Carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and militia violence all are on the rise in Libya, prompting the State Department to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from the North African country, nearly a year after Libyan rebels seized the capital Tripoli from Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces.
Ironically, the State Department resumed full consular services for travel to and inside Libya today, but simultaneously advised Americans the country was too dangerous to visit. Militias are rounding up foreigners with little regard to the actual law or due process and the State Department has little influence with them, the department is warning.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Libya," reads the new travel warning issued today. "The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem. In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
The warning is the first the State Department has issued since September 2011 and the first since the July 7 elections in Libya, which saw the Transnational National Council, which has been running the country since Qaddafi's fall, replaced this month by the General National Congress. Those elections were deemed to be free and fair, but now political uncertainly has been replaced by insecurity on the streets of Libya's major cities.
"Despite this progress, violent crime continues to be a problem in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other parts of the country," the travel warning said. "In particular, armed carjacking and robbery are on the rise. In addition, political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country."
The State Department noted the kidnapping of 7 members of the Iranian Red Crescent delegation by an Islamic Libya militia late last month. The delegation had been invited by the government but was being questioned by the militia "to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam," a Libyan official told AFP.
Islamic extremists are also blamed for a string of attacks on historical and sacred religious sites over the past days aimed at Muslims of the Sufi sect and conducted in some cases with the help of uniformed members of Libya's Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al resigned due to the scandal Sunday night.
Militias are also apprehending foreigners for "perceived or actual violations of Libyan law," and the State Department might not be able help because the militias may not be sanctioned or controlled by the government.
Top State Department officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been working behind the scenes to assuage Indian anger following the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin over the weekend by an Army veteran and alleged former white supremacist.
Indian government officials and Sikh leaders across India were outraged by the attack that left 6 dead, including 4 Indian nationals, at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee and called on the U.S. to do more to protect Sikhs living in the United Sates. Clinton called Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna from her stop in South Africa Monday after Krishna criticized the U.S. for failed policies and a growing trend of violent incidents against religious minorities.
"I have seen messages of condolence from President Obama and others. They've emphasized protection of all faiths. The U.S. government will have to take a comprehensive look at this kind of tendency which certainly is not going to bring credit to the United States of America,'' Krishna said.
Protests broke out in several Indian cities in response to the news of the attack, some calling for stricter U.S. gun laws. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal wrote to India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to urge the Indian government to press the Obama administration to do more to protect Sikhs living in the U.S.
"The government of India must get more actively and vigorously involved in getting the U.S. administration to address the issue in right earnest," wrote Badal.
"That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,'' Singh, a member of the Sikh community, said in a statement.
U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell met with Indian government and Sikh community leaders over the weekend to express U.S. government condolences and pledge a thorough investigation. She also visited a Sikh temple in New Delhi to pay her respects.
Back in Washington, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman spoke with India's ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao to condemn the attacks and offer condolences.
"Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and the Sikh community. This is a tragic incident, especially because it happened in a place of worship. Religious freedom and religious tolerance and fundamental pillars of American society," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at Monday's press briefing.
House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to introduce legislation Friday that bans foreign government officials responsible for violating the due-process rights of imprisoned U.S. citizens abroad from traveling in the United States.
Smith announced the move during a subcommittee hearing Wednesday on Jacob Ostreicher, a Brooklyn native who has been held in Bolivia for alleged money laundering since June 2011.
"The United States cannot stand by and simply ‘monitor' the case when our citizens are being held hostage to international human rights standards," said Smith, who visited Ostreicher in June and described him as "extremely frail and weak."
Ostreicher, an entrepreneur, went to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in December 2010 to take over the management of a rice business he co-owns from a local manager after investors suspected she was embezzling money from the venture.
The manager had disappeared by the time Ostreicher arrived, but before leaving she had purchased land from alleged Brazilian drug kingpin Maximilliano Dorado, who briefly lived in Bolivia.
Bolivian authorities, upon realizing that Ostreicher's company was operating on his land, arrested the businessman on June 3, 2011. Since then, 22 hearings have been scheduled for Ostreicher's case, but each has been postponed due to the successful maneuvering of Bolivian government prosecutors, including demanding the recusal of judges. Ostreicher is being held in the notoriously corrupt Palmasola prison, where he has been denied access to a doctor. He has been on a hunger strike since April 13.
Smith lambasted the State Department, which declined to testify at the hearing, for failing to effectively take up Ostreicher's case.
"Although our own State Department officials are finally acknowledging that Mr. Ostreicher's due process rights are being violated, they continue to seem hesitant and uncertain about what action to take on his behalf," he said.
Former FBI special agent Steve Moore, who has also visited Ostreicher in prison, said in heated comments during the hearing that Smith's proposed legislation addresses a vast government blindspot.
"There are brave people in State, but there are cowards in State too," he said. "If Jacob Ostreicher dies in Palmasola prison, both the Bolivian government and the United States Department of State will have the same blood on their hands."
The State Department responded Wednesday that it continues to work hard on the issue, as U.S. officials have been in "frequent contact" with Bolivian officials to advocate for due process under Bolivian law.
"Mr. Ostreicher's guilt or innocence will be decided by the Bolivian judicial system," a State Department spokesman said.
"However, the Bolivian government should permit the judicial system to function properly and allow Mr. Ostreicher's motion be heard on its merits," spokesman Patrick Ventrell continued. "The Bolivian government's actions are deeply regrettable, and are resulting in unacceptable delays. We urge the Bolivian government to act swiftly to correct this situation by holding the bail hearing immediately and advancing the judicial process without delay."
Smith, on the other hand, says he is not convinced that Bolivian officials intend to take any action.
"While in Bolivia, I met with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Juan Carlos Alurralde, Minister of Government Carlos Romero Bonifaz, and Minister of Justice Cecilia Ayllón Quinteros to advocate for Mr. Ostreicher's release," he said. "Each of them have made commitments with respect to this case but have not followed through."
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Yimmy Montano, one of Ostreicher's Bolivian attorneys, believes his client is "being used by Bolivia to get back at the U.S. after a Miami court last year sentenced Gen. Rene Sanabria, Bolivia's top-ranking antidrug official, to 14 years in jail for trying to smuggle cocaine into the U.S."
