Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voluntarily raised the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on a trip to the Arab world, comparing alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner to Muslim extremists. The State Department clarified that she was not saying Loughner should be treated as a terrorist.
"We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country," Clinton said during a "Townterview" (half town hall, half interview) with students in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The student had asked Clinton why many in the United States target the entire Arab world when assigning blame for the 9/11 attacks. In response, Clinton drew a comparison between Arab terrorists that perpetrate violence and Loughner.
"The extremists and their voices, the crazy voices that sometimes get on the TV, that's not who we are, that's not who you are, and what we have to do is get through that and make it clear that that doesn't represent either American or Arab ideas or opinions," Clinton said.
But Clinton wasn't advocating that the U.S. government treat Loughner in the same manner as it would treat a non-American Muslim extremist, which might include detention without trial, aggressive interrogations, or even extrajudicial killing.
"She was making remarks in the context of the environment she was in, talking about the parallels," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "I don't think she was talking about some kind of equivalency in terms of how we treat them. We have a legal due process here in terms of the Arizona incident."
According to U.S. law, "the term ‘terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
Some Americans, such as Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, have reportedly been stripped of their rights and put on U.S. government "kill lists" due to their alleged participation in terrorist activities.
Other Americans, such as Fort Hood shooter Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, have not been treated as terrorists. Hasan reportedly tried to make contact with al Qaeda and had ties to Awlaki dating back to the cleric's time living in Falls Church, VA.
Loughner himself addressed, albeit in a murky fashion, whether he can be classified as a terrorist in one of his many Youtube videos.
"[A] terrorist is a person who terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon," Loughner wrote. "If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem. You call me a terrorist. Thus, the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington today for a trip to the Gulf, where she will meet with senior Arab leaders and civic groups. Middle East peace, Iraq, and Iran will be at the top of her agenda.
Clinton travels to New York tonight to pay a visit to Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has been in New York since November for surgery on his back. She'll also meet tonight with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in New York, before embarking on a six-day trip that will take her to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.
"She is going to want to talk about Iraq," a senior State Department official said about the trip. "We obviously want to encourage [regional leaders in the Gulf] to be as supportive as possible to the new Iraqi government."
"On the peace process, I think it's time once again for the secretary to take stock on what is happening in the region," the official said. "She will want to talk a bit about where the Arab peace initiative is and she will want to get a better sense of how the region sees the situation on the ground both in terms of both the Palestinian Authority and also in terms of the talks... We are very eager to see progress made but it's an uphill battle."
Clinton will also sound out the Gulf rulers on their opinions toward Iran's recent actions, said the official. With the "P5+1" countries scheduled to hold another round of talks with Iran in Istanbul, it is an important moment to attempt to "unknot this problem that we find ourselves in with the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions," the official said. "She'll also want to take stock of where we are on the sanctions regime."
Clinton will hold bilateral meetings with senior leaders in all three countries. In the UAE, Clinton will meet with Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince, and his brother Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister.
This will be Clinton's first visit to Dubai, where she will meet with ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. She will also go to Abu Dhabi and visit the "green city" of Masdar, the futuristic neighborhood being built to run completely carbon neutral and waste free.
In Oman, Clinton will help celebrate the 40th anniversary of the reign of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who the State Department official described as "a long time friend of the United States and a valued partner who has made enormous changes on the ground in his country over the last 40 years. "
In Qatar, Clinton will meet with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir, and participate in the Forum for the Future, a meeting of government, civil society, and business leaders from around the region. There she will participate in a panel with a foreign minister, a civil society representative, and a business leader from the region.
The State Department is billing the trip as "an opportunity to showcase these other dimensions of U.S. engagement in the Middle East and the Gulf, particularly the emphasis we've placed on building partnerships beyond the government to government level, reaching out to civil society, reaching out to the private sector," said another senior State Department official. "That's really the key goal for everything that she's doing on the trip."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, where he will spend the entire week in the lead-up to the long-awaited Jan. 9 referendum that could lead to Southern Sudan's emergence as an independent country.
"Sudan is at a pivotal moment," Kerry said in a statement. "The United States played an important role in ending the civil war in Sudan and making the vote this Sunday possible. Our commitment to the Sudanese people will extend beyond the referendum, whatever its outcome, as we work to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in the region."
This is Kerry's fourth trip to Sudan since first traveling there in April 2009. He met with senior leaders from the north and the south during his last trip in October. Last September, Kerry introduced the Sudan Peace and Stability Act of 2010, which calls for the U.S. government to provide increased aid to Southern Sudan, develop contingency planning in case violence breaks out, review existing sanctions if the country splits into two, appoint a full-time senior official to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and develop a multiyear strategy for helping end the Darfur tragedy.
