House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) unveiled a huge bill today aimed at reforming the way the United States conducts and oversees foreign assistance around the world.
His bill, called the "Global Partnership Act," would be the first wholesale reform of the foreign assistance program since the last foreign assistance act was passed in 1961.
"A bill that was passed at the height of the Cold War has in many places lost its focus and in many ways lost its relevance," Berman said in an interview with The Cable. "Everybody knows that the foreign assistance act is in desperate need of reform. We also know that the public confidence, the congressional confidence in the foreign assistance program is not high."
Some of the key reforms in the 813-page bill include: a new comprehensive system for evaluating and monitoring the success of foreign assistance programs, a rule that would peg USAID operating expenses to a percentage of program funds in order to limit dependence on contractors, and a requirement that comprehensive country strategies are developed with Congress's participation and funded on a multi-year basis.
Berman said the bill seeks to avoid congressional micromanagement of foreign assistance, but still provides Congress with a larger role in setting out the priorities for foreign assistance and monitoring their success.
In some ways, the bill adds implementation strategies for the broad goals set forth in the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review released last December. But it also goes beyond the QDDR by speaking directly to Congress's role in the process (which the QDDR doesn't cover) and mandating stricter oversight.
For example, the bill would expand the jurisdiction of USAID's Office of the Inspector General, would institute expanded on-the-ground monitoring of projects, and would create independent advisory panels.
Berman said that his staff has been working on this bill for over two and a half years. However, the path forward for the bill is not clear, because Berman doesn't control the House Foreign Affairs Committee and his party doesn't control the House agenda.
"Look, I think there's a compelling case to make this a priority," Berman said, noting that the GOP always talks about the need to reform foreign aid but issues proposals cutting it, not reforming it. He said that he hopes his bill will be a starting point for a larger discussion over foreign aid reform with the GOP and the Senate.
"This is just the opening salvo," he said. "I can't give you a timeline for translating this into a moving piece of legislation."
The Senate issued its fiscal 2012 budget allocations on Wednesday, which propose allocating $44.6 billion for the international affairs budget -- $5 billion more than was proposed by the House.
Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) chaired a hearing on the budget on Wednesday and pledged to try to complete all 12 appropriations bills before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The allocations he announced Wednesday serve as guidance so that the senate appropriations subcommittees can write up their bills. Inouye said that the subcommittees will try to complete their versions of the appropriations bills this month. Those versions must then be reconciled with House versions and time is running out.
"The Senate will only be in session for three weeks before the fiscal year concludes. It is for that reason and with the concurrence of the vice chairman that I directed that we hold these markups as soon as possible after the Senate returned to session," he said.
Even if the Senate completes its work, it's unlikely it would be able to conference with the House and then pass all the appropriations bills this month. That means Congress will have to pass another short-term funding measure, called a continuing resolution, before Oct. 1, to keep the government running.
That continuing resolution, like last year's, will be drawn up behind closed doors and probably passed at the eleventh hour. The House and Senate appropriations bills will inform that document, and the final amount allocated to the international affairs budget could be somewhere in between the two proposals.
The State Department is under particular pressure this budget cycle. The House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee marked up a bill that would provide State and USAID with $39.6 billion in discretionary funding next year, which is 18 percent, or $8.6 billion, below the fiscal 2011 level. The fiscal 2011 level, which was reached as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown in April, was already $8 billion less than originally requested by the Obama administration.
In her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, undersecretary of State for political affairs nominee Wendy Sherman said that the State Department was adamantly opposed to the House's version of the state and foreign ops appropriations bill.
"I think the secretary has already made clear that if the House bill were to move forward to the president's desk, she would personally recommend a veto of that bill not only on the basis of the deep cuts to the bill, but many of the provisions that are within that bill," Sherman said.
Leaders in the NGO community welcomed the Senate's proposed allocation, and pledged to fight hard to convince lawmakers that international affairs funding is in the national interest and should be protected.
"As a result of the dramatic reductions to the International Affairs Budget in FY11 and those proposed by the House for FY12, many of the hard-fought gains we have worked to achieve since 9/11 may be reversed," said Adm. James Loy and Gen. Michael Hagee, co-chairs of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's National Security Advisory Council, in a letter today to congressional leaders.
The Senate also allocated $8.7 billion to State for "overseas contingency operations," which will go to fund diplomatic and development activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee also allocated $513 billion for the regular defense budget and $117.5 billion for defense-related war costs. The House version of the defense appropriations bill would provide $530.5 billion for the regular defense budget. As with the international affairs budget, the House and Senate appropriations leaders will have to reconcile their proposals on defense funding as they write the CR.
"It should be clear to all observers that this Committee has done and will continue to do its part in the fight against deficits," Inouye said. "At this point others need to step up to the plate now and offer additional ways to get our budget into balance."
Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for a top State Department post, told senators on Wednesday that the U.S. will surely veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood if it reaches the U.N. Security Council, seemingly getting out ahead of the Obama administration on the issue.
Sherman's remarks came toward the end of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an exchange with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who pressed her to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek full member state status at the United Nations later this month.
"The administration has been very clear as well ... if any such resolution were put in front of the Security Council, that we would veto it," Sherman testified. She also said that the administration did not expect the issue to come up at the Security Council, as administration officials were working hard to seek an alternate path.
"So it sounds like you're very confident that the United States would remain committed with great resolve to the veto threat," Lee said, making sure he heard her correctly.
"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman responded.
Sherman noted correctly in her testimony that the issue could be raised in the U.N. General Assembly, in which case the United States would not have a veto option.
In his May 19 speech on the Arab Spring, Obama said that symbolic Palestinian actions at the United Nations "won't create an independent state" and that efforts to delegitimize Israel "will end in failure."
State Department officials, however, have avoided promising a veto or making any other direct commitments on U.S. actions, although officials have said repeatedly that they don't believe the Palestinian strategy is a good idea or would be constructive in their drive for a peaceful two-state solution.
"We are going to continue to work right up till the U.N. General Assembly, if necessary, to get these parties back to the table, and we'll continue to work afterwards," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And as you know, we will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. and we're making that clear to both sides."
Administration officials are ramping up their diplomacy on the issue this month. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. Also, the National Security Council's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Middle East Envoy David Hale are in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and Abbas today.
"My understanding, from briefings I've had at the State Department, is there has been a very broad and very vigorous demarche of virtually every capital in the world, that this is high on the agenda for every meeting the secretary has with every world leader," Sherman said.
Overall, Sherman was well received by the committee members and, for the most part, skillfully handled a barrage of questions on issues ranging from foreign aid to Libya.
Sherman was once chief of staff for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who introduced Sherman at the hearing. "She is a strategic thinker, a seasoned diplomat, and an experienced and skilled negotiator," Mikulski said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't talk much about Sherman in his opening statement, but rather used his time to criticize what he saw as a broad lack of strategic direction in the Obama administration's foreign policy.
"I remain concerned that our national security policy is being driven without sufficient planning or strategic design. The expansion of the Afghanistan mission and the intervention in Libya, in particular, have occurred with limited reference to strategic goals or vital interests," Lugar said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) focused on the case of Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Menendez is calling for Megrahi to be rearrested by the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC).
Menendez said he will introduce today the "Pan Am 103 Accountability Act" which would require the president to consider Libya's cooperation on the Lockerbie investigation and would condition the thawing of frozen Libyan assets on the administration's certification that the NTC was cooperating with the United States on the issue.
The only critical comments directed at Sherman came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who compared what he saw as two philosophies in current American foreign policy: One that he described as "strength," "firmness," and "verification"; another that depends on "friendliness," "appeasement," and "trust." He said Sherman's time as North Korean policy coordinator in the Clinton administration might indicate she was in the latter camp.
Sherman humored DeMint and said if she had to choose, she favored "strength," over "appeasement," but she also said that DeMint was offering up a false choice.
"I don't believe that engagement is the antithesis of strength and verification," she said.
It's generally expected that the United States will veto the Palestinian bid for full member status at the United Nations Security Council next month, but the Palestinian government thinks it has an ace up its sleeve -- a workaround option that would bypass the U.S. veto and allow it to secure U.N. recognition, says the PLO's top representative in Washington.
"The plan as of now is to go the United Nations to seek full member-state status for the State of Palestine," said Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO representative to the United States and head of the PLO mission in Washington, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. That means submitting a request to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will then turn that request over to the U.N. Security Council for a vote.
But the Security Council doesn't actually vote on the statehood question, only whether to refer the matter to the U.N. General Assembly. If and when the United States vetoes the idea of referring the Palestinian request to the General Assembly, that request dies. But the Palestinians aren't planning to stop there.
"We hope the United States will reconsider its position and not use its veto power against the Palestinian move at the United Nations," he said. "What happens after a veto? There are so many other options."
Areikat said one option under serious consideration was to invoke U.N. General Assembly Resolution 377, known as "Uniting for Peace," which was put forth by U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950 as a means of getting around an obstructionist Security Council, which at the time was unable to authorize a response to North Korea's attacks on South Korea because the Soviet Union was rejecting all related Security Council resolutions. Resolution 377 is meant to bypass the Security Council if it "fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression."
"What we could do is go to the Security Council and say that a member state of the Security Council, in this case the United States, has blocked our request and therefore we are seeking Security Council support to take the issue to the U.N. General Assembly, invoking Resolution 377," he said. "If that effort succeeds, we will be a non-member state at the United States, not a member state. That's the difference between the two."
Under Resolution 377, the Palestinians would only need nine out of 15 Security Council votes to refer their statehood request to the General Assembly, which can then address the matter immediately (if in session) or can call an emergency special session, as has been done 10 times since 1950, most recently in 1997, when it was convened to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The other option is for the Palestinian government to submit their request for full member status to the Security Council again, forcing the U.S. to veto it over and over.
"We can keep on going back to the Security Council again and again," Areikat said.
The Obama administration has been working hard to try to convince the Palestinians not to move forward at the United Nations. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. Also, the NSC's Dennis Ross and Acting Special Envoy David Hale were in the Middle East and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. Hale, but not Ross, will meet with Abbas Wednesday.
The Clinton call was "to urge President Abbas to receive them and hear them with open ears and to continue to work hard with us to avoid a negative scenario in New York at the end of the month," Nuland said. "We will continue to oppose any one-sided actions at the U.N. And we're making that clear to both sides."
"We respect their position, we expect them to respect our position. It's not a secret that they are asking us not to go the United Nations. It's not a secret that we are telling them we have to go to the United Nations," Areikat said.
But he said the Palestinian leadership no longer had faith in the United States or the international community to set forth a process for peace negotiations that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides could agree to. It's been a year since President Barack Obama established Sept. 2011 as the deadline for setting forth a framework for a final settlement, but "nothing has really happened," Areikat said.
"We have been waiting for over a year for the international community and the United States to create a formula that will constitute a basis for resuming negotiations and what we've seen is a total rejection on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government to engage."