Jerjes Justiniano, Ostreicher's second attorney, says there is no logical reason for his client's treatment.
"I do not understand how an American citizen can be treated this way, having invested in Bolivia and given jobs to indigenous Bolivians, reaching higher salaries than the government itself pays to the police," Justiniano said at Wednesday's hearing. "This approach demonstrates a clear interference by the executive on the judiciary."
Ostreicher's wife had harsh words for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which she says told her that he husband's situation is a symptom of a larger problem.
"The U.S. Embassy reported that it is the opinion of the UNCHR office in Bolivia that Jacob is not being persecuted or targeted by the government, but rather he is yet another victim of a brutally slow, inefficient, underfunded, and corrupt judicial system," the wife, Miriam Ungar, told the audience at the hearing. "As our Bolivian attorney will attest, the totality of what Jacob has experienced is not common."
Bolivia has had tense relations with the United States under the administration of President Evo Morales. In 2008, Morales accused U.S. antidrug officials of interfering in Bolivian politics and expelled them from the country.
Several individuals connected to the Morales administration have been convicted for cooperating with cartels in Bolivian and U.S. courts, the Eurasia Review reported in July. Morales himself has headed Bolivia's coca growers union since 1996. He was reelected chairman in July.
Singapore - The official events of the 2012 Shangri-la Security Dialogue have yet to begin, but in the meantime, scholars from the hosting International Institute for Strategic Studies have a message for the crowd here in Singapore: End the war on drugs.
That's the main message of the new book entitled, "Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition," written by IISS experts Nigel Inkster and Virginia Comolli and launched here in Singapore today. Inkster held a press conference to talk about the project and told the assembled crowd of experts, officials, and reporters that the world's prohibition regime regarding narcotics is perpetuating violence in some of the world's most unstable regions.
"The policies that have been pursued in prohibition for the last over 100 years have not really delivered the results that were expected," he said. "We need to reframe this problem not as a problem that can be solved - this idea of a ‘drug free world' - but as a situation that can be managed in a way that creates minimal collateral damage."
He offered some suggestions about how states can reduce the criminality, violence and instability that the current world drug policy endures. States can ensure safe and ready access to legal drugs, reducing the demand for illegal drugs used for medical purposes, for example. Also, countries could alter the handling of drug abuse from a focus on penalization to an approach that treats drug addiction as a public health issue.
"Medical rehabilitation is not just the most effective but also the cheapest way of dealing with drugs misuse," Inkster said.
Legalization of narcotics wouldn't eliminate organized crime, but would significantly reduce low level crime, as the street trade in drugs would fade. Many argue that legalization would increase drug use, but Inkster said, "The honest answer is, we don't know."
He referenced the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia in April, where several Latin American leaders advocated for a degree of decriminalization or legalization of drugs but ran into stiff opposition from the United States.
"We are critical of the U.S. policy, particularly the focus on the supply side with the virtual disregard of anything else," Inkster said. "The correctional lobby in the United states also has a powerful interest in incarcerating as many Americans as possible."
Meanwhile, drug producing states pay the heaviest price due to the illicit drug trade, Inkster said. Earlier this week, he wrote about the drug trade in Afghanistan in an article for Foreign Policy, in which he outlined the ineffectiveness of the international community's decade
"Accounting for between one-quarter and one-third of the national economy, it is an integral part of the insecurity blighting Afghan life for the past 30 years," he wrote. "Debate may continue for years as to whether the Western intervention in Afghanistan has made the world safer or more insecure in the post-9/11 era. But it has not only done nothing to reduce global supplies of illicit opium; rather, it has made the problem worse."
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Colombia this weekend, but they won't give any ground on the demand by several regional leaders to move toward a different approach in the war on drugs.
The issue of decriminalizing and perhaps even legalizing cocaine, heroin, and marijuana after decades of fighting a bitter and bloody war on drug cartels in the region will be the "gorilla in the room" when regional leaders meet April 14 and 15 in Cartagena, Colombia for the first Summit of the Americas since 2009, according to regional experts. The issue is not on the official agenda, but several regional leaders plan to raise it, much to the chagrin of the Obama administration.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina demanded a more public debate over Latin American drug policy in January, calling for a regional strategy for decriminalization "as soon as possible." In an April 7 editorial, Perez said, "Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions. And legalization therefore does not mean liberalization without controls."
Several other regional leaders have followed suit, seeking to adjust what they see as a failed policy and shift more responsibility toward the world's number one drug consuming country, the United States. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who is hosting the summit, agrees that a having a new drug strategy must be on the agenda.
"Colombia, and I myself, have put this issue on the table, because if there is any country that has suffered more from drug trafficking, that has shed more blood, it's Colombia," he said in a speech last month.
But a White House official said Wednesday that the Obama administration is only willing to discuss law enforcement and drug education, not a wholesale reform of the current approach to drugs.
"U.S. policy on this is very clear. The president doesn't support decriminalization, but he does consider this is a legitimate debate. And it's a legitimate debate because it helps to demystify this as an option," said Dan Restrepo, the National Security Council's senior director for Latin America, on a Wednesday conference call with reporters.
Restrepo referred back to last month's comments by Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to Mexico and Honduras and said that a drug policy debate was "legitimate" but not likely to change the U.S. position. He also said drug consumption is not just a U.S. problem.
"As the consumption of drugs spreads throughout the Americas, the responsibility to address this challenge needs to spread," he said. "This is a shared responsibility... Brazil is the second largest cocaine consuming country in the world."
According to the 2011 World Drug Report, prepared by the U.N. office of drugs and crime, Brazil has about 900,000 cocaine users, roughly 0.7 percent of adults aged 15-64. In the United States, about 2.4 percent of adults in that age range use cocaine, a total of 5 million people.
Restrepo said the United States would be willing to discuss how to reduce crime and violence surrounding drugs, but not decriminalization or legalization. He also said there was no consensus on the issue in the region one way or the other.
"This is not a debate where one country is standing in a very different place than all the other countries," he said. "The United States is among the countries who does not see this as a solution and does not see this as a viable option because of the problems that come with it and because it won't end transnational crimes."
(The website InSight Crime has put together a map of the drug decriminalization and legalization positions of all the countries in the region.)
