in this effort," a senior administration official said.
There seems to be some disagreement on that point. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that the data from the Turkish radar site would not be shared with Israel.
"We will provide support only for systems that belong to NATO and are used solely by members of NATO," he said, calling reports to the contrary a "manipulation."
After the Wall Street Journal reported on this explanation based on the same briefing, Davotoglu claimed that Ankara had been assured by Washington that the three senior administration officials who briefed reporters did not exist. The Cable can confirm they did exist.
The Obama administration is framing the Turkish agreement as one of five achievements that advance its 2009 decision to move away from the Bush administration's missile defense approach. In place of the Bush plans, the White House has adopted what it terms the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), which is now exactly two years in the making.
In addition to the Turkish agreement, the Obama administration has championed the Sept. 13 agreement with Romania to base a SM-3 missile defense battery there; the agreement with Poland to base SM-3 missile defense batteries there that went into effect on Sept. 15; NATO's commitment to the EPAA; and the deployment to the Mediterranean of one Aegis ship, the U.S.S. Monterey, committed to the missile-defense mission.
Kirk's office is also leading the opposition to missile-defense cooperation with Russia. He sent a memo, obtained by The Cable, on Sept. 8 to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, accusing Russia of espionage and cooperation with Iran on nuclear and missile technology.
Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov are working on a joint missile-defense plan, Kirk said, but Russia's cooperation with Iran makes such an agreement too risky.
"The danger is that Russia will have access to America's most time-sensitive, real time missile defense data," Kirk wrote, noting that Ryabkov announced he is going to Iran at the end of the month to discuss missile defense.
The United States continues to work with Russia to find a path forward on missile-defense cooperation, although the administration officials said there was no concrete progress to announce.
"We remain convinced this could be a major win-win for the U.S.-Russia relationship and the Russia-NATO relationship," a senior administration official said. "But they remain skeptical on the impact of the system on Russia's security, so we have a lot of work still to do."
40 prominent conservative foreign policy leaders in Washington are planning to release an open letter to President Barack Obama urging him not to shrink the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq down to 4,000, as several reports say he plans to do.
"Failure to leave a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq will leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States," the pundits and former officials argue. "A successful, democratic Iraq will remain a model for other emerging Arab democracies and one day, its neighbor, Iran. However, a failing state in the heart of the Middle East would destabilize the region, empower Iran, and make vain more than eight years of efforts by the United States in Iraq."
The letter goes on to say that a residual force of only 4,000 U.S. troops "is significantly smaller than what U.S. military commanders on the ground have reportedly recommended and would limit our ability to ensure that Iraq remains stable and free from significant foreign influence."
The letter was organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a group led by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and Dan Senor, and run by Executive Director Jamie Fly. Other signatories on the letter include Gary Bauer, Max Boot, Paul Bremer, Norm Coleman, John Hannah, Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Karl Rove, Kori Schake, Randy Scheunemann, Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, Marc Thiessen, and Paul Wolfowitz.
There was one Democratic signee, the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon. One of the organizers of the letter told The Cable that many Democrats contacted to sign on to the letter largely agreed with its contents, but weren't ready to speak out.
"We believe that many Democrats share our concerns about the need for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, but some wanted to give the administration more time to make a final decision. Many of us, however, are concerned that time is running out and the message sent by recent press reports is not encouraging to our Iraqi allies," the organizer said.
The Obama team has been negotiating with the Iraqi government on changes to the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the two countries in 2008, which calls for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of the year. The administraiton had been proposing 8,000 to 20,000 troops to remain, but now seems set to settle on a much lower number.
GOP lawmakers are not holding their fire and have already been decrying the expected decision by the White House.
"It would be one of the biggest blunders in American foreign policy to lose Iraq because you had 3,000 troops when you need 10 to 15 [thousand]," Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said this week. "Iran would love that."
Read the full text of the letter after the jump:
The U.S. and Burmese governments are reengaging, both in Rangoon and in New York, as the State Department makes a new push to test the willingness of the Burmese military junta to reform.
Special Envoy Derek Mitchell is on his way home after a five day visit to Burma, where he met with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as well as a host of Burmese government officials, although not President Thein Sein. He called his talks with government officials a success in a press conference at the end of his trip.