Prompted by The Cable, Areikat also responded to comments made in our interview with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren last week, who said that if the Palestinians move forward with their statehood drive, all bilateral agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians could be at risk, including the Oslo Accords.
"The agreement that Oren is accusing the Palestinians of violating is an agreement that Israel has rendered obsolete in the first place," he said, referring to the Oslo Accord specifically. "It's really shocking to hear that he is threatening to abandon the agreements with the PLO, which also provided certain stability to Israel and Israelis. I don't see how by abandoning the Oslo accords Israeli will be serving its own interests."
The State Department last week urged both sides to honor their existing agreements, despite the new diplomatic tussle. Areikat warned that the scuttling of standing agreements could have repercussions for Israel as well.
"If the Israelis want to take an action, there will be a reaction. If they want to throw away an agreement, it will also have an impact on them," he said.
Areikat also criticized leaders of the U.S. Congress, who is threatening to cut some or all of the $550 million in annual aid to the Palestinian government if it moves forward with the statehood push at the U.N., calling such an action "unwise and unconstructive."
"We definitely hope the U.S. Congress understands the fact that any steps taken to put pressure on the Palestinians is going to adversely affect U.S. interests and even the interests of Israel in the region," he said. "I hate to see members of Congress threatening to use financial support to try to influence Palestinian positions on this issue."
UPDATE: A State Department official confirms that Ross did end up meeting with Abbas Wednesday, along with Hale.
Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides said yesterday that the State Department doesn't want to get into a budget battle with the Pentagon over funding, but that he's aware that dwindling national security funding may make competition inevitable.
"We at State and USAID are not trying to rob the Pentagon to pay ourselves," Nides said in a speech at the Center for American Progress. "As everyone knows, we're facing the process of major budget cuts. These cuts could be the most significant we have had in two decades, and they could have a devastating impact on the work that we do."
Nides, who has only been at State since the beginning of this year, recounted the rise in State Department and USAID funding that began in 2007, but which is now set to be reversed in what promises to be the most frugal spending season in a generation. The State Department's fiscal 2011 budget turned out to be 13.6 percent below what was originally requested, and the current House appropriation bill would cut that figure by another 18 percent in fiscal 2012.
Talking about the ever increasing role of the State Department in conflict zones and the need to maintain American engagement in a changing world, Nides pointed out that State will get $4 billion more for war operations this year, while the Pentagon budget for war operations will go down by $45 billion.
"It is helpful ... [but] we cannot just fund our efforts in the frontline states and gut our base budget for everything else we do in the world," Nides said.
So what's the solution? According to Nides, there should be a unified national security budget that would join defense, diplomacy, and development into one big pool of cash. And in fact, the government is actually moving in that direction.
Nides noted that the deal to raise the debt ceiling that President Barack Obama struck with Congress last month actually combines diplomacy and development with defense under the heading of "security spending" legislation for the first time, meaning that Congress is getting on board with the idea. "That is the good news," he said.
But there's a risk that State could get burned in this shift. As we've reported several times, GOP leaders might have agreed to this aspect of the deal because they want to disproportionally cut State and USAID while not cutting defense, and still be able to claim they cut spending for "security."
Nides is well aware of the threat. "There is a real risk that Congress could decide to shield defense spending and other categories of spending by cutting everything else, and that, my friends, is the bad news," he said.
Nides' predecessor Jack Lew, now the head of the Office of Management and Budget, said recently that the debt ceiling deal will cut $420 billion from "security spending" over the next ten years, with $350 billion of that coming from "defense."
But the truth is that future Congresses will determine how much gets cut from "security" and how much from "defense" -- and the Pentagon has a lot more friends in Congress than Foggy Bottom.
State does have one friend on the supercommittee that is responsible for making the first round of cuts: Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). So that should solve everything, right?
The American victims of several terror attacks perpetrated by the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi are asking the State Department to break off some of Qaddafi's frozen assets and give it to them.
There are about $37 billion of frozen Libyan assets in the United States, some of which were Libyan government funds and some of which were the personal fortune of Qaddafi and his family. When Qaddafi made nice with President George W. Bush's administration, he agreed to pay the U.S. victims of his crimes $1.5 billion in restitution. But now, those victims are saying that isn't enough money to cover the cost of what they were promised, and they want the Obama administration to divert more funds to make up the difference.
"The State Department under President Bush didn't get enough money from Qaddafi to pay the awards. They are likely $200 million to $400 million short," Stuart Newberger, the lead attorney for victims of UTA flight 772, told The Cable. UTA 772 exploded in 1989 over the Sahara desert, killing 171 people, including 7 Americans, one of whom was Bonnie Pugh, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Chad, Robert Pugh. High-ranking members of the Qaddafi regime were implicated in the attack.
The families of the UTA 772 victims, like those of several other Qaddafi attacks, were engaged in litigation against Qaddafi before the State Department made a deal to settle all claims for $1.5 billion. The State Department transferred responsibility for doling out the money to a foreign claims settlement commission run by the Treasury Department in 2008, and dozens of victims are still waiting for their payments.
The victims are entitled to specific awards - such as $10 million if a family member died and $3 million if a family member suffered a severe injury - but their advocates always suspected that the $1.5 billion wasn't enough to cover the awards promised. They also said the State Department underestimated the number of victims of Qaddafi's crimes.
"The issue is how to make sure the awards are paid in full, the way the State Department and the Bush administration intended," said Newberger. "What we want is either the president, the secretary of state, or the Congress to use a very small portion of the frozen Qaddafi assets to be applied to make sure there is no shortfall. Otherwise, these American victims of Qaddafi's terrorism will get much less than was recommended."
Six members of Congress today asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do just that, in a letter obtained exclusively by The Cable.
"We are concerned that the amount of money not yet distributed from the $1.5 billion Libya Claims Program...may be insufficient to fairly compensate some victims," said the letter, spearheaded by Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress.
Other signers of the letter were Robert Hurt (R-VA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Jean Schmidt (R-OH). They want the State Department to confirm that there will be a shortfall, explain what they plan to do about it, and detail any legal obstacles to using the frozen Qaddafi funds.
The victims and their advocates became especially worried when several victims received a letter on Aug. 25 from the Treasury Department stating that some victims would only be given 20 percent of the money they were promised.
"Treasury is prepared to make an initial payment of $1,000. Treasury is further prepared to make a partial, pro-rata distribution totaling 20% of the unpaid balance that remains on your award," stated the letter, also obtained by The Cable.
Newberger said that paying pro-rata portions is a clear indication that the Treasury is aware there is not enough money in the fund to pay the victims. But he also acknowledged that the administration may not be able to peel off Qaddafi funds for the victims without some backing from Capitol Hill.
"The president probably only has limited legal authority for transferring some of this money," he said. "To make his authority stronger under U.S. law, he really needs Congress to pass a law. If the Congress does that, the president is in a much safer and stronger legal position."
In fact, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) were able to add an amendment to Sen. John Kerry's bill to authorize the Libya war that directed the administration to use the frozen funds to pay victims. But now that the war is mostly over, that bill has little chance of reaching the Senate floor, much less Obama's desk.
For the administration, it's a no-win situation. If it tries to take the money from the frozen funds, it risks upsetting the Libyan National Transitional Council, which thinks it should decide how to spend Qaddafi's money. If it doesn't act, it could appear to be abandoning the victims of Libya terrorism in the United States.
"They've been very careful not to take a position on this," Newberger said.
The State and Treasury Departments did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
The victims involved in this effort include those who were part of several Qaddafi-inspired attacks in addition to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie and the bombing of UTA flight 772. They include:
The ongoing war of words between the Obama administration and the Bashar al-Assad regime is quickly descending into a nasty exchange of personal insults and invectives between officials that have borne grudges against each other for years.
Both the U.S. and the Syrian governments have recently taken cheap shots at each other's officials. For instance, the Syrian national television station has called U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford a "dog" and said he must have been "shitting his pants with diarrhea" when he heard the fireworks that were being set off in a downtown square.
This week, the State Department unloaded on Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. On Tuesday, after the Treasury Department announced new sanctions on three Syrian officials, the State Department sent around some additional quotes to reporters about Muallem, to be attributed as coming from a "senior administration official."
"Walid Muallem has played a key role in trying to insulate the regime from the implications of its own brutality. By devoting himself to strenuously trying to hide Syrian government culpability in the murder and torture of Syrian citizens, Muallem bears some responsibility for the crimes committee. He has intervened with counterparts to try to prevent the U.N. Security Council from taking action," the senior administration official said.
Then came the kicker: "Muallem remains an unapologetic, shameless tool and mouthpiece of Bashar al-Assad," the senior administration said.
At Wednesday's State Department briefing, reporters pressed spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on whether she would repeat these insults on the record, and whether she thought it was constructive to publicly demean the Syrian foreign minister.
Nuland's answer was yes on both accounts.
"He has played a key role in trying to insulate the Assad regime from the implications of its own brutality by devoting himself strenuously to trying to hide the Assad regime's capability and the murder and torture of Syrian citizens. Muallem bears personal responsibility as well for the crimes committed. He's intervened with counterparts to try to prevent the U.N. Security Council from taking action," she said.
"You know, we saw people in the Qaddafi circle demonstrate a clear understanding of right and wrong when the tide began to turn there. They chose to defect. That has not yet happened with senior members of the Bashar Assad regime. Muallem remains unapologetic. He remains as a shameless tool and a mouthpiece of Assad and his regime."
And Nuland had more Muallem bashing quotes in her briefing book:
"Not done. Not done. More Muallem," she said. "He has also served as one of the key links between Damascus and Tehran, and he's strengthened Assad's reliance on Iranian equipment and advice in his relentless crackdown on the Syrian people."
Muallem is one of the key interlocutors between the Obama administration and the Assad regime, and the public sniping doesn't bode well for future contact. It could also be awkward when Muallem comes to New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly, but apparently the State Department no longer cares about playing nice.
Some reports have suggested that the personal nature of the insults is based on long-standing grudges between some members of the Obama administration and the Syrian officials. This Associated Press article links the new rhetoric to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who survived an assassination attempt, presumably planned by Syria, when he was ambassador to Lebanon during the George W. Bush administration.
"The Assad regime is probably at the top of the suspect list," in terms of who tried to kill Feltman, said Andrew Tabler, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of a new book about the U.S.-Syria relationship, In the Lion's Den, although Tabler doesn't think the war of words is based solely on personal grudges.
"Engagement is over, we are now essentially in a policy of confrontation. It's certainly a sign of the incredibly bad state of relations between the two countries," he said. "And it is getting nasty."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a halt to U.S. aid to the new Libyan government if it refuses to re-arrest Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of planning the 1998 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the State Department not to help the National Transitional Council (NTC) -- which is struggling to stand up a government in the wake of the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi -- with either direct aid or by giving them access to frozen Qaddafi funds, unless it jails Megrahi.