On the call, Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes tried to dispel the notion widely held around the region that the president has neglected Latin America and failed to live up to promises he made early in his presidency, such as progress in relations with Cuba and Venezuela.
"Over the course of the last three years, President Obama has significantly bolstered the image of the United States in the region and U.S. leadership, in survey after survey, is far more welcome and respected throughout the Americas," he said. "And we believe that has opened the door to greater economic and security cooperation with the countries of the region."
Cuba's Fidel Castro won't be at the Colombia Summit; Cuba is banned from participating. Venezuelan ailing President Hugo Chávez will be there, but don't expect Obama to shake his hand, as he did at the last summit in 2009. The only U.S. senator confirmed to attend is Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
On the way to the summit, Obama will give a speech at the port of Tampa, FL, to talk about trade and export opportunities between the United States and Latin America. He arrives in Cartagena the evening of the 13th and will have dinner with the other regional leaders. On Saturday, Obama will attend a "CEO Summit of the Americas" with Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The summit plenary sessions will run through the afternoon of the 14th. On the morning of the 15th, there will be a leaders' retreat, but not before the official photo is taken. Many are watching to see if Obama dons one of the signature "guayaberas" that are being tailored specifically for him to wear on his visit.
Before heading home, Obama will meet with Caribbean leaders and then have a bilateral meeting with Santos, a press conference, and one final event at a local church.
Clinton will stay on in the region, traveling to Brasilia April 16 and 17. On April 16, she will lead the U.S. delegation for the third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue. On April 17, Clinton will join with Rousseff at the first annual high-level meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which is an effort to share technology that reduces government corruption.
Clinton will then go directly to Brussels April 18 and 19 to participate in a joint meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers and to hold a bilateral meeting with Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders. She will also participate in a foreign ministers' meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on April 19.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department is supposed to be testing its high-security employees to see if they are getting high, but testing has fallen way below the required levels and no overseas diplomats are getting drug tested at all, according to a new internal report.
Former President Ronald Reagan established the rule back in 1986 that federal employees aren't allowed to use illicit drugs either on or off the job, due to the risk of coercion of employees entrusted with national security information, loss of productivity, and impairment of their health and well-being. The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual dictates that all department employees with a "secret" level or above should be subject to random drug tests because they posses sensitive information and mandates that the State Department have a detailed plan for drug testing.
But the State Department's plan doesn't include testing for anybody stationed overseas, even though more than 40 percent of the highly sensitive jobs are located outside the United States, the State Department's inspector general (IG) found.
"Moreover, the number of employees in sensitive positions subject to testing is only 1 percent, or approximately 190 employees, while the plan calls for 10 percent, or approximately 1,503 employees. Additionally, there are no formal procedures to ensure that all personnel selected for drug testing are in fact tested and that any employee who seeks a deferral of testing has a legitimate reason for seeking a deferral," the report stated.
"As a result, the Department cannot ensure that it is achieving its goal of having a drug-free workplace."
The IG made four specific recommendations which, if implemented, could mean that the party is over for diplomats who might be taking advantage of the local wares in places like Afghanistan, Thailand, and Colombia. The IG recommended that State develop and implement an overseas drug testing program, make sure that drug testing is actually random, develop a new methodology for drug testing to be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, and ensure "the Department is placing appropriate management emphasis and resources toward achieving the objective of a drug-free workplace."
The IG blamed the problem on the lack of program supervision and oversight by the drug program coordinator, who is a deputy assistant secretary for human resources, and the drug program manager, who is a nurse in the office of medical services.
Neither the Bureau of Human Resources nor the Office of Medical Services responded to the draft report.
The Cable reported yesterday that President Barack Obama waived penalties on several countries that recruit child soldiers for the second year in a row. Today, lawmakers moved to ensure that the administration won't keep funding governments that use child soldiers next year.
The administration waived penalties mandated under the Child Soldiers Protection Act (CSPA) against Yemen, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The administration didn't provide a justification for not penalizing South Sudan, because the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which was released on June 27 and triggers the penalties, names "Sudan," not "South Sudan," as an abuser. South Sudan was declared independent on July 9, 12 days after the report came out.
"South Sudan wasn't a country during the reporting period and isn't subject to the CSPA; there are no penalties to waive under the law," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable.
That explanation struck several congressional aides and human rights activists we spoke with today as too clever by half. After all, the TIP report was referring to use of child soldiers by the government of "Southern Sudan" and the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which hasn't stopped the practice and will receive $100 million of U.S. taxpayers' money this year.
"They're using a legal and technical loophole to continue to build up partnership with a government that needs to be reminded how serious this problem is," said Sarah Margon, associate director for sustainable security and peace building at the Center for American Progress. "It's exactly how not to establish the message that they need to set up their government with full respect for human rights and transparency."
"At the time the TIP report came out, it was obvious South Sudan was going to be an independent country so any responsible person would have taken that into consideration," one senior House aide told The Cable. "Apart from the law, the White House still had discretion to address the issue as a policy matter and it chose not to condition any of the aid on the SPLA completing its demobilization of child soldiers."
The administration made the case that Chad has made sufficient progress on the child soldiers issue, and is no longer subject to penalties. "We've seen the government take concrete steps over the last year to implement policies and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent future government or government-supported use of child soldiers," Vietor said.
"The U.N.'s Chad Country Task Force has reported no verified cases of child soldiers in 2011, and Chad has put in place safeguards to prevent further use or recruitment of child soldiers. The president's reinstatement of assistance to Chad reflects this progress," he explained.
But several activists noted that the United Nations and State Department both kept Chad on their list of countries violating international standards for child recruitment this year, and that international monitors' limited access in Chad calls into question anybody's ability to verify whether the government has stopped using child soldiers.
Several aides and activists were angry at the administration for failing to adequately consult or even inform them of the waivers before they were announced. Administration officials briefed congressional staffers and NGO leaders yesterday, and journalists not at all.
"It also says something about the State Department's willingness to engage with civil society actors," said Margon. "It's a black mark on them in their ability to work with friends and allies on these issues. Why alienate the people who want to work with you on this stuff? It just doesn't make any sense."