"I consider this a very highly productive visit," said Mitchell, explaining that he had discussed the release of political prisoners but received no firm commitments from the Burmese government. He also met with Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Labor Minister Aung Kyi.
"We had a very candid dialogue on the subject" of human rights violations, Mitchell said. "The issue of sanctions was not a primary point of discussion."
"I know that many within the international community remain skeptical about [the Burmese government's] commitment to genuine reform and reconciliation, and I urge the authorities to prove the skeptics wrong," Mitchell said.
Apparently, the dialogue was encouraging enough for the State Department to schedule another round of meetings with Burmese officials, this time in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week. Maung Lwin is set to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Cambell, according to a U.S. official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Francisco this week.
"There are clear winds of change blowing through Burma. We are trying to get a sense of how strong those winds are and whether it's possible to substantially improve our relationship," the official said.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), one of only two U.S. senators to visit Burma, is also renewing his push for more interactions with the Burmese government. He argued in a recent statement that, despite the severely flawed elections in Burma that took place last November, positive change was occurring on the ground.
"The election resulted in a new governmental system and opportunities for engagement. Burma is now in the midst of a key transitional period that has yielded greater opportunities for interaction with government leaders and civil society, and restructuring of government and military institutions," said Webb.
The Senate is actually considering a bill this week to reauthorize sanctions on Burma. However, Senate Democrats decided to try to attach $6.8 billion in emergency disaster aid to that bill, which provoked resistance from the GOP, so its path in Congress is now caught up in the fight over the relief funds - despite the fact that neither party has any objection to the renewal of sanctions.
Webb said the bill should be passed but noted that it allows the president to waive specific sanctions if and when he feels it's in the U.S. national interest.
"There are clear indications of a new openness from the government, and the United States should be prepared to adjust our policy toward Burma accordingly," Webb said.
The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.
Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.
"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."
Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.
Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.
"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."
"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."
What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.
"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."
A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.
At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:
Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter's path to confirmation looks clear following the endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who had previously threatened to stall his nomination.
The Cable reported last month that Cornyn was demanding assurances from Carter that he would fully support the F-35 jet fighter program before he could support his nomination. "As the Senate prepares to consider your nomination, I write to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success of the largest DOD major acquisition program in our nation's history, the F-35 Lightning II," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Carter.
Following Carter's nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, The Cable caught up with Cornyn in the halls of the Capitol building. The Texas senator told us he met with Carter, received written answers to all his questions, and could now confidently support his confirmation.
"Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program," Cornyn told The Cable.
The Cable has also obtained Carter's written response to Cornyn, which included assurances that the Defense Department was committed to the F-35, would not take more money from the production budget to purchase older model fighters, would not significantly reduce production rates, and would not take money from the F-35 program to pay for other struggling accounts within the Pentagon.
"The Department's support for the F-35 program is strong," Carter wrote. "We are committed to ensuring that decisions concerning the F-35 are made for the correct reasons and with a commitment toward overall F-35 program success."
"Thanks to Dr. Carter, it's on a good pathway," Cornyn said, explaining that one assurance Carter had given him was that future cost overruns would be borne by the contractor alone.
"The problem is, as Dr. Carter said, there is no alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter and it's essential to national security," Cornyn noted, adding that he expects Carter's nomination to pass easily.
We also asked Cornyn for an update on his plan to try to pressure the Obama administration into selling 66 new F-16 C/D jet fighters to Taiwan. Cornyn introduced a bill this week that seeks to require the administration to make the sale, which, if successful, would be the first time ever that Congress has authorized a foreign military sale not sent to them by the executive branch.
Cornyn said that he would try to attach the bill, which he cosponsored with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), to a piece of legislation "that's likely to get signed" -- presumably the defense authorization bill or the coming continuing resolution stopgap funding measure that Congress will have to pass this month to keep the government running.
The administration has promised Cornyn it will announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny Taipei's request for new planes and offer instead upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models.
"Sen. Menendez and I felt it was important to indicate that the issue isn't going to go away," Cornyn said. "The president could veto it if it passes, we'll see what happens. I would hope that the president would make this moot by approving the sale and not kow-towing to China."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford keeps putting himself in harm's way. This Sunday, he attended the funeral of a Syrian activist shortly before it was attacked by Syrian security forces.