"If the new Libyan government continues to shield this convicted terrorist from justice, then they should not get one more cent of support from the United States," said Schumer. "We put American lives and money on the line to help the Libyan people secure their freedom. It's time the Libyan government lives up to its commitment to create a free and accountable society by handing over al-Megrahi so that justice can finally be done."
Megrahi was released by the Scottish government in 2009 on compassionate grounds, because he was supposedly dying of cancer. He enjoyed a hero's welcome when he returned to Libya and has since stubbornly refused to die on schedule. Since the fall of Qaddafi, Schumer, along with several other senators and GOP presidential candidates, have been calling on the NTC to lock him up.
Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, said on Monday that the senators' request had "no meaning" and that the new Libyan government had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.
CNN's Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home this week, where he appeared to be slipping in and out of a coma and near death. But Schumer doesn't believe the video or the NTC's claims that Megrahi really is going to die soon.
"This would not be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was in a ‘near death' state. The American people deserve more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," he said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist."
Clinton travels to Paris on Thursday for a ministers-level meeting of the Libya Contact Group. The State Department won't say whether it will press the NTC on the issue but the Justice Department maintains that the Lockerbie investigation is still open and active.
Full text of Schumer's letter after the jump:
If the Palestinians go forward with their drive to seek recognition as a state at the U.N. General Assembly next month, all agreements governing Israeli-Palestinian and U.S.-Palestinian cooperation could become null and void, according to Israel's ambassador to the United States.
"We have a lot of agreements with the Palestinian Authority, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine,'" Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "It's just a fact, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine.' It puts us in a different realm."
Oren said that agreements covering all sorts of fields, such as import-export, water sharing, and Israel-Palestinian security forces cooperation, would become invalid if the Palestinians declare statehood unilaterally, based on a vote at the U.N. -- rather than by negotiating statehood with the government of Israel via the stalled peace process.
"It's not just our agreements with the Palestinian Authority, it's America's agreements with the Palestinian Authority (that are at risk)," Oren said. "America is a cosignatory to the Oslo Accord and this would seriously undermine it.... Unilateral steps would have legal, economic, and political ramifications for us and for America as a cosignatory."
The current strategy by the Obama administration is to continue to push the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia -- to agree on a statement that would affirm the 1967 borders with agreed swaps and recognize Israel's identity as a Jewish state as the basis for moving forward with negotiations. The "Jewish state" clause was the roadblock that prevented the Quartet from agreeing to a statement during their meeting last month in Washington. But Oren said that effort won't solve the problem.
"There is no guarantee that even if the Quartet members succeed in putting out a common position on negotiations that that will in any way divert the Palestinians from their intention of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally," Oren said.
Oren said that the U.S. and Israeli governments are coordinating on the issue in a "daily and intensive manner" and "we see very much eye to eye."
In fact, the Obama administration has said often that it opposes the Palestinian drive for a U.N. vote on statehood and sees no alternative to direct negotiations. The question is whether the Obama administration is doing everything it can to convince other countries not to support the U.N. vote.
"I think they understand what needs to be done," Oren said. "We're working for similar goals."
But when pressed Oren didn't say whether or not the Obama administration is doing everything it can on the diplomatic front.
Some pro-Israel supporters in Washington think the administration needs to do more. "The United States must begin a vigorous public effort to lobby other countries, large and small, to oppose the Palestinian effort and join President Barack Obama in pressuring the PA to call it off," former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block wrote in a recent op-ed.
Oren said the PA is planning to use the statehood declaration to prosecute never-ending "lawfare" against Israel in international forums, which will lessen the chances for a negotiated solution.
"We want to be able to negotiate but we won't be able to negotiate if they are attacking our legitimacy in every international court. We're not going to negotiate under fire and it's a mistake for the Palestinians to think that we would," Oren said.
The Israeli government is publicly supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, the Palestinian economy is growing steadily, and Israel is cooperating logistically every day with Palestinian security forces, Oren said, but that could all be lost.
"The Palestinians have achieved a tremendous amount over the last 18 years and all of that could be at risk," Oren said. "The Palestinians risk all that has been achieved if they go forward with this ... and that would be a great tragedy."
A video has emerged of U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford being assaulted by a pro-regime demonstrator on the streets of Damascus last week.
The assault took place before Ford's unapproved trip to the city of Jassem on Aug 23. Ford was present at a gathering of demonstrators who support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the Cham Palace Hotel in Damascus when one demonstrator ran up to Ford and tried to wrap him in a poster that featured Assad's face.
Ford's security intervened quickly and rushed Ford to his car. The incident was then replayed in a highly produced segment on a Syrian television station owned by Mohamed Hamsho, a businessman who is the brother-in-law of the president's brother, Maher al-Assad. Hamsho was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month for siding with the Assad regime during its brutal crackdown on protesters.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist opposed to Assad and who lives in Maryland, said the TV report accuses Ford of trying to lead a protest in Damascus and even features an out-of-context quote from Edward Peck, the former U.S. diplomat who is now a strong critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and who took a ride on the May 2010 flotilla that tried to break the Gaza blockade and was attacked by the Israel Defense Forces.
"The reporting is of course stupid" Abdulhamid wrote. "The plain facts are: as Ambassador Ford observed a loyalist demonstration, some of the demonstrators jumped at him when they recognized him and tried to wrap a poster of Bashar Al-Assad around him, but the Ambassador's security details managed to rush him safely into his car. There was no anti-Assad demonstration at the time, security in that area is simply too tight."
A State Department official told The Cable today that the video was "a weak, banal, laughable attempt by the Syrian thugs to have the international community focus on anything but the real story, which is the government's continuing campaign of terror on its own people through torture, murder, and illegal imprisonment."
Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of a new book about the U.S.-Syria relationship, In the Lion's Den, said that the Assad regime has been harassing Ford for weeks with stunts like this.
For example, the same TV station recently showed a video of fireworks in downtown Damascus, after which the anchor said Ford must have been "shitting his pants with diarrhea," Tabler recounted.
After Ford visited anti-regime protests in the city of Hama in July, the regime encouraged supporters to pelt the U.S. Embassy with rocks and eggs. The protesters smashed embassy windows and wrote graffiti on the walls calling Ford a "dog."
"It's annoying and shows you the base nature of that regime," said Tabler. "This regime hates to be in the spotlight. Robert Ford's actions there place those kinds of things in the spotlight and that's why they are harassing him."
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.
Until that happens, Ford is going to continue to do his job and try to interact with the Syrian people, said Tabler. But, he added, "the way things are going, it's probably a matter of time" before Ford gets booted.
View the video here:
UPDATE: A State Department official writes in to say that Ford was not attending a pro-regime demonstration. He was watching an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. He was assaulted while standing outside the bar association, waiting to see whether the pro-government thugs assembled outside would assault the protesting lawyers when they came out. The thugs didn't like that he was watching.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) denied that he promised to help Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi buy U.S. weapons in a late-night tent meeting between the two statesmen in 2009, as a WikiLeaked diplomatic cable implied.
"It's just outrageous," McCain told The Cable in an exclusive interview. McCain said that he never indicated to Qaddafi that he would help him get weapons in any way. "Of course not, that would have been ridiculous," he said.
The specific allegation made in the diplomatic cable sent by Joan Polaschik, the top U.S. diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli at the time, was that McCain had agreed to push Congress to allow the delivery of eight C-130 Hercules military transport planes that Qaddafi had purchased in 1972 but are still sitting in limbo at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Prior to sending her report on the meeting back to Washington, Polaschik said she did not have the opportunity to clear her cable with McCain and the rest of the delegation: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME), as is the custom with such reports.
Polaschik was at the meeting, but McCain denied Polaschik's account and gave a different version of his conversation with Qaddafi on that topic.
"[Qaddafi] asked me, 'Well, we'd like to get our C-130 upgrades.' I said, 'Well, that's what you want,' but I was noncommittal," McCain said. "I said, 'I understand that's your need,' but I never said anything and I never did a single thing to follow up."
"I knew his record and I'm certain that Collins, Lieberman, and Graham would corroborate my version of events," McCain said.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment on McCain's remarks.
So why would the head of the U.S. Embassy write a cable claiming that progress had been made on selling weapons to Qaddafi?
"At that time, the embassy was very interested in having a relationship with Qaddafi, but I can't imagine why that diplomat said the things they said. It's beyond me," McCain said.
He also said that the embassy asked him not to raise the case of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was about to be released by Scottish authorities. McCain ignored that request, however, and raised the issue of Megrahi with both Qaddafi and his son, Mutassim al-Qaddafi.
McCain also wanted to explain to The Cable his now infamous Aug. 15, 2009, tweet, in which he wrote, "Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his 'ranch' in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man."
"I thought it was interesting because I thought it was bizarre," McCain explained.
The entire experience was strange, McCain said, because the Libyans had postponed the senators' 4 p.m. meeting until 10 p.m. and then drove them out to the desert, where they spent most of their time interacting with Mutassim.
When Col. Qaddafi finally came out, he looked as if he had been sleeping and said several things that McCain said he found strange.
"One of the things he said to me was, 'If you had pulled all the troops out of Iraq, you would be president of the United States.' I've thought of a lot of reasons why I'm not president, but that wasn't one of them," McCain said.
"Overall, I thought it was a very strange and bizarre experience."
The cable was first released and reported on in May, but resurfaced in several news stories following Qaddafi's fall.
Hundreds of supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) movement converged on the State Department on Friday to hear former U.S. congressmen and senior officials call for the U.S. government to take the MEK off its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) emceed the rally in front of the State Department headquarters. The event also featured speeches by former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano.
"One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President [John F.] Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,'" Kennedy exclaimed. "Today, I'm honored to repeat my uncle's words, by saying [translated from Farsi] ‘I am an Iranian,' ‘I am an Ashrafi."
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause and began chanting, "MEK yes, mullahs no! They are terrorists, they must go!"
Kennedy advocated taking the MEK off the terrorist list, which it has been on since 1997, and accused the Iraqi government of committing war crimes by killing innocent members of the MEK at Camp Ashraf. 3,400 MEK members live in the desert camp in Iraq under restrictive conditions.
"To my friends in the State Department behind us, who continue to hold fast to an old policy that is supported by Tehran, you are on the wrong side of history," Kennedy shouted. "To [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, your brutal and deadly assault on Camp Ashraf will land you in the International Criminal Court, where you will be held accountable."
"I love you," Kennedy told the crowd. "If you take the MEK off the list, you will unshackle a group that will help take out the mullahs in Iran."
Next up was Rendell, who called on the international community to militarily intervene in Camp Ashraf, comparing it to Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on Benghazi earlier this year.
"The international community conducted a military intervention in Libya to protect innocent civilians. We should do the same thing to protect the innocent people in Camp Ashraf," Rendell said.