Congress has no intention of letting this scenario play out again next year. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, successfully added an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorization bill today that would force the administration to give Congress 15 days notice before issuing waivers for the child-soldier penalties.
The amendment would also expand the law to include peacekeeping funds given to violator countries (such as Somalia), and force the White House to show that countries are making progress toward eliminating the use of child soldiers before receiving a waiver. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and John Boozman (R-AR) have already introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Not all Capitol Hill staffers were completely unsympathetic to the administration's arguments, however.
One Senate aide referred to the progress noted by the Obama administration in Chad and the partial cut of U.S. military assistance in the DRC as "welcome steps -- steps that might not have occurred without the force of the Child Soldier Prevention Act," noting that they "will require serious follow up attention."
But overall, the administration's roll out of the decision was panned by the NGO and human rights communities, which see the administration's action as undermining the intent of the legislation.
"At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I've ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children," said Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy advisor for children in crisis. "This is a very weak decision by an administration paralyzed with inaction. And the worst part is that thousands of children around the world -- not the politicians in the White House or the State Department -- are the ones who will suffer."
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo will meet President Barack Obama today to renew the friendship between the two countries, and ask for help in fighting Honduras's drug war. The meeting comes two years after the Obama administration sided against the process that brought Lobo to power, before reversing itself and embracing the Lobo presidency.
Lobo sat down for an interview with The Cable on Tuesday to talk about his country's 2009 political crisis, the role of the United States in that drama, and the need for strong ties between Washington and Tegucigalpa, which he described as two like-minded democracies fighting together against drugs and for democracy.
"The United States is our most important foreign ally, it's our strongest relationship and it has been so historically," Lobo said. "That's the way it is and I'm sure it will continue to be so."
Back in 2009, the State Department sided strongly with former President Manuel Zelaya, who was seized by the military and taken out of Honduras in what some called a coup. Zelaya snuck back into Honduras in September 2009 and holed up in the Brazilian embassy while the Obama administration worked to restore him to power.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even met with Zelaya in Washington, suspended aid to Honduras, and revoked the visas of Honduran officials. Later, Honduras was cut off from Millennium Challenge Corporation assistance.
Eventually, it became apparent that the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, was winning the internal struggle and that new elections would take place. The administration began shifting its position in October 2009 and finally threw Zelaya under the bus when Lobo won the election and Zelaya rejected a deal that would have returned him temporarily to power.
Zelaya hurt his case and alienated the Obama administration when he starting accusing "Israeli mercenaries" of poisoning him with mind-altering gas and radiation while he was inside the Brazilian embassy.
But that's all water under the bridge as far as Lobo is concerned.
"The Unites States has always supported democracy and the rule of law. Whether it is Zelaya, whether it is Lobo, this is what the United States has always looked for," Lobo said. "They always said that as soon as there are elections and the Hondurans elect the president, the situation with Honduras would be the same as it had always been, and this is the way it happened."
Most U.S. trade and assistance to Honduras has been restored, although they are still not able to receive grants from the MCC.
We asked Lobo if he forgave the Obama administration for sticking with Zelaya for so long and initially opposing the process that led to his election.
"They haven't done anything to us!" Lobo exclaimed. "The United States was the only country that maintained an ambassador in Honduras and was extremely helpful in eventually finding a path out of the crisis."
Lobo is meeting with a host of senior officials in addition to Obama, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Attorney General Eric Holder. He'll also hold meetings with leaders at the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Dialogue.
His main goal is to seek financial and technical assistance for Honduras's worsening problem with drug cartels, which have increasingly moved into Central America due to the crackdown in Mexico.
"[W]e need to have help to do more investigations and we need to seek reforms in the national police as well as in the armed forces," Lobo said. "We have a strong ally in the U.S. because this is the market, this is where the consumers are. We are basically on the corridor and this we cannot change. We also seek the United States to launch an effective fight against consumption."
On Tuesday morning, Lobo had breakfast with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-DL). DeMint was key in shifting U.S. policy away from Zelaya and traveled to Honduras in the middle of the crisis, against the State Department's objections, to meet with Zelaya's foes.
DeMint told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday that the Lobo government had made progress in repairing its relationships around the world but that more attention from the United States was needed.
"If we focus on Mexico and Columbia, the criminals move to places like Honduras," DeMint said. "They are a good friend and they are very pro-American and there aren't many pro-American countries left in the world."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) is in Pakistan, but not only to negotiate the release of an American diplomat imprisoned there. Kerry's trip was designed to reset U.S.-Pakistan relations, which have been strained by recent events.
"We have many mutual interests. And that's what brings me here," Kerry said at a press conference upon arriving in Lahore on Tuesday, the city where U.S. diplomat Raymond Davis was arrested on Jan. 27 after fatally shooting two Pakistani men. The U.S. government has been demanding Davis be released from prison because, as an employee of the embassy there, he has diplomatic immunity. Kerry said that rescuing Davis, however, wasn't the focus of his visit.
"I'm here, because in the middle of events that seem to be focusing people narrowly, we need to remember and think about the things that we care about and that we're both fighting for the bigger, the bigger strategic interests," Kerry said. "And we cannot allow one thing or another that might divide us in a small way to take away from the things that unite us in a big way."
Behind the scenes, a high-level government source familiar with the discussions said that Kerry crafted the trip and his message on his own. President Obama asked Kerry to travel to Pakistan to deal with the Davis crisis, which has put elements of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on hold. But after conferring with senior foreign policy aides and Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani over the weekend, Kerry decided to travel to Pakistan for a "relationship saving" mission, not a "rescue" mission, the source explained.
For example, Kerry decided to travel first to Lahore, rather than Islamabad where the Pakistani government resides. Although he will meet with Pakistani government officials at the highest levels, including President Asif Ali Zardari, he wanted first to deliver a message to the Pakistani people directly in the town where the incident took place and tell them directly that the United States wasn't only interested in Davis's release.
"Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry left last night for Pakistan where he will meet with senior Pakistani government officials to reaffirm U.S. support for the strategic relationship between the two countries," committee spokesman Frederick Jones told The Cable.
Kerry told the White House before he left that he was not going solely to secure the release of Davis specifically, but to establish a path out of the crisis and ensure other areas of critical cooperation remained on track, the high-level government source said.