Meanwhile, the administration's Sudan team is working furiously to help set the conditions for a free and fair election and to ensure that the outcome will be honored by both sides. The administration team -- led by special envoy Scott Gration and Ambassador Princeton Lyman -- is involved in every aspect of the process. Also, teams from the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization are spread across Southern Sudan as part of the preparation and monitoring effort.
Gration said last month that one crucial effort was to determine the future status of Abyei, a disputed, oil-rich region that will not be voting next week because of disagreements over voter eligibility and logistical delays. If the country splits, the north and the south could both claim ownership of Abyei, turning the region into a potential flashpoint for renewed conflict.
"We are working with both sides to calm the rhetoric and put a plan in place that will give both sides reassurances," Gration said about the Abyei situation. "This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy. We're looking for a solution that leaves both sides angry but neither side mad."
The ruling regime in the north, led by indicted war criminal President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been accused by human rights groups of attempting to intimidate voters ahead of the polls. Although Bashir, who is currently in Juba, has said that he would honor the south's secession, the fear is that Bashir's government will not let the south secede and will use a variety of measures ranging from violence to legal challenges to resist implementing the election results.
Considering that the international community has so far been unable to force Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to honor his country's poll results, there's real concern that Bashir may prove to be an even bigger obstacle to next week's election in Sudan.
"Ivory Coast really is a test case. There is a great deal of diplomacy occurring now, with escalating costs and consequences for the government of the Ivory Coast for what they are doing," John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project, told ABC This Week's Jake Tapper. "Similarly in Sudan, there has to be a cost and a consequence. If the government of Sudan is going to undermine this referendum, if the government of Sudan is going to continue to undertake terrible human rights violations in Darfur, there has to be a diplomatic consequence."
Incoming House Foreign Affairs chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) defeated a bill Thursday evening that would have committed the United States to combating forced child marriages abroad, by invoking concerns about the legislation's cost and that funds could be used to promote abortion. The episode highlights the tough road that the Obama administration will face in advancing its women's rights and foreign aid agenda during the next Congressional session.
Non-governmental organizations, women's rights advocates, and lawmakers from both parties spent years developing and lobbying for the "International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010," which the House failed to pass in a vote Thursday. The bill failed even though 241 Congressmen voted for it and only 166 voted against, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) brought it up under "suspension of the rules." This procedure has the advantage of not allowing any amendments or changes to the bill, but carries the disadvantage of requiring two-thirds of the votes for passage.
Even still, supporters in both parties fully expected the bill to garner the 290 votes needed -- right up until the bill failed. After all, it passed the Senate unanimously Dec. 1 with the co-sponsorship of several Republicans, including Appropriations Committee ranking Republican Thad Cochran (R-MS), Foreign Relations Committee member Roger Wicker (R-MS), and human rights advocate Sam Brownback (R-KS).
If passed, the bill would have authorized the president to provide assistance "to prevent the incidence of child marriage in developing countries through the promotion of educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women." It would have also mandated that the administration develop a multi-year strategy on the issue and that the State Department include the incidence of forced child marriage during its annual evaluation of countries' human rights practices.
So what happened? Ros-Lehtinen first argued that the bill was simply unaffordable. In a Dec. 16 "Dear Colleague" letter, she objected to the cost of the bill, which would be $108 million over five years, and criticized it for not providing an accounting of how much the U.S. was already spending on this effort. The actual CBO estimate (PDF) said the bill would authorize $108 million, but would only require $67 million in outlays from fiscal years 2011 to 2015.
Ros-Lehtinen introduced her own version of the bill, which she said would only cost $1 million. But in a fact sheet (PDF), organizations supporting the original legislation said that Ros-Lehtinen's bill removed the implementation procedures that gave the legislation teeth. "Without such activities, the bill becomes merely a strategy with no actual implementation. And without implementation of a strategy, the bill will have an extraordinarily limited impact," they wrote.
Regardless, the supporters still thought the bill would pass because House Republican leadership had not come out against it. But about one hour before the vote, every Republican House office received a message on the bill from GOP leadership, known as a Whip Alert, saying that leadership would vote "no" on the bill and encouraging all Republicans do the same. The last line on the alert particularly shocked the bill's supporters.
"There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws," the alert read.
The bill doesn't contain any funding for abortion activities and federal funding for abortion activities is already prohibited by what's known as the "Helms Amendment," which has been boiler plate language in appropriations bills since 1973.