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, who lives in Paris with her husband Massoud Rajavi (who hasn't been seen in public since 2003), is banned from traveling to the United States. But she spoke to the rally via a video message on a big screen, and accused the State Department of giving implicit permission to the Iranian and Iraqi governments to kill children.
"The terror listing in the U.S. is openly used as a justification to legitimize such bloodletting, by both the cruel mullahs as well as their proxy government in Iraqi," she said. "Therefore, the Iranian people are asking the United States, ‘Why are you not annulling the license to kill our children?'"
The Cable's informal headcount put the number of attendees at about 1,000 to 1,500, with long lines of young Iranian-Americans wearing shirts with photos of dead MEK members imprinted on them. Some attendees had photos of the Rajavis on their shirts. Add to that flags, confetti, and a full drum line.
We asked Kennedy if he had been paid for his appearance at the rally, but he refused to answer. Ali Safavi, president of a pro-MEK group Near East Policy Research, said the speakers were paid through a speakers bureau, which receives money from wealthy Iranian-Americans in the United States. He also said those Iranian-Americans work with the law firm DLA Piper, but he denied the allegation that DLA and these individuals help funnel money from the MEK to the former U.S. officials.
In a crowd made up of people who were mostly of Middle Eastern origin, a group of African-American attendees wearing MEK gear stood out. One man, who would only identify himself as "The Great Lonnell," was holding a "Delist the MEK" banner while wearing a shirt that said, "Behold the Great Beast."
"We are here representing on behalf of the Iranian community. This vicious dictator who is calling himself a president is murdering these people, he's slaying them, and nothing is getting done," the Great Lonnell said. "And they are here rallying to get the attention of a government that has deaf ears."
The Great Lonnell came to Washington from Staten Island, NY -- along with 200 people from a church he attends -- to support the MEK's struggle for human rights. He and his group have been attending MEK rallies for several months, he said.
The Great Lonnell then pulled your humble Cable guy aside and asked to pitch Foreign Policy another story.
"Do you want to write my own story?" he asked. "I am the Beast that will come to the earth, from Revelations in the Old Testament. I am that person."
The Cable was not able to confirm that The Great Lonnell was in fact the Beast from Revelations.
UPDATE: Zaid Jilani and Ali Gharib from ThinkProgress interviewed attendees at the rally, many who had tenuous if any links to the MEK and little understanding of why there were there. Many had traveled from far away on fully funded trips. Some appeared to be homeless. Watch the video here:
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
The U.N. sanctions committee struck a deal to release to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) $1.5 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets late on Thursday afternoon, but only a fraction of those funds will actually be placed in the TNC's hands.
Under the compromise between the U.S. -led members of the committee and South Africa, the lone holdout, the official document releasing the funds won't specify that the money is being released to the TNC -- it will only say that the funds are going to the "relevant Libyan authorities." A senior U.S. official said that this would have no practical effect, but explained that it allowed South Africa, which has not yet formally recognized the TNC, to sign on to the agreement.
The $1.5 billion represents about half of the frozen funds held in the United States and only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion of Qaddafi funds frozen worldwide.
$500 million of the newly-thawed assets will go to U.N. organizations involved in relief missions in Libya and will be disbursed directly to them. Another $500 million will be paid directly to fuel vendors, with $300 million of those funds reimbursing vendors for fuel that has already been delivered, leaving $200 million for future fuel needs.
The last $500 million will be placed in the hands of what's called the temporary financial mechanism, an account created by the Libya Contact Group, which is made up of countries supporting the TNC. The TNC will have to go to the Contact Group with specific bills or receipts to get the money, which will be given to them on a case-by-case basis for education, health, or humanitarian needs.
The TNC has assured the United States that none of the money will be used for military items, the senior U.S. official said.
"Today, we have secured the release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in the United States. This money will go toward meeting the needs of the people of Libya. We urge other nations to take similar measures. Many are already doing so," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"As funds are released, we look to the Transitional National Council to fulfill its international responsibilities and the commitments it has made to build a tolerant, unified democratic state -- one that protects the universal human rights of all its citizens."
Clinton also called on the TNC to prevent revenge and reprisal attacks against Qaddafi supporters , protect Qaddafi's weapons stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands, provide basic services, and move quickly to start the process of democratic transition.
A Reuters reporter found 30 dead Qaddafi loyalists Thursday in a military encampment in central Tripoli who appeared to have been executed.
"From the beginning, the United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, today in Istanbul, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns led the U.S. delegation to the political directors' level meeting of the Libya Contact Group, its first since the Qaddafi regime fell. Assistant Secretaries of State Jeffrey Feltman and Phil Gordon also attended. The issue of whether to introduce foreign troops in Libya was discussed.
"It is our understanding that the TNC is unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force, but it may need U.N. and international community help supporting its policing needs. And precisely what it may ask for remains to be determined," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Clinton will attend the ministerial level meeting of the contact group in Paris next week.
The Cable also asked the senior U.S. official why the U.S. government calls the rebel council the TNC, when the rebel council seems to refer to itself as the NTC (National Transitional Council).
"The TNC in its own documents and statements, refers to itself sometimes as the TNC and sometimes as the NTC, so we've chosen to stick with the TNC, which they began using first, since they seem to use both," the official said.
The Iraqi government will request to extend the presence of U.S. troops past the end of this year, but not until it is good and ready, said Iraq's ambassador to Washington.
"The principle that there will be some military presence to help train Iraqi military and police has been largely agreed upon," Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said in an exclusive interview with The Cable. "You'll see it when you see it. Americans want everything now or yesterday. We don't do it like this. We do it in our own sweet time."
We also asked Sumaida'ie for his take on the Arab Spring, especially the protests raging in Syria, Iraq's neighbor. He said the downfall of the Assad regime is both inevitable and a good thing for the region.
"The Assad regime is steadily losing its friends, its credibility and its grip. It only has Iran behind it, along with a shy neutrality from Russian and China. Other than that, it has lost," he said. "The coming change in Syria will alter the balance of power in the region and will eventually weaken Iran and reduce its capacity to project its power through Hezbollah, Hamas, and other instruments. And it will release Lebanon from the overbearing dominance of Syria."
His comments diverged from the pro-Assad comments made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said on Aug. 12, ""We call for guarantees for citizens to demand their rights, and it is the duty of governments to respond with needed reforms. But we don't support the idea of armed action or sabotage and bringing down regimes in this way."
Is Iraq worried about the instability that could come following the collapse of the Syrian regime? Sumaida'ie said no, and explained his position by telling a story of having lunch Tuesday afternoon in a downtown restaurant with a group of Iraqi diplomats when the East Coast earthquake hit and rattled the building.
"The restaurant emptied, including the waiters, except for our table. We didn't budge. We just shrugged it off," he said. "That's an illustration of the Iraqi psyche. We've been through hell and there's not much that can really scare us anymore."
Top Obama administration officials have been publicly venting their frustration with the lack of a formal request from the Iraqi government to alter the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement, negotiated by the George W. Bush administration, which mandates that all U.S. troops leave Iraq by Dec. 31.
In July, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Iraqi leaders to, "Dammit, make a decision" about the U.S. troop extension. And last week, he told reporters that, "My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes.'" The Iraqi government quickly denied that they agreed to anything, and publicly refuted Panetta's remark.
Sumaida'ie tried to explain what's really going on here. He said that there is a consensus among all political players, with the exceptions of the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, that Iraq needs some American military support, particularly when it comes to training, past the end of this year. "However, the form that this will take and the legal details are still being debated," he said.
He said the debate over the number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq has ranged between 8,000 and 20,000, and that they would be non-combat forces limited to the training of Iraqi military and police forces. The Iraqis are deeply concerned about clearly defining the role of the U.S. troops, in order to dispel any notion that the remaining forces are an occupation force or would be engaged in combat operations.
The key remaining sticking point is how to satisfy the U.S. demand that American soldiers remaining in Iraq would not be subject to the Iraqi justice system. The Obama administration wants the troop extension with the legal immunity provision to be approved by Iraq's Council of Representatives (COR), which the United States believes is necessary for it to have the force of law.
That's a hugely complicated and excruciating political task for Maliki's government, which is still trying to put together a national unity government that will satisfy all of the country's primary political actors, including Sadr and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Allawi's bloc got the most votes in a very close parliamentary election in March 2010, but was unable to form a government. Maliki struck a deal with Allawi and formed a government, but that deal hasn't been fully implemented and Maliki still has yet to appoint a defense or interior minister, the Allawi bloc claims it is entitled to the defense minister slot.
If the troop deal with the United States is put before parliament, that would give Maliki's opponents an opportunity to open up a Pandora's Box of unrelated issues, said Sumaida'ie.
"Even if they need to go through the COR, the numbers are there to support it, but unfortunately this issue is used as a political football to achieve other aims and this might be held hostage to other political issues and considerations," he said.
Another option is just to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, but the U.S. government has said that wouldn't assure them any agreement on immunity for U.S. troops would be legally valid. Sumaida'ie said some are even tossing around the idea of granting every remaining U.S. solder diplomatic status through the U.S. embassy, which would grant them diplomatic immunity.
Another reason most Iraqi politicians don't want to vote on a troop extension in the COR is because they don't want to be publically and politically linked to the decision to keep American troops there, according to Marisa Cochrane Sullivan and Ramzy Mardini, two scholars at the Institute for the Study of War who traveled to Iraq in July.
"While most Iraqi politicians favor a new security agreement privately, they are hesitant to support the measure publicly or in parliament," they wrote in their trip report. "The individual Iraqi politician does not want to own the responsibility nor the consequences for ‘extending the foreign occupation,' whether it is in the eyes of insurgent groups or some of their constituents."
They also wrote that the idea of using the embassy's diplomatic immunity to protect troops is not viable because it would overwhelm the embassy, and that the debate over whether to go through the COR has no clear solution.
"The U.S. and Iraqis are holding two conflicting red-lines on the prospect for an ongoing U.S. military presence that may prove to be ultimately irreconcilable," they said.
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
The U.S. embassy in Tripoli told a 2009 congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) not to raise the issue of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi during its visit to Libya, according to diplomatic cables newly released by WikiLeaks.
This week, senior lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates said that the top priority of the new Libyan government should be the re-arrest and extradition of Meghrahi, who was sentenced in Scotland for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, but then released in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was supposedly dying of cancer. Just before his release, McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) visited Libya to meet with Muammar al-Qaddafi, but were advised by the U.S. embassy in Tripoli not to raise the Megrahi issue because it could become an irritant in the newly restored U.S.-Libya relationship.
"We do not expect the issue to be raised during your visit, but if it is, we believe the most helpful response would be to note that this is an issue for the Scottish Executive and that it would not be constructive to discuss the case as a bilateral issue," read the Aug. 10, 2009 cable.
The cable said that the Qaddafi government had requested compassionate release for Megrahi on July 24 and was discussing the matter with Scottish officials, but that the U.S. embassy in Tripoli had not conferred with the Qaddafi regime on the matter at all.