The reaction in Pakistan to Kerry's opening press conference among officials supportive of the relationship was overwhelmingly positive.
"He said all the right things on Pakistan," a senior Pakistani official told The Cable. "John Kerry is recognized by most Pakistanis as a friend of Pakistan. By sending him, President Obama has really helped what could have become a bigger diplomatic problem down the road."
The trip comes after a severe downturn in U.S.-Pakistan relations following Davis's arrest. Davis, a former Special Forces operative who speaks fluent Urdu, was being tailed by two suspected agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization on motorcycles when he shot and killed them through the windshield of his car. Davis claimed they brandished guns. A third Pakistani man was run over and killed by a U.S. embassy vehicle accidentally as it rushed to the scene.
The State Department has always maintained that Davis has diplomatic immunity but has been unclear on what his actually job was in Pakistan. The State Department said on Monday that Davis was a member of the "technical and administrative staff" at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and that he had been temporarily assigned to the consulate in Lahore.
The shooting has become a national scandal in Pakistan and an international crisis due to a combination of circumstances and political gamesmanship by opponents of the Zardari government inside Pakistan. When Davis was arrested, the Punjabi police did not write on his arrest forms that he claimed diplomatic immunity, a Pakistani government source said.
This source told The Cable that the region around Lahore is run by the brother of Nawaz Sharif, the top political opponent to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and the authorities there might have sought to take political advantage of the situation. By claiming that Davis had committed murder and pushing the story out to Pakistani media, Zardari was placed in the unenviable position of having to choose whether to defend an American murderer or risk the wrath of his countrymen.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi happened to be out of the country at the time. A Foreign Ministry official named Salman Bashir was left to make the decide whether to grant Davis immunity right away but decided it would be politically prudent to make no decision at all and let Davis remain in jail, the Pakistani government source said. Unclear messages from the U.S. side exacerbated the confusion.
"The political tragedy was that it was almost three days before the U.S. government claimed immunity, by which time the tensions had already been inflamed," the source explained.
It should be clear to the Zardari government that because Davis was on the U.S. embassy diplomatic list, he has immunity as a matter of international law under the Vienna Convention and should be released. But they are likely trying to avoid absorbing the political fallout of releasing him by passing the buck to the Pakistani courts, who will hear arguments about the Davis case on Feb. 17.
Meanwhile, the Davis debacle has stalled some U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled her scheduled meeting with Qureshi at the recent Munich Security Conference and the U.S. postponed a planned trilateral meeting between top officials from the U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is personally involved in trying to secure Davis's release. Haqqani has denied reports that Donilon threatened to kick him out of the country if Davis wasn't release,, but the White House has told the Pakistani government the issue must be resolved before full cooperation can resume.
The most probable outcome will be a face-saving deal whereby the Pakistani courts agree to release Davis, the U.S. government promises to investigate the incident as a criminal matter, and the U.S. pays some compensation to the families of the Pakistani victims.
In the end, the incident illustrates that the U.S. and Pakistani governments still have a ways to go in terms of working together to build stability into the relationship.
Either way, our Pakistani source said that there is plenty of blame to go around.
"[Davis] was wrong in carrying the gun. He was wrong in shooting the people. There definitely was some craziness in what he was doing," the source said. "But it's a clear and gross violation of international law to hold a diplomat."
Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers.
The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials. Today, they backed up their complaints in writing and called on the administration to mitigate the consequences.
"We believe that your waiver undermines the intent of the law and sends an unfortunate message that the administration is not seriously committed to ending the use of child soldiers," the groups wrote to Obama. "By giving a blanket waiver, the administration has also given up the significant leverage that the law provides to influence the child recruitment practices of its military allies."
A secret administration justification memo spelled out the reasons that the White House ultimately decided to forgo the sanctions for each country, explaining why cooperation with these troubled militaries was in the U.S. national interest. But critics countered that these interests could have been maintained without gutting the law.
"We recognize that the United States has a complex set of national interests in each of these countries, including for example, counter-terrorism concerns in Yemen," they wrote. "However, the administration could have accommodated these concerns while also showing that it was taking the Child Soldiers Prevention Act seriously and using its leverage strategically to effectively end the use of child soldiers."
In the administration's conference call reported first on The Cable , the National Security Council senior director Samantha Power argued that staying engaged with these militaries while "naming and shaming" them was actually the most effective way to make progress on the child soldiers issue.
In their letter, the human rights groups rejected that argument. "This approach has been ineffective thus far," they noted. "Continuing existing programs -- as the U.S. has done for years -- without other changes in the approach is unlikely to yield change."
The groups had some specific recommendations for how the administration could mitigate the damage caused by waiving the sanctions. They want the administration to establish benchmarks to gauge whether these troubled militaries are actually making progress on demobilizing child soldiers, publicly commit to not transfer lethal materials to these armies, and start engaging the NGO community and congressional offices about these issues in an organized and transparent manner.
Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, said the groups are also preparing some specific recommendations for the administration for each of the four countries.
So is the White House dealing well with the NGO groups involved, following last week's botched roll out? "They're certainly paying attention to this issue now," said Becker. "They say this is a priority and we would like to take them at their word."
The letter was signed by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the African Faith & Justice Network, the American Federation of Teachers, Amnesty International USA, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Caring for Kaela, Child Protection International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the 3D Security Initiative, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Foreign Policy in Focus , the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights First, Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota, Human Rights Watch, the International Labor Rights Forum, International Justice Mission, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, National Consumers League, the Open Society Policy Center, Oxfam America, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church USA, the Ramsay Merriam Fund, Refugees International, Resolve, the United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Church & Society.
The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that "naming and shaming" governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials' contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move.
The White House began a conference call on the issue Friday afternoon by apologizing to the NGO and Hill community for the decision's botched rollout, which was announced only through a short official presidential memorandum on Monday and then reported on by The Cable on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The call was off the record and not for press purposes, but a recording was made available to The Cable.
"This is a call that should have happened before you read about the administration's child soldiers' posture in the newspaper," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. "Given the way you all heard about the implementation of the statute, I can understand why some of the reactions that you had were prevalent."