"US amb. Robert Ford shows up at the wake of slain #syria activist Giyath Matar. An hour later the funeral tent is trashed by security forces," tweeted Washington Post foreign correspondent Liz Sly Tuesday afternoon.
We found a video that shows Ford at the funeral, which took place on Sept. 11. The State Department today confirmed to The Cable that he was in attendance. We also found a video (warning: graphic) of Matar's tortured and mutilated body, posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been meticulously documenting cases of alleged abuse against domestic protesters by the Syrian security forces.
"Security forces corpse [sic] submitted his corpse to his family and told them that you can make from his body a ‘Shawerma' sandwich!!!" the human rights organization reported.
Ford, who was installed as the U.S. envoy to Damascus in a recess appointment, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. But unless he can overcome a tough confirmation fight on the Senate floor, he will be forced to return to Washington at the end of the year.
The group also posted a video of the body of Ahmad Sulaiman Ayrut, who they allege was killed in the government attack on Matar's funeral.
The State Department condemned Matar's killing at a Monday press briefing, but only later confirmed to The Cable Ford's attendance at the funeral. So far, State has not commented on the violence at the funeral.
"This was a very high-profile human rights activist in Syria, apparently arrested on September 6th and died in custody -- again, further evidence of this regime's brutality, indiscriminate force, and absolute disregard for human life and for the human rights of its citizens," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
There was no mention of Ford's attendance on the U.S. embassy of Damascus's Facebook page. The last Facebook posting by Ford came on Sept. 8, where he references threats being made on his life by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"[Commenter] Mujtaba Xr warns me that I will face being killed if I continue my criticism of the repression in Syria. I take his post to be a perfectly good example of the kind of intolerance that has provoked such discontent in Syria," Ford wrote. "Remember that I am one of the few international observers here on the ground; if only the Syrian government would allow international media to move around the country freely like we did in Iraq!"
Ford's close call comes only two weeks after he was physically assaulted by a regime supporter while standing outside an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. The State Department didn't say anything about that incident either, until it was reported by The Cable.
Of course, it's possible that Ford is actually trying to get himself kicked out of Syria by the Assad regime. That would allow the Obama administration to spotlight Assad's intolerance and allow the State Department to avoid a fight over Ford's Senate confirmation.
The State Department has opened a brand-new office to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East.
William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to lead the new office, called the Middle East Transitions office, which began operations this week. His deputy is Tamara Cofman Wittes, who is now dual hatted, also continuing on deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Taylor's chief of staff is Karen Volker, who until August was director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is now directed by Tom Vajda. MEPI also falls under Wittes' portfolio. Taylor reports up to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
In a Monday interview with The Cable, Taylor said his office will begin by leading State Department coordination on policy toward Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the three Middle East countries that are trying to make the shift from dictatorship to democracy.
"The idea is we want to focus energy and policy attention on how we support these three transition countries," he said. "The idea is to be sure this gets top-level attention in the department."
Taylor's office will have about 10 to 12 people, and he said he hopes to soon add a resident senior advisor from both USAID and the Pentagon. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen -- if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition.
Taylor's first job will be to lead an effort to develop support strategies for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Then, his office will go about trying to implement those strategies by working within State, around the interagency process, and then with international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground. Taylor said he will attend National Security Council meetings on issues related to his brief.
In President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East, he promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy will "be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy -- starting with Tunisia and Egypt."
Taylor said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done.
"We're looking at the possibly of enterprise funds model as a possible model for these transition countries but we're going to need a lot of support from Congress," he said, adding that State would also ask Congress for authorizations and appropriations to support the new transitions initiative at State. New funding for diplomatic initiatives is a tough sell in this tight fiscal environment, but transition funding does have some support in both parties.
Taylor was chosen for the job in part because he played a key role in a similar diplomatic effort following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the State Department put together the Freedom Support Act Office, which managed relations with former members of the Soviet bloc.
That office was run by Ambassador Richard Armitage and reported up to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Taylor worked for Armitage in that office and eventually became its director, a position he held until 2001. The Freedom Support Act Office was combined with the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) office and still exists today.
Taylor was U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, and before that served as Washington's envoy to the Mideast Quartet. In 2004 and 2005, he directed the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad, and from 2002 to 2003 he served in Kabul as coordinator of U.S. government and international assistance to Afghanistan.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.