As Politico noted today, McCain and Lieberman totally ignored the embassy's advice and raised the Megrahi issue early and often with both Qaddafi and his son Muatassim, as an Aug. 14, 2009, diplomatic cable sent from Tripoli embassy reported.
"Muatassim reacted defensively, telling the CODEL that Megrahi ‘is an innocent man, and we believe it.' Muatassim then compared Megrahi's case to that of the Bulgarian nurses convicted in Libya of intentionally infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus, arguing that they had been welcomed in Bulgaria as returning heroes even though they had been sentenced to life in prison," the cable read.
Col. Qaddafi emphasized that if Megrahi was released, neither he nor any other Libyan official could control the manner in which the Libyan people reacted. "They could even demonstrate against me," he said, forebodingly.
Senators and GOP candidates are set to press the Obama administration's to make the Megrahi case a key agenda item in the U.S.-Libya relationship with Transitional National Council, which now appears poised to take power.
For now, the administration's position is simply that they always officially opposed Megrahi's release. But they are not saying whether they will publicly call for his re-arrest or extradition to the United States.
"The secretary's made clear this guy should be behind bars," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. "The Department of Justice has the lead on these issues."
McCain memorialized his visit to Libya with a now infamous Aug. 15, 2009, tweet, in which he wrote, "Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ‘ranch' in Libya - interesting meeting with an interesting man."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford went on another trip outside Damascus to view the anti-government protests on Tuesday, this time in direct violation of travel restrictions placed on him by the Assad regime.
"Ambassador Ford went down to Jassem, which is about 70 kilometers south of Damascus, to see for himself what was up there," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's press briefing. "This has been another town that has been engaged in peaceful protest. He was there for about four hours. He had a chance there to talk to a number of Syrians, including those in the opposition, and then he drove back to Damascus."
Sounds like a nice little trip: another example of Ford's commitment to justify his continued presence in Damascus -- against the opposition of many congressmen and foreign policy pundits -- and a useful means of engaging with the Syrian opposition.
But after Ford's trip to the city of Hama last month to observe the unrest there, the Syrian government slapped travel restrictions on the U.S. envoy and his team, barring them from leaving Damascus. The State Department in turn retaliated with similar restrictions barring Syrian diplomats from leaving the Washington area.
Of course, Ford could have requested permission to leave Damascus, but instead he chose to tell the Syrian government about his trip only after he returned to the U.S. embassy.
"In this case, he informed the Syrian Foreign Ministry after the visit, and he made clear to them that the reason that he didn't inform them before the visit was because they haven't been approving any visits by anybody, anywhere," Nuland said. She explained that Ford had requested permission three times over the last six weeks to go to the city of Aleppo, but was denied in all three cases.
"So is he trying to get expelled from the country?" one member of the State Department press corps asked Nuland.
"He is trying to do his job, which is to be able to maintain broad contacts with a broad cross section of Syrians and to make sure that they know where the United States stands," she responded. She added that Ford had received the support of State Department leadership in advance of the trip.
Meanwhile, Syrian ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha, who has been neglecting his blog lately, has returned to Washington after spending some time back home. Moustapha is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly using Syrian embassy resources to spy on Syrian-Americans in Washington with the aim of intimidating them and threatening their families back in Syria.
How would the State Department feel if Moustapha just ignored the U.S. government and began hopping around the United States without permission? Nuland said that he would be granted permission if he requested to travel somewhere, and that some Syrian officials had recently been granted permission to travel to California.
After the briefing, a State Department official held a little gaggle with reporters on a background basis, as is the post-briefing custom. One reporter pressed the official to acknowledge that, if the tables had been turned and a foreign ambassador didn't follow rules laid out by the U.S. government, he would be expelled.
All the official would say is, "In this case, after he was turned down three times, we just felt he needed to do his job."
Ford's expulsion from Damascus would actually solve a tricky problem for the State Department, which is facing a tough confirmation fight for him this fall. Ford was sent to Damascus last year under a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year. The only way for Ford to stay in Damascus longer than that is for the Senate to confirm him.
Though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) reversed himself and now supports keeping Ford in place as ambassador, there are still multiple GOP senators who have no intention of letting Ford's nomination get through the Senate.
Given these dynamics, Ford's unauthorized visit to Jassem represents a win-win scenario for the State Department. On the one hand, it bolsters the State Department's case that Ford is a crucial link to the Syrian revolution. And if he gets thrown out of Syria, State can avoid a messy confirmation fight they are almost sure to lose.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Monday that the first order of business for the new Libya government, after it secures control over the country, should be to hand over the man responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
"The world is about to be rid of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done," Romney said in a statement Monday.
Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland in 2001. Qaddafi agreed to pay the Lockerbie victims about $2.7 billion in 2002 as part of a deal that saw Libya's gradual reintegration into the world community, and led to Qaddafi's regime being taken off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Megrahi was released under compassionate grounds in 2009, under the belief he was dying of cancer, with only months left to live. He is reportedly still alive. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Megrahi in September 2010 to investigate how the decision to release Megrahi was made, but no British officials agreed to testify.
Last month, Megrahi was spotted on video at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Tripoli.
It's not only Romney who has lamented the decision to release Megrahi, and called on the new Libyan government to transfer him back to international custody.
"The families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 have suffered so much
already, and the images of Megrahi at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Libya only add
salt to their wounds," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on July 27. "Parading one terrorist
out to support another is an affront to justice and further affirmation that
Megrahi was released from prison on false pretenses. We will continue to
fight for justice on behalf of the Pan Am 103 families."
In June, Lautenberg and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder to put the Megrahi issue at the top of the U.S. agenda when dealing with a new Libya government.
"While we recognize there are many critical foreign policy decisions to be made with regard to Libya at this extraordinary time, we ask that justice for the Lockerbie victims and their families remain a top priority and not be overlooked," they wrote.
Romney has been a critic of the Obama administration's approach to Libya, saying that the United States should lead on such international issues rather than playing second fiddle to European countries.
"America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We're following the French into Libya," he said in March. "I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world."
Romney supported the military intervention in Libya but criticized Obama for relying too much on multilateral organizations for legitimacy.
"[Obama] calls for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and United Nations," Romney said in March. "He's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced."
In July, when the war appeared to be at a stalemate, Romney further criticized Obama for not explaining the endgame in Libya and for exceeding the mandate provided by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
"We approved the humanitarian mission as a people," he said. "We did not approve an expanded and muddled mission, which is what we see."
UPDATE: Gov. Rick Perry's campaign issued this statement on today's Libya news:
The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.
Former Gov. John Huntsman's campaign sent out the following:
The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.
UPDATE #2: Menendez called for Megrahi to be expedited to the U.S. in a Monday afternoon statement sent to The Cable.
The Qaddafi reign of terror is ending and the TNC, as the legitmate government of Libya, must move quickly to embrace democratic reform. To that end the, TNC should extradite al-Megrahi to the United States to answer for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. There would be no better signal to the world that a new Libya believes in justice and has every intention to adhere to international law.
Now that the Libyan rebel movement, led by the Transitional National Council (TNC), appears to be taking over Tripoli, their need for access to the frozen billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets is even more urgent, the TNC's top representative in Washington told The Cable today.
Ali Aujali, the former ambassador for Qaddafi who defected in March and now serves as the charge d'affaires at the rebel-controlled embassy in Washington, said that the TNC's long struggle for control over the funds that were frozen by U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.S. executive orders must be overcome for the rebels to assert control in Tripoli.
"The immediate next step is to get Qaddafi, that's number one. Number two, we need money. The third thing is that TNC will move to Tripoli as soon as it's a secure place," Aujali said. "We need this money, because we need to supply food, we need medical treatment for our injured, we need to pay salaries, we need to run facilities."
For more than three weeks, the U.N. sanctions committee has been considering whether to unfreeze some of the estimated tens of billions of dollars in frozen Libya assets. But Aujali said it is the position of the TNC that it does not need the approval of the sanctions committee to access the funds.
"I don't think we need sanctions committee authorization because the TNC will inherit the regime," he said. The U.N. has not officially recognized the TNC as the government of Libya.
But don't expect the TNC to keep the institutions of the Qaddafi regime intact. Aujali said that the institutions of the Libya state were so corrupted and so controlled by the Qaddafi family that they are of little use in the new Libya.
"All the institutions are to serve Qaddafi and his Green Book. We need to build everything from zero: democratic institutions, civil society, government organizations. Everything was controlled by Qaddafi and his sons," he said.
While the exact schedule has not been set, Aujali's understanding is that, after the TNC moves to Tripoli, it will set up a conference to draft a new constitution, which will then be approved or rejected by the Libyan people in a referendum. He said the TNC would then start to organize elections, a process he predicted could take about eight months.
Aujali said the TNC was committed to preventing retribution on the ground in Tripoli and upholding the ideals of inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law. He implored the U.S. government to increase its coordination and support for the rebels.
"I want the administration to unfreeze the frozen money, to commit to support the Libyan people, to interact with the TNC as much as they can, and to keep the NATO mission action until the threat of Qaddafi is no more," he said.
Aujali said that he hasn't been in regular contact with the State Department over the weekend, because he's been focusing on following the events on the ground in Tripoli. But CNN reported that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who is in Cairo and was recently in Benghazi, was contacted by Qaddafi regime officials as recently as Saturday.
"I think they were looking for a way to find a lifeline, buy time, to prevent what was then becoming inevitable, which was the uprising in Tripoli," he said.
In an interview with ABC News Monday morning, Feltman said that it was clear the rebels were winning that that he didn't think a violent unraveling of the security situation was likely in Libya, as happened in Baghdad when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fell.
"A lot of that sectarian mix that existed in Saddam Hussein's Iraq doesn't exist here in Libya," Feltman said. He also said that "the overwhelming vision that we are hearing" from people across Libya is that "they want a Libya that is moderate, that is secular."
Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on Monday that the Obama administration needs to develop an aggressive yet nuanced plan to increase U.S. involvement and aid in Libya to support the TNC, while at the same time not giving the impression that Western ideas were being imposed there.
"Bad as our current economic problems are, it would be incredibly foolish not to offer aid to Libya (and Egypt, Tunisia, and any other states caught up in this wave of change.)," he said. "Failing to provide that aid will not simply be penny wise and pound foolish; the price of such a U.S failure will eventually be paid in U.S. and allied blood."
President Barack Obama said yesterday that he wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down from office, and promised to implement more sanctions on the Syrian regime. But conservatives in Washington have several additional ideas for how to up the pressure on Assad.
Thirty-two mostly conservative national security experts wrote a letter to Obama today on the letterhead of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies commending him for calling on Assad to step down and urging him to quickly ramp up the pressure on his regime. "We are concerned... that unless urgent actions are taken by the United States and its allies, the Assad regime's use of force against the Syrian people will only increase and the already significant death toll will mount," the letter said.