Power defended the president's decision to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was set to go into effect this month, for Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Yemen. She argued that identifying these countries as violators while giving them one more year to stop recruiting underage troops would help make progress.
"Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," said Power, adding that this was the first year the Obama administration had to make a decision on this issue, so they want to give the violator countries one more year to show progress.
"In year one to just say we're out of here, best of luck, we wish you well... Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."
But Hill staffers and advocacy leaders on the call weren't buying what Power was selling. They were upset that they learned about the decision via The Cable, and challenged Power on each point that she made.
For example, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the law was passed two years ago.
"The law was enacted in 2008, so countries have had two years to know that this was coming down the pike," she said. "So the consequences of the law really shouldn't be taking anyone by surprise, so to say countries need a year to get their act together is really problematic."
She also disputed Power's contention on the call that "there's evidence that our diplomatic engagement and this military assistance has resulted in some changes."
"The U.S. has been providing training for years already with no real change on the ground," said Becker. "We haven't seen significant changes in practice so far from the engagement approach, so that seems to indicate to me we need to change the approach, maybe withholding programs until we see changes on the ground."
"I think the logic of engagement is something reasonable people can disagree on," Power responded. "There's probably empirical evidence on both sides."
Advocates on the call did acknowledge Chad's efforts on child soldier demobilization, but lamented that little or no progress has been seen in the DRC or with South Sudan's Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But they wanted to know: If the administration believes that the threat of the sanctions has caused progress, then how does removing that threat keep the pressure on?
"Why remove that leverage now when we've seen it's been so valuable?" asked Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America
Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, was one of several on the call to wonder why the administration decided to waive all sanctions, rather than using a part of the law that allows the continuation of military assistance to violator countries, along as that assistance goes toward military professionalization.
"Naming and shaming has not worked," he said. "You can give support under the law. Much of the aid that's even discussed in the justification memo that many of us have seen can still be given to these countries if they show a reasonable attempt to demobilize child soldiers."
Overall, Power wanted to point out that the administration is still intent on fighting the use of child soldiers and that waiving the sanctions doesn't mean that all pressures will stop. She promised that if these countries don't shape up, the administration will take a tougher line when reevaluating the sanctions next year.
Power repeatedly attempted to argue that the attention over the president's decision to waive sanctions was exactly the kind of public pressure needed to spur violator governments to change. However, her argument was complicated by the fact that the administration failed to tell anyone about the decision and announced it with no rollout or explanation whatsoever.
"I do think there's something different between what happened in 2008 [when the law passed] versus actually being named this week," she said. "And we're already seeing out in the field via our embassies a huge amount of discomfort and angst on the part of those countries about being branded in this way."
Power said at the end of the call that the administration plans to capitalize on the fallout from its decision. She said that the administration planned on "[u]sing the attention from this moment and the leverage of having abstained from having put the sanctions in effect right now and saying... ‘You're not going to get so lucky next time if we don't see some progress.'"
Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.
"I think it's unfortunate that the NGO community and those in Congress who wrote the law were not involved in its implementation," said Kody Kness, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the lead sponsors of the law. "I think that's a missed opportunity."
AFP / Getty Images
Most officials on Capitol Hill and human rights advocates received no warning or explanation prior to the Obama administration's quiet announcement Monday that it would waive sanctions against four countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers. However, an internal State Department document obtained by The Cable sheds light on the reasons behind the Obama administration's decision to pull back on a bill that Barack Obama himself co-sponsored as a senator.
The internal document shows that the administration prepared detailed justifications for its decision to waive sanctions against countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers, arguing that working closely with troubled militaries is the best way to reform them and that U.S. security depends on such relationships. But the administration didn't share those justifications with anyone outside the administration until after the decision had been made.
On Wednesday, after The Cable reported that Obama had decided not to cut off military assistance -- as required under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act -- against Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen, the White House offered only a terse explanation for the decision. Today, we bring you the internal State Department document dated Monday, Oct. 25 (PDF) that lays out the arguments State made in favor of not implementing these sanctions. The document is signed by Obama, but we're told it was prepared by State.
The State recommendation to Obama came over the objections of top officials in its Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) bureau, sources told The Cable, but the Political Military affairs bureau (PM) argued in favor of the waivers. We're also told that the Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA) and the Africa bureau (AF) were heavily involved in the discussions although it's unclear what their exact positions were inside the debate.
Hill staffers and child advocacy leaders who were provided the document after Monday's announcement told The Cable they were unsatisfied with both the decision and the explanation.
"We're going to ask for some greater explanation on some of these. To do the waiver on all of the countries certainly caught our attention," said one Democratic Senate aide involved in the issue. "When using American tax money to help governments that use child soldiers, there should be a pretty high bar."
Key Senate offices to watch are those of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), the original sponsors of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. There was broad bipartisan support for the bill when it passed by unanimous voice vote in 2008. Other key co-sponsors at the time included then Sen. Joseph Biden and then-Sen. Obama.
"This was landmark legislation that Obama supported as a senator and now he's undercutting it. It's really a shame," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch.
"The basic problem here is that the administration is taking an all-or-nothing approach. There's no doubt that the administration has legitimate interests in these countries. But they should have sought a middle ground that allows them to take the law seriously while still taking our cooperation with these countries seriously," she said.
The justification for each waiver largely tracks what a White House official told us yesterday, but adds new detail and context to the administration's position on the law and on the violator countries, all of which were identified in the State Department's own 2010 Trafficking in Persons report as systematically using underage troops.
For all the countries, the document states that progress on moving these armies away from using child soldiers is ongoing and that the United States vets anyone they work with directly to make sure they are of the proper age.
On Chad, for example, the document states that ongoing military training programs that would be cut if the law was enforced "are critical to training and influencing critical and future Chadian military leaders." Similarly, the document argues that cutting off military cooperation with the DRC would "jeopardize the United States' opportunity to positively affect the negative behavior patterns currently exhibited by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC)."
In Sudan, ongoing training of the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA) would be scuttled if the law were enforced, hurting that army's progress just before the South votes on a referendum to split from the North, the document states.
Cooperation with Yemen needs to continue because that government is a key partner in the fight against al Qaeda, the document argues. "[C]utting off assistance would seriously jeopardize the Yemeni government's ability to conduct special operations and counterterrorism missions, and create a dangerous level of in the country and the region," it says.