The signatories want Obama to push hard for multilateral energy sector sanctions and to advocate for the passage of new Syria sanctions legislation, which was introduced in Congress earlier this month. They also think the administration should encourage Germany, Italy, and France to stop buying Syrian oil, forcefully urge energy trading firms from Switzerland, Holland, and elsewhere to stop selling Syria refined petroleum products, and sanction any person involved in Syrian pipeline construction, including insurance firms, shipping companies, financing entities, and ports managers.
They also want harsher sanctions on Syria's central bank, punishment for anybody who buys Syrian debt, additional U.N. sanctions based on Syria's record of weapons and nuclear proliferation, and the recalling of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford.
The letter reminded the president that the fall of the Assad regime would not only be a boon for the Syrian people, but also have "game-changing implications" for the balance of power in the Middle East. "It would deny Iran the use of its major ally as a proxy for terrorism, stem the flow of Syrian arms to Hezbollah, reduce instability in Lebanon, and lessen tensions on Israel's northern border," the signatories wrote.
The group commended Obama's new executive order that requires the immediate freeze of all Syrian government assets that fall under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. citizens from doing any business with the Syrian government. The new sanctions also ban the import of Syrian petroleum products into the United States, and ban Americans from doing business with Syrian petroleum companies.
The signers include former NSC Middle East official Elliott Abrams, the Council on Foreign Relations' Max Boot, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, AEI's Fred Kagan, the Brookings Institution's Bob Kagan, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, former CIA Director James Woolsey, top GOP consultant Randy Scheunemann, and former NSC official Jamie Fly, now executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
The calls for Ford's recall have been echoed in both the House and Senate. House Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) yesterday praised the administration's move but reiterated her call for Ford for come back to Washington.
Several nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus but the Obama administration argues that Ford's activities on the ground, including a recent visit to protests in Hama, are helping the opposition. Ros-Lehtinen disagrees.
"It is also important that the administration take the next step in ending its engagement policy and reverse its mistake of sending a U.S. ambassador to Syria," she said in a statement. "The continued presence of an ambassador in Damascus sends a mixed message to the Syrian regime and gives legitimacy to Assad and his cronies."
Full text of the letter after the jump:
Officials, friends, and supporters of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) convened on the sidewalk outside the Watergate complex this afternoon to sing and celebrate the formal reopening of the Libyan embassy in Washington, DC, which is now officially under the TNC's control.
The new charge d'affaires Ali Aujali presided over the event, giving a speech to the assembled crowd, unlocking the doors, and inviting guests inside for an impromptu press conference. Aujali was quite familiar with the surroundings. He served Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi as the Libyan regime's top representative in Washington for years before defecting to the rebel side in February.
When your humble Cable guy snuck into the Libyan embassy in March, there were still huge posters of Qaddafi on the wall and stacks of his famous "Green Book" manifesto piled high in the lobby. But today, all signs of the regime had been removed. The space where Qaddafi's portrait once hung is now filled with a poster of Omar Muktar, the leader of the Libyan anti-colonial uprising who was hanged by the Italians in 1931. All of the green regime flags have been replaced by the tricolor pre-Qaddafi monarchial flag that has become a symbol of the revolution.
"For the first time in 50 years, this embassy represents a free Libya," Aujali said to the assembled crowd outside. "This new embassy, under the control of the Transitional National Council, is committed to serving the Libyan people and advancing the call for freedom and democracy in Libya. The Libyan people are not in this struggle alone. They will be forever grateful to the United States for coming to their aid in their greatest time of need."
But the event was also peppered with constant reminders that the TNC, despite being recognized by the Obama administration as the official government of Libya last month, is still in the midst of battle and struggling with the U.S. government to get control of the billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets that have been frozen by U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
"Diplomatic recognition is not an end in itself, but rather an important step toward bringing greater cooperation between the TNC and the United States. I am hopeful that the United States government will soon move forward with releasing the frozen assets in the U.S. that belong to the Libyan people," Aujali said. "We need immediate access to these resources to avert a further humanitarian crisis."
On the street, we met some Libyan-Americans, including Heba Benomran (pictured below), who told us she had driven all morning from Columbus, OH, to attend the ceremony. Heba carried a message, "Thank you America," printed on a sign and she's even set up a website to sell Libyan rebel apparel.
Inside the embassy, Aujali took questions from the press on the next steps for the TNC effort in Washington. He said he was confident that State and Treasury Departments would soon deliver good news to the TNC on releasing some frozen funds. He said he expects a current drive to unfreeze international assets that are frozen by United Nations Security Council resolutions to succeed as well. The U.N. sanctions committee is reviewing that issue now.
But Aujali disagreed with the State Department's repeated insistence that the money goes to humanitarian purposes only, and not toward buying weapons.
"If Qaddafi was killing his people with potatoes and eggs, I would accept that. But Qaddafi is killing his people with real weapons. We must have arms to defend ourselves," he said, adding that the TNC has the option of getting arms from other countries.
We found two U.S. officials at the event: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Easter Affairs and Ambassador-designate to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski, and Alyce Abdalla, the current desk officer for Libya at the State Department.
"It's a good day for Libyans and a good day for Americans," Krajeski told The Cable. What about the funds? "We're working on it," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden is in China to kick off a week-long Asia tour and the first thing he did after arriving at the Beijing airport was to speed over the Olympic basketball arena to take in a game between Georgetown University and the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association.
"Once again, sports diplomacy lives in U.S.-China relations!" Victor Cha, former National Security Council Asia official and Georgetown's director of Asian Studies, told The Cable. Cha is accompanying the team on their tour of China. He compared it to the ping-pong diplomacy between the U.S. and China that helped thaw the relationship ahead of President Richard Nixon's visit there in 1972.
Cha told The Cable that Biden interacted extensively with the Chinese spectators and there were good vibes all around. The loquacious vice president reportedly carried on a conversation in English with an entire section of Chinese spectators, telling jokes and receiving many high-fives. Biden was joined at the game by the new Ambassador to China Gary Locke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, NSC Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel, and China's ambassador to the United States Zhang Yesui.
On the Georgetown delegation, in addition to Cha, were Georgetown University President Jack DeGioia, as well as Chairman of the Board and former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Not only that, the Hoyas beat the Dragons 98-81.
Their next game tomorrow night is against the Bayi Rockets, the Chinese People's Liberation Army team. Cha said that the upcoming game was "a great way to expand people-to-people contacts with the military, another goal of U.S. policy."
But the Hoyas are going to have to conduct that part of their diplomatic effort without Biden's help. He's off to the Southwest China city of Chengdu before returning to Beijing and then heading off to Mongolia and Japan.
The White House said Georgetown's two-week trip to China, "reflects an ongoing push to expand people-to-people exchanges between our two countries, as well as an effort to strengthen the U.S.-China relationship through sport."
The recent debt ceiling debacle and Congress's threat to force a default has hurt America's standing and credibility as a world leader, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared at a joint event this morning at the National Defense University, moderated by the George Washington University's Frank Sesno. Their discussion focused on the future of the national security budget, but also touched on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and the fight inside Washington over America's fiscal future.
When asked directly about the recent debt debate, Clinton referred to her recent trip to Hong Kong, where she assured world leaders that the United States always eventually deal with its internal challenges -- after exhausting all other options. But she said the episode had a negative effect on U.S. international leadership.
"It does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's interests," she said. "This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department or USAID. This is about the United States of America. And we need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future."
She then went on to defend national security spending, particularly as it relates to diplomacy and development, linking it to the U.S. rivalry with China.
"We can't be abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term challenges about how we're going to cope with what the rise of China means," Clinton argued.
Vice President Joe Biden is on his way to China this week and officials previewing the trip said he will defend the debt deal during his visit there.
Clinton and Panetta's event seemed designed to project a unified front between the Obama administration's top foreign policy officials ahead of the looming budget battle, where caps in discretionary spending mandated in the debt deal could result in huge cuts for the State Department and USAID.
"We know we are going to have to put everything on the table. I'm not saying we should be exempt ... I'm just saying that as we look at everything that is on the table, we have to try to do a reasonable analysis of what our needs and interests are," Clinton said.
"If you go out to the American public and you say ‘what's the easiest thing to cut?' it's always foreign aid," Clinton said. "We understand that we have a case to make and there is a new way of looking at it."
Panetta expressed general support for a holistic approach toward a national security budget that includes defense, diplomacy, and development. But he didn't go as far as his predecessor, Robert Gates, in advocating a rebalancing of budget priorities away from the Pentagon and toward the State Department.
"Our national security is our Defense Department and our military power and also our State Department and our diplomatic power," Panetta said. "We all know we are going to have to be able to exercise some fiscal restraint as we go through our budgets.... What I hope this committee doesn't do is walk away from its responsibility to look at the entire federal budget."
Panetta also repeated the administration's claim that the debt deal would cut $350 billion from the defense budget, a claim disputed by experts and top lawmakers. Panetta then warned that if the 12-person "supercommittee" fails to strike a deal to cut $1.5 trillion in spending by Thanksgiving, triggering an automatic $600 billion in addition defense cuts, it "would have devastating effects on our national defense."
"It would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families," Panetta said. "And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today."
Regarding the State Department's budget, Panetta didn't advocate increases, but he did say it was "absolutely essential to our national security."
Panetta refused to comment on reports that the Pakistani military gave the Chinese military access to a downed U.S. helicopter that was used in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. He did say that they United States has no choice but to continue to work with Pakistan.
"They have relations with the Haqqanis... there's a relationship with the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba]. And yet, there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. Why? Because we are fighting a war there, we are fighting al Qaeda there, and they do give us some cooperation in that effort," he said.
Clinton referred to the last scene of the movie Charlie Wilson's War, in which lawmakers decided not to fund civilian programs for Afghanistan after supporting the Afghan military resistance to the Soviet invasion. She said the Pakistanis have a similar view of the United States "that needs to be respected."
"They are partners, but they don't always see the world the way we see the world, and they don't always cooperate with us on what we think -- and I'll be very blunt about this -- is in their interests.," she said.
Clinton also said it was not important whether the Obama administration actually insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaves power. There have been several reports that the administration was planning on announcing explicitly that the Syrian leader should leave, but then decided not to at the last minute.
"I'm not a big believer in arbitrary deadlines when you're dealing with a complicated situation," Clinton said. "It's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go... If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Northeast Asia today to meet with the man who could be the next president of China, take in some Mongolian culture, and then pay his respects to Japan, which is still recovering from the tsunami that hit the country in March.
Biden will spend four days in China, one day in Mongolia, and two days in Japan -- his first trip to Asia as vice president but his umpteenth visit as a U.S. political leader. He first traveled to China in 1979 as part of the first congressional delegation to visit after the United States and China normalized relations. The highlight of the visit will be his meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to replace Hu Jintao as president sometime next year.
"One of the primary purposes of the trip is to get to know China's future leadership, to build a relationship with Vice President Xi, and to discuss with him and other Chinese leaders the full breadth of issues in the U.S.-China relationship," said Tony Blinken, Biden's national security advisor, in a conference call with reporters. "Simply put, we're investing in the future of the U.S.-China relationship."
On Thursday, Biden will have two meetings with Xi in Beijing and a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, followed by a formal banquet hosted by Xi in the evening. On Friday, Biden will have a roundtable discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders, followed by another meeting with Wen and a meeting with Hu.
Saturday, Biden will visit the U.S. embassy in Beijing to meet with the staff and spend some time with the new U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. He will then head off for the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, becoming the first U.S. political leader to visit the city. That night, Biden and Xi will visit a high school in Dujiangyan City that was rebuilt following the 2008 earthquake.
Sichuan province, which borders Tibet, is where two Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in recent days, to protest the Chinese government's policy of suppressing Tibetan culture and "reeducating" Tibetan spiritual leaders.
"I think the vice president can be expected to reinforce the message to the Chinese that there is great value in their renewing their dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama, with the goal of peacefully resolving differences," said NSC Senior Director Danny Russel, who didn't comment directly on the recent protests.
One subject that Biden will be trying to avoid in China is the matter of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Reports yesterday said that a Pentagon team traveled to Taiwan to deliver the message that the United States will not be selling the Taipei the new F-16 C/D model fighter planes it wants, but would be willing to sell upgrades for its older A/B models.
"I think it's important to make clear that on the issue of Taiwan that the vice president has no plans to raise the Taiwan issue, certainly not arms sales during his trip. He is not going to China to address that issue," Russel said.
Of course, it's extremely likely that the Chinese will raise it, and will want to know the details of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1.
On Aug. 22, Biden goes to Mongolia, becoming the first No. 2 to visit there since Vice President Henry Wallace in 1944. Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj scored a visit to the Oval Office in June. Biden will meet with him, as well as Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold. Then, the Mongolians will put on a cultural display that will include archery, wrestling, and horse racing.
Biden leaves for Tokyo that night and will spend two days in Japan, including a visit to the earthquake damaged city of Sendai. He will meet with the embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan and visit with American troops.
The U.S. debt crisis will be one topic that will be on all Asian leaders' minds during Biden's trip. China and Japan are the top two holders of U.S. government debt, respectively. Lael Brainard, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs and the wife of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell, outlined Biden's message to Asia on America's debt.
"The vice president will be in a good position to talk about the very strong deficit reduction package that we concluded here recently. Obviously, the United States has the capacity, the will, and the commitment to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges," she said.
But Biden will also carry the message that China has to stop depending on its trade imbalance with the United States to feed its ever growing economy.
"I think as we move forward on addressing our fiscal challenges, Chinese policy makers know that they can no longer count on the U.S. consumer to provide that demand to the global economy," she said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is temporarily bringing back U.S. ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon to serve as acting undersecretary of state for political affairs while the State Department awaits the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee for the post, Wendy Sherman.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed to The Cable that Shannon will begin work next week as the temporary successor to Bill Burns, who was promoted to replace Jim Steinberg as deputy secretary of state. Shannon, a well-respected career member of the Foreign Service, served as assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs from 2005 to 2009 and was the National Security Council senior director for the same region from 2003 to 2005.
Shannon will lead an office that has oversight of the State Department's regional bureaus and has responsibility for the day-to-day management of regional and bilateral issues. In a way, Shannon's return to Foggy Bottom temporarily solves two problems for Clinton, as he also will be able to keep an eye on the western hemisphere bureau, which remains leaderless since the May departure of Arturo Valenzuela.
Nuland emphasized that the State Department intends to return Shannon to Brazil as soon as Sherman is confirmed. She said that Shannon will return "for what we hope will be only a few weeks ... until the Senate acts on the president's nomination of Wendy Sherman."
"This stop-gap measure will help the secretary and department officials manage business until the confirmation of Ambassador Sherman. We have every expectation that the Senate will act quickly on Ambassador Sherman's nomination as soon as possible after Labor Day," Nuland told The Cable.
But Sherman's nomination still faces resistance by some GOP senators. They have three main concerns. One is due to Sherman's time as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's counselor and North Korea policy coordinator. Some in the Senate GOP caucus are upset that the Obama administration has begun meeting bilaterally with the North Koreans and might use this nomination, along with the nomination of Sung Kim to be ambassador to Seoul, to make their point.
Second, senators are poised to demand that Sherman disclose her private client list as a vice president at the consulting firm of Albright-Stonebridge. There's suspicion, but as of yet no evidence, that Sherman worked on behalf of Chinese state-owned firms. Senators will demand full disclosure.
Lastly, senators will criticize Sherman for being president of the Fannie Mae Foundation from 1996 to 1997. Fannie Mae practices, mostly outside the Foundation, contributed to the financial meltdown, although those abuses occurred largely after she left.
State Department officials feel they have a strong candidate in Sherman and are prepared to fight for her confirmation. It's too early to see exactly how strong the GOP opposition to her confirmation will be, but there is more than one Republican senator opposed to her confirmation.
No Senate holds have been placed on the nomination yet -- that can only happen after Sherman is approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sherman has yet to receive a hearing before the committee, which will only occur after Congress returns from vacation in September.
Meanwhile, Shannon will keep her chair warm. Another Latin America hand at State, Brian Naranjo, has been managing the staff of the office of undersecretary for political affairs office in Burns' and Shannon's absence. He will continue on in his job as the acting executive assistant to the undersecretary, placing him as Shannon's right hand man and head of the office staff.
It's not that unusual for an acting undersecretary to be put in place when there's a prolonged vacancy. During former President George W. Bush's administration, Assistant Secretary Chris Burnham served as acting undersecretary for management under then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Assistant Secretary John Rood worked as acting undersecretary for arms control for about 18 months from 2007 to 2009.
State is hoping that Shannon won't have to serve in his acting capacity that long. He will keep his diplomatic credentials in Brazil. Todd Chapman, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Brazil, will mind the store as chargé d'affaires during Shannon's absence.
As the Obama administration tightened sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Congress is warming to the idea of confirming U.S. envoy to Damascus Robert Ford.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) came out this morning in support of the confirmation of Ford, who was sent to Damascus via a recess appointment last year. Several senators, including Lieberman, objected at the time to the United States sending an ambassador to Damascus, arguing that it would amount to a reward for Syrian bad behavior. Now, just as several countries, including Saudi Arabia, are pulling out their ambassadors, Lieberman is arguing that Ford must stay.
"This time, I believe the Senate should quickly vote to confirm Mr. Ford as our top diplomat in Damascus," Lieberman wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday. "While the Obama administration originally envisioned Amb. Ford's primary purpose as engagement with the Syrian regime, that is no longer the case. Rather than being an envoy to Assad, Mr. Ford is now first and foremost our ambassador to the Syrian people and a bridge to the democratic transition they demand."
Lieberman's about face, which was largely due to Ford's trip to the restive city of Hama last month to observe the anti-regime protests there, removes one obstacle to his confirmation. Other senators who were opposed to confirming him in the past include Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). Neither Kyl nor Kirk has said whether they will continue to oppose Ford's nomination this time around.
Some on Capitol Hill don't like the optics of the United States confirming an ambassador to Syria while other countries withdraw their envoys as a means of registering their opposition to Assad's crackdown, which has increased in brutality over the past 10 days.
"Senator Lieberman is one of the great national security leaders of this generation, and Robert Ford is a skilled diplomat, but it makes no sense to have an American ambassador in Damascus now," one senior GOP congressional aide told The Cable. "It's a sad day when the Saudi king has greater moral clarity than the president of the United States."
Regardless, the gap between the Obama administration's stance on Syria and Congress's demands for action is narrowing. Administration officials have been hinting that the White House will officially call for Assad to step down this week, perhaps on Thursday, signaling the end of the administration's two-year effort to engage the Syrian government.
The State Department was also heavily invested in the visit to Syria yesterday of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, even sending Fred Hof to Ankara coordinate pressures and messaging with the Turks. The Davutoglu visit doesn't seem to have given protesters a respite from the Syrian regime's crackdown, though: Troops loyal to Assad reportedly killed at least 35 people today.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland previewed the administration's coming change in rhetoric at Tuesday's briefing. "In the case of Syria, the message from 2009 was, if you are prepared to open Syria politically, if you are prepared to be a reformer, if you are prepared to work with us on Middle East peace and other issues we share, we can have a new and different kind of partnership," she said. "And that is not the path that Assad chose."
Today, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against the Commercial Bank of Syria and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and Syriatel, the largest mobile phone operator in Syria.
"By exposing Syria's largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators, and by targeting Syria's largest mobile phone operator for being controlled by one of the regime's most corrupt insiders, we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to Assad and his regime's illicit activities," Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.
Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the administration action is in part a recognition of the facts on the ground in Syria and in part an attempt to stay ahead of Congress, which is preparing to move forward with a new Syria sanctions bill when congressmen return to work in September.
The bill, authored by Lieberman, Kirk, and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would authorize President Barack Obama to close off the U.S. financial system, markets, and federal contracts to companies that invest in Syria's energy sector, purchase the country's oil, and sell gasoline to Syria.
Whether or not Ford gets confirmed will be a key test of whether Congress can get on board with the administration's approach.
"We need to have someone who is meeting with the opposition and people who want to interact with the U.S. in the future," said Tabler. "Unfortunately in this town, its either peace process or isolation. We need a more creative policy."
Almost a month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States now sees the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official government of Libya, the TNC is on the verge of reclaiming the Libyan embassy in Washington but it's nowhere near getting its hands on billions of dollars in frozen assets formerly held by Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The Libyan rebels, who are represented in Washington by former Qaddafi envoy Ali Aujali, have been working out of donated office space in northwest Washington for months. The State Department signed an order last week handing control of the Libyan embassy, located in the Watergate complex, over to the rebels. However, they have yet to move in to their new digs
Sources close to the TNC mission in Washington said that Aujali is in Canada right now, helping the Canadian government expel their own Qaddafi officials and setting up the TNC embassy in Ottowa. He is planning to return to the United States after the State Department finalizes his diplomatic status, which will allow him to become the official head of mission of the new Libyan embassy.
When that happens, the TNC will gain access to the $13 million in the embassy's bank accounts, which is probably enough to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and maybe even pay their lobbyists, Patton Boggs. But the bulk of Qaddafi's funds remain frozen and will likely remain so for quite a while.
"We had difficult internal U.S. procedures with regard to the banking situation, et cetera," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And we're also in an environment where U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 put some restrictions on what we can do. So we're continuing to work internally on various routes to get some of this money to the TNC."