The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four toubled states on Monday, over the objections the State Department's democracy and human rights officials. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries -- all of whose armed forces use underage troops -- one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear.
The NGO community was shocked by the announcement, reported Tuesday by The Cable, that President Obama authorized exemptions from all penalties set to go into effect this year under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. The countries that received waivers were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen.
The failure of the administration to consult or even warn those groups that had worked hard to pass the law caused unease and concern around the advocacy community Tuesday. Child protection advocates worried that the administration was abandoning the tactic of threatening to cut off military assistance as a means to pressure abusive regimes to stop forcibly recruiting troops under the age of 18.
"This took us totally by surprise and was a complete shock to people who are working in the field," said Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, a children-focused humanitarian organization.
On Tuesday evening, a White House official explained to The Cable the reasons for the decision and the details of what it means for U.S. activity in the affected countries. Essentially, the administration decided that it could not ensure that the offending countries would be able to abide by the law in time -- the breach of which would have required Washington to pull funding. In the end, the administration's calculus weighed in favor of continuing to fund several ongoing assistance programs like military training and counterterrorism advising. They decided to give each country at least one more year to implement reforms before sanctions are brought to bear, according to the official.
"This is the first year that sanctions were to take effect and part of our thinking here has been to put countries on notice of these legal provisions that are taking effect for the first time and that progress is going to have to be made on these things if these countries are going to continue to receive assistance," the White House official said.
The official also noted that the Obama administration was keen to preserve their relationships with the governments in question and argued that engaging troubled militaries was the most effective way to encourage the reform the law was designed to bring about.
"We still think it's important to maintain a solid relationship with the governments there to ensure they provide protection to those folks," the official said. "One rationale for continuing the assistance is to help them address the very problem that is the source of the sanctions."
Inside the administration, however, The Cable has learned that there was a heated debate over whether to issue the waivers. Apparently, this debate was held inside the State Department, with the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons arguing against blanket exemptions. The bureau of Political and Military Affairs (PM) argued for the exemptions. The PM bureau's argument won the day and the State Department submitted recommendations to the White House, which issued the waivers.
The 2008 Child Soldier Prevention Act was originally sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and wrapped into a larger bill sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden. Durbin's office was not able to comment by deadline and Biden's office deferred to the White House.
Leading human rights activists involved in the issue were skeptical that letting abusive governments evade sanctions would have the effect of producing reform faster.
"This is the first year it's being enacted, so to waive everyone right out of the gate sends exactly the wrong message," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "By providing a blanket waiver, the U.S. is really giving up all of its leverage to force them to change their approach to using child soldiers."
She also criticized the official's contention that the abusive countries needed more time to become aware of the law, which was signed in December 2008. It became operative in June 2009 but couldn't go into effect until violator countries were identified in the State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which came out in June.
"If the State Department was doing its job, governments would have been well aware two years ago that this process was underway," said Becker.
The 2010 Trafficking in Persons report identified six countries that are systematically employing the use of child soldiers. In addition to the four that Obama waived sanctions on, Burma and Somalia are also implicated. But neither of those countries receive U.S. military assistance that could be cut off as a sanction, according to the law. Therefore, Obama's waivers have the effect of preventing the law from imposing any sanctions at all this year.
The White House official said when the next State Department report comes out in June 2011, there will be another assessment of whether to impose penalties on violator countries. He also hastened to underline that the waivers weren't issued to pave the way for new military sales to any of the countries found to be using child soldiers.
In Chad, the U.S. is engaged in counterterrorism activities but also is working with the government's armed forces to deal with the spillover of refugees from the crisis over the Sudanese border in Darfur. In the DRC, the U.S. is providing training of various types, military advisors, and also military vehicles and spare parts to the Congolese army. Over 33,000 child soldiers have been involved in the decade old civil war there and the country leads the world in the use of underage troops, according to UNICEF.
With regard to Sudan, other sanctions prevent the United States from helping the Khartoum government in the North, but the U.S. is giving military training assistance to the Southern People's Liberation Army, which could end up a national army if the South votes to separate in the January referendum. The SPLA has about 1,200 child soldiers, the official said, adding that cutting off such training would only undermine ongoing reform efforts.
Yemen is a recipient of significant direct U.S. military assistance, having received $155 million in fiscal 2010 with a possible $1.2 billion coming over the next five years. Yemen is also a much needed ally for counterterrorism operations. The government is engaged in a bloody fight with al Qaeda (among other separatist and terrorist groups), and estimates put the ratio of child soldiers among all the groups there at more than half. Nevertheless, "the president believes there are profound equities with Yemen in terms of counterterrorism that we need to continue to work on," the official told The Cable.
Several outside experts pointed out the existing law already contains an exemption that would permit the U.S. government to sanction abuser countries while still providing assistance that "will directly support professionalization of the military."
"This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like," said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. "The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury."
AFP / Getty images
The Obama administration on Monday announced a limited expansion of the list of entities that fall under U.S. sanctions on North Korea, as well as new sanctions designed to curtail the illicit activities of Kim Jong Il's regime and keep luxury goods out of the hands of the Hermit Kingdom's elite.
The new measures are a response to the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan as well as other recent provocations attributed to Pyongyang. Although the new measures specify just eight organizations and four individuals in North Korea, there are also new authorities the administration could use later to target other businesses and persons who aid the country's nuclear program and its involvement in arms proliferation, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, and illicit drugs.
"North Korea's government helps maintain its authority by placating privileged elites with money and perks, such as luxury goods like jewelry, luxury cars, and yachts," said Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a briefing with reporters at the Treasury Department Monday.
"The North Korean government also benefits from illicit activities including drug trafficking, counterfeiting U.S. currency, and selling counterfeit cigarettes. All of this activity makes up a crucial portion of the North Korean government's revenues. These activities are carried out by a global financial network that generates this income and procures the luxury goods for the government of North Korea."
President Obama added five organizations and three individuals to the list of targets under Executive Order 13382, which only covers those who are helping North Korea obtain weapons of mass destruction. The president also issued a new executive order that covers the regime's other illicit activities and named three organizations and one individual as targets.
One of the organizations targeted in the new executive order is the ultra secretive "Office 39" of the Korean Worker's Party, which allegedly produces methamphetamines, tries to procure yachts for North Korean elites, and uses Banco Delta Asia to launder its proceeds, according to the U.S. administration. In 2005, the Bush administration used the Patriot Act to single out BDA as a major money-laundering concern.
But there are no companies or persons targeted in today's announcement from any country outside North Korea, as had been advocated internally by ally South Korea, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Levey said the new rules will allow the president to add such entities to the list down the line, if warranted.
Asia experts welcomed the new measures as a small but constructive step in the right direction. They said that even though the measures have little chance of changing North Korea's behavior, by targeting the worst actors, some progress can be made.
"I think the administration has got this right," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security, who said that naming companies from countries like China would have only invited trouble.
"They want to maximize the potential to put pressure on North Korea and at the same time not unnecessarily damage the rest of your interests. Smart sanctions here means getting specific with the entities that are doing the dirty dealing," he said.
Moreover, designating these entities as targets places them as a higher priority for intelligence gathering, which has its own intrinsic benefit, Cronin said. "Sanctions don't have to ‘work' to be useful,".
Weston Konishi, associate director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, said that there have been so many rounds of sanctions against North Korea that there's not much added benefit to additional measures.
"I don't think they are going to fundamentally alter the equation here," he said, adding that the move was symbolically important to show solidarity with South Korea.
In addition to various U.S. unilateral sanctions, North Korea is also sanctioned by the United Nations, chiefly under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which seek to curtail North Korea's nuclear development and weapons proliferation, respectively.
Robert Einhorn, the State Departments special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control, said Monday that the administration's overall policy toward North Korea has not changed. The administration is still interested in engaging North Korea, but only if Pyongyang affirms its commitment to denuclearization and abides by its previously signed agreements.
"We're not prepared to reward North Korea simply for returning to the negotiating table, including by removing or reducing sanctions," said Einhorn. "We're not interested in talks for talks' sake."The timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the trip to North Korea by former President Jimmy Carter, who returned from Pyongyang last weekend with pardoned prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes, Einhorn said.
Cable readers already know the pernicious role that illicit cash can play in the U.S. politics, but it's nothing compared to what goes on in Japan, where the mafia organization known as the yakuza has deep ties to even the country's top leaders.
The recently-released Tokyo Vice, by American reporter Jake Adelstein, is the most in-depth look at the group published in English. In 2008, Adelstein broke the blockbuster story of top yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto, the "John Gotti of Japan," who made a deal with the FBI to rat out his cohorts in exchange for a liver transplant at UCLA.
He literally risked his life while writing Tokyo Vice and remains in constant danger as he continues to break news all over Japan. A great explanation of the yakuza can be found in this excerpt, titled, Bury Me In a Shallow Grave: When the Yakuza Come Calling (pdf).
Jake's introduction to the chapter, written for The Cable, explains how one current cabinet minister in Japan is alleged to have deep and longstanding ties to the mafia there:
This chapter from the book deals with the first time I ever met a yakuza boss as reporter and is also an introduction the role of the yakuza in modern Japanese society. I hope people find it elucidating.
As noted in the text, Japan's longest ruling political party, the Liberal Democrat Party, was originally founded with yakuza money. Associations with the yakuza don't seem to be much of a deterrent to holding political office in Japan.
Kamei Shizuka, the current Minister of Financial Services, according to the Weekly Economist, at one time received 40,000,000 yen from a stock-speculating front company Cosmopolitan--which was run by the notorious yakuza crime boss, Ikeda Yasuji. He also received political donations from the late nineties until 2001 from Kajiyama Susumu, a Yamaguchi-gumi Goryokai member and so-called emperor of loan sharks. Kajiyama himself laundered millions of dollars in Switzerland and the US. When I asked a reporter at one major newspaper why Kamei's past associations with yakuza members wasn't an issue--he simply replied, "The Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) makes it difficult to write about these things."
Minister Kamei is in the unusual position of being the de facto boss of the Financial Services Agency (FSA) in Japan, which is responsible for uncovering corporate malfeasance and making sure that the yakuza make no further incursions into Japan's already tainted financial markets...
The law was put in place after former Prime Minister Mori became distressed about numerous periodicals writing about his social connections to yakuza figures and touching upon the possibility that he had been arrested in a prostitution raid in his youth. He initiated the movement to create the law and the LDP delivered. In a way, the yakuza are responsible for that legislation---which has successfully muzzled the press and according to lawyers specializing in dealing with organized crime interventions in civil affairs, "has only protected politicians and made it increasingly difficult to discern whether a business is a legitimate entity or a yakuza front company."
In my humble opinion, if you want to understand the nitty-gritty of Japanese politics, you can't avoid dealing with yakuza issues on one level or another. There have been a great number of politicians with associations to them, though most of the politicians with yakuza ties usually conveniently kill themselves after an investigation begins. I've always taken this to mean that suicidal politicians somehow find it very enticing to do business with organized crime. I suppose you could argue that they actually wind up getting killed and having their suicides staged. Possible.
The other reason that yakuza can't be ignored in the political sphere is they have lots of money. The Yamaguchi-gumi, with 40,000 members is probably the second or third largest private equity groups in Japan and as the Japanese say, ????????? (jigoku no sata mo kane shidai) ---" Even in the depths of hell, money talks." When money talks, politicians listen.
Todd Levett is the latest congressional staffer to take up a post in the Obama administration, accepting an appointment as special assistant for the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).
Levett spent the past four years working for Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House committee on Homeland Security. As a senior advisor there, he "managed a number of policy oversight portfolios including the Secret Service and protective security issues ranging from continuity of government operations to national special security events, interagency coordination and engagements between DHS and the Defense Department, and international security affairs and antiterrorism programs," a committee spokesman told The Cable.
Now he joins the INL bureau, known as "drugs and thugs" because they deal with international narcotics control strategy and law enforcement development in conflict and post-conflict countries. There he will work for INL Assistant Secretary Amb. David Johnson on policy coordination and legislative engagement.
Levett previously worked as an aide to House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, in the front office of the U.S. Embassy in London, and with the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of today's briefing by spokesman Ian Kelly:
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.