There is probably only about $150 to $200 million of frozen Qaddafi money in U.S. banks, but even that money is affected by the U.N. sanctions. The rest of the $30 billion is held outside the U.S. banking system. What's more, Nuland said that the United States wants to make sure that the money "if given, is used properly and for humanitarian purposes."
"So it's going to be a little bit of time yet, but please know that we are working on it and we're working on it hard," she said.
Meanwhile, the State Department continues to communicate privately to the TNC that the investigation into the killing of their military commander, Abdel Fatah Younis, last month is crucial to maintaining the TNC's credibility and reputation.
Publicly, Nuland portrayed the killing and the reorganization of their cabinet as a watershed moment in the TNC's evolution into a functioning, democratic organization ‘So, frankly, while the killing was an awful event, the fact [is] that the TNC has not just stood pat but has really taken this as an opportunity for internal reflection, for renewal," she said.
One of the State Department press corps members responded to her, "I'm not sure I've ever heard a glass-half-full explanation better than that one in a long time."
Nobody, including the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, could figure out exactly how the debt ceiling deal will actually impact defense budgets, so Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew wrote a long blog post today trying to explain it as best he could.
In the explanation, he said that the national security budget will actually only be cut by $4 billion next year compared to this year, and that the money might not even come from the Pentagon budget. It will divided over the "security" budget, which includes the Defense Department, State, foreign aid, intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and some Department of Energy programs,
As The Cable reported several times, there are no actual defense budget cuts guaranteed in the debt ceiling bill, despite the White House's claim that the deal puts the nation on track to "save" $350 billion in defense spending over the next ten years. Lew admitted that the $350 billion figure is based on comparisons to a CBO baseline projection, not the current budget, and he also admitted that actual cuts will be determined years from now by the administration and future Congresses.
"Under baseline estimates, [the debt deal] would cut approximately $420 billion over 10 years," from security spending, Lew wrote. "Assuming roughly proportional cuts, we project that of that $420 billion, $350 billion would be from the budget category of defense, and approximately $330 billion of that would be specifically from the Department of Defense."
But wait, that's only if you compare the "cuts" to the CBO baseline, which assumes that defense spending will go up 2 percent each year. So how much would the debt deal cut from the "security" budget compared to the fiscal 2011 budget?
"The agreement reduces discretionary security spending in FY 2012 by $4 billion as measured from FY 2011, and then only increases that reduced amount by $2 billion in FY 2013," Lew wrote.
After that, the spending caps don't make any distinctions between "security" and "non-security" budget accounts, so the "savings" are anyone's guess. If you compare the White House's "projection" of security savings to its April fiscal framework, which called for $400 billion in security savings over 12 years, it appears pretty much consistent. If you compare the security savings projection to the long-term budget plan the administration published in February, "this new path will save some $600 billion, including about $500 billion from national defense," Lew said.
Of course, that February budget plan is no longer seen by anybody as a potential option, especially since the White House itself replaced it in April with the new "fiscal framework" Lew mentioned. It's like your boss promising you a raise, then taking away the promise of the raise, and then telling you, "Look how much money we saved!"
The second part of the debt ceiling bill promises that another $600 billion in projected defense cuts will automatically go into effect unless the new Congressional "supercommittee" agrees on $1.5 billion in new cuts next year, which isn't likely. But Lew is warning that this is only a threat the administration doesn't actually want to implement those cuts.
"Make no mistake: the sequester is not meant to be policy. Rather, it is meant to be an unpalatable option that all parties want to avoid," Lew wrote.
But if for some reason Congress can't compromise in the supercommittee, lawmakers can always spread those $600 billion of cuts over the 10 years in a way that will make it another Congress's headache several years into the future.
In the end, it all lies in the hands of Congress. "Of course, the precise funding levels and the specifics of how these cuts would be taken will have to be worked out by the administration and Congress over the next decade," Lew said.
Meanwhile, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent out a message yesterday that he is fine with the defense "cuts" in the first part of the bill, because that's what the military was expecting anyway.
"The reductions in defense spending that will take place as a result of the debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress and the President are in line with what this Department's civilian and military leaders were anticipating, and I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military," Panetta wrote.
But he, like Lew, is warning that the $600 billion in "cuts" in the trigger mechanism are dangerous, and that Congress better learn how to compromise, and fast.
"This potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction and avoid misguided cuts to our security," Panetta said. "Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation's leaders."
Vice President Joseph Biden is on his way to China, Mongolia, and Japan later this month, his office announced today.
In Beijing, Biden will meet with Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to replace Hu Jintao as president next year.
"He will visit China at the invitation of Vice President Xi Jinping - the first of the planned reciprocal visits between the Vice Presidents announced during President Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington earlier this year," the White House said in a release.
Biden will do the diplomatic trifecta, meeting with Hu in Beijing, as well as Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. After Beijing, Biden will go to the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, then to the Mongolian capitol of Ulaanbaatar, and then Tokyo. The Office of the Vice President did not release the dates or specifics of meetings for the Mongolia or Japan legs of Biden's trip.
The China visit comes only three months before President Barack Obama travels to Asia in November. Obama will lead a huge U.S. delegation as the host of the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which is being held in the city of his birth, Honolulu. He will then go to Bali to lead America's first-ever delegation as an official member of the East Asia Summit (EAS). EAS is a regional security focused organization that the administration joined as part of an increased commitment to strengthen U.S. relations with Asia.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just got back from Bali, where she was attending the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the largest grouping of Southeast Asian nations and their friends. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Singapore in June for the IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue, which was also attended by your humble Cable guy.
In between Honolulu and Bali, Obama has a few days of down time, not enough to go back to Washington but certainly enough to visit one more country in the region. But where will he go? The Australian ambassador told a group of journalists at his annual summer BBQ this week that Australia is lobbying hard for an Obama visit. The White House has yet to make any commitments to Australia, or any other country.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the single senator that attended his confirmation hearing today that while the administration's sanctions on the Syrian regime are working, newly proposed congressional sanctions probably won't do much good.
Ford, who was sent to Damascus under a recess appointment because he could not be confirmed last year, was back in Washington for one more confirmation push before his recess appointment expires on Dec. 31. The U.S. envoy was expected to face harsh criticism from a number of GOP senators who believe the Obama administration has not been tough enough on regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But after the debt ceiling vote was done, most lawmakers patted themselves on the back and immediately skipped town. Only Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was left by the time Ford's hearing begun.
Ford played it cautiously for most of Casey's questioning, repeating administration calls for a transition to democratic rule in Syria, condemning the brutality of the regime against its people, and praising the Syrian opposition while being clear-eyed about the challenges that the opposition faces.
"It's a diverse group, they're not very well organized. That's not surprising," Ford testified, explaining that he meets with opposition representatives constantly. "It's important for the Syrian opposition to develop their ideas, Syrian ideas, for their democratic transition."
Ford also joined the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syrian activists earlier today at the State Department.
"It's really important now to give these Syrians an ear and to amplify their voices," he said at the hearing. "My job is to help establish the space for Syrian activists ... to develop and organize the political transition that must occur if Syria is to be stable again."
When asked about the prospect of new congressional sanctions, Ford indicated that the bill introduced today by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), might not be the best way to put pressure on the Assad regime. Their bill would authorize President Barack Obama to close off the U.S. financial system, markets, and federal contracts to companies that invest in Syria's energy sector, purchase the country's oil, and sell gasoline to Syria.
"Unilaterally, additional American measures probably aren't going to have that big of an impact," said Ford. "The big companies working in the energy sector in Syria are from Europe or Syria's neighbors."
"We would look to find ways to with our partners to enhance our [existing] sanctions," he added, adding that those discussions are underway. "The challenge is getting targeting that works and really has an impact."
However, Ford did make a point to emphasize that the administration's Syria sanctions, which have designated several Syrian regime officials as targets for asset freezes, are effective. More such designations are expected in the coming days.
"The [administration's] sanctions do bite. We do see more business people slowly shifting sides, and that's important," he said. "So we do think sanctions are having an impact."
Clearly, the senators who sponsored the bill disagree with Ford's assessment that additional sanctions will not have an impact.
"The United States should impose crippling sanctions in response to the murder of civilians by troops under the orders of Syrian President Assad," Kirk said in a release. "The Arab Spring will sweep away this dictatorship, hopefully with the help of American sanctions similar to those leveled against the Iranian regime."
Kirk and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) have been among the most critical senators of the administration's approach to Syria. Both argue that Ford's presence there represents an unwise concession to the government. The Cable caught up with Kyl in the Senate hallways on Tuesday and asked him if he will try to thwart Ford's nomination.
"I don't have any plans with regard to his nomination," Kyl said.
We predicted that the senators on the committee might not show up for the hearing, so we caught some SFRC members earlier in the day to see where they stood on the administration's strategy of slowly but surely increasing pressure on the Assad regime.
"I think we do should everything we can to ratchet up our pressure on Syria," said SFRC member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). "The administration has made a series of good movements seeking to tighten the noose economically and anything we can do to enhance that will have my support."
"I don't understand their Syria policy," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a SFRC member who is calling for a tougher administration stance. "I wish there was a little more clarity on it, I'm sorry there isn't."
At the hearing, Casey praised Ford and recounted reports of the Syrian authorities torturing children. He said that Assad "must step down" and that more can be done to pressure Syria in international bodies.
"Ambassador Ford's recent trip to Hama was a testament to his commitment to represent the values of the United States," Casey said.
Ford speculated that the members of the U.N. Security Council were now more ready than before to take action on Syria. He also said that while Hezbollah continues to support the Syrian government, the group has been silent recently due to the anger their pro-Assad statements aroused among the Syrian people.
On the core issue of whether Assad should go, Ford stuck with the administration's position that Assad has lost legitimacy in the eyes of his people, but stopped short of calling for him to step down now.
"Our conclusion is that this regime is unwilling or unable to lead the democratic transition the Syrian people are demanding," he said. "And there's really no difference between unwilling or unable as far as we're concerned."
Before Ford's hearing, half a dozen senators showed up for the confirmation hearings of two more sitting ambassadors who have to go through the process again because they received recess appointments: Ambassador to Turkey Frank Ricciardone and Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norm Eisen.
Wednesday's scheduled hearing for Wendy Sherman to become undersecretary of State for political affairs was outright cancelled because no senators were going to be there.
Ricciardone no longer has to worry about the complaints of now-retired Sen. Sam Brownback, but he still faces potential opposition from Kirk and Menendez. Kirk doesn't want the administration to make a missile defense deal with Turkey and Menendez wants the administration to refer to the destruction of the Armenian population during and after World War I as "genocide."
Eisen, who left his post as White House ethics czar in August 2010, was held up last year by Finance Committee ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) over alleged actions and misrepresentations related to the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Eisen said that representing the United States in the Czech Republic had special meaning for him, because his mother was born there but was forced to flee due to Nazi persecution. Lieberman, who is not on the committee, showed up to introduce Eisen and commended those in attendance for not being part of the "the herd of senators who fled town after the vote."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.