Invoking the abortion issue sent the bill's supporters reeling. They believed that it was little more than a stunt, considering that Republican pro-life senators had carefully reviewed the legislation and concluded it would not have an impact on the abortion issue.
Rep. Stephen LaTourrette (R-OH) called out the Republican leadership for invoking the abortion issue to defeat the forced child marriage act in a floor speech Friday morning.
"Yesterday I was on the floor and I was a co-sponsor with [on] a piece of legislation with [Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)] that would have moved money, no new money, would have moved money so that societies that are coercing young girls into marriage... we could make sure that they stay in school so they're not forced into marriage at the age of 12 and 13," LaTourette said. "All of a sudden there was a fiscal argument. When that didn't work people had to add an abortion element to it. This is a partisan place. I'm a Republican. I'm glad we beat their butt in the election, but there comes a time when enough is enough."
But it was too late for LaTourette and other Republicans who had fought hard for the bill, including Aaron Schock (R-IL). The bill is even less likely to pass next year, when the GOP will control the House and Ros-Lehtinen will control the Foreign Affairs committee.
The main author of the bill was Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), who was incensed when the bill failed in the House.
"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world," Durbin said in a Thursday statement. "These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill."
For the NGO and women's advocacy community, the implications of this defeat extend much further than just this bill. They also saw Republicans invoke the abortion issue when objecting to the International Violence Against Women Act and expect the new Congress to push for reinstatement of the "Mexico City Policy," which would prevent federal funding for any organizations that even discuss abortion.
"Any time a health bill that has to do with women and girls comes to the House floor, we're going to see a debate like the one we just saw," said one advocacy leader who supported the bill. "It's hard to imagine how any development bills are going to pass in this environment."
The protection of women and girls is a major focus of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who promised to elevate the issue Thursday when rolling out the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. She has said that forced child marriage is "a clear and unacceptable violation of human rights", and that "the Department of State categorically denounces all cases of child marriage as child abuse".
State's Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer has worked hard on the issue behind the scenes. But at the eleventh hour, when the going got tough, the bill's supporters said that the administration was nowhere to be found. In October, the White House decided to waive all penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, another Durbin led bill that the NGO community supports.
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 60 million girls in developing countries now between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they reached 18. The Population Council, a group focused on reproductive and child health, estimates that the number will increase by 100 million over the next decade if current trends continue.
The measure to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military may have to be dropped from the defense authorization bill in order to get the bill passed this year, said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).
"I'm trying to get the bill through Congress. I'm the committee chairman for a 900 page bill. ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is two pages of 900 pages. My focus is different from the media focus. I'm just trying to get a bill passed," Levin told reporters at the Capitol building on Tuesday.
While no final decisions have been made, Levin said one option was to separate the language on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the rest of the bill, and then making two separate efforts to pass the both pieces of legislation.
"I'm trying to get both done. And if I can't get both done, I want to get one of them done," Levin said.
He said no decisions will be made until Congress receives the military's survey on the effect of repealing the ban, details of which were leaked to the Washington Post. 70 percent of troops responding to the survey said that the effects of repealing the ban would be "positive, mixed or nonexistent."
Levin said he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to release the survey before the Dec. 1 scheduled release date, but hasn't heard back yet. He plans to hold hearings right after the survey is released and then figure out what to do next.
A long debate over the bill could mean that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won't be able to allot precious floor time to the bill during the lame duck session of Congress.
"I don't know if this is one of the things [Reid] is trying to do. There are a lot of things he is trying to do [in the lame duck session]," Levin said.
If and when the repeal language is removed from the defense bill, that doesn't mean the legislation is good to go. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, still has concerns about how the bill deals with Iraq reconstruction funding and language dealing with abortions in the military.
But McCain told The Cable that if the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language was removed, the rest of the issue could be worked out on the Senate floor through the regular debate and amendment process. But the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language has to be gone for good.
"If we have a commitment from the House that it won't be put in by the House and sent back, we can do it [this year]," McCain said.
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.
Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger will seek the chairmanship of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, according to her spokesman, ending rumors that she would forgo the post in favor of some other position.
Although no decisions have been made, until last night Granger was the ranking Republican on the panel and she is the clear frontrunner for the job. She would succeed current chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), who has served as chairwoman since 2006.
"Congresswoman Granger is interested in continuing on as chair of the state and foreign operations appropriations subcommittee," Matt Leffingwell, her press secretary, told The Cable Wednesday.
When power switches in Congress, a complicated game of musical chairs begins as senior members jockey for committee and subcommittee chairs. Just being the highest-ranking minority member on a panel doesn't mean one automatically takes over the chairmanship.
But if Granger does succeed Lowey, she will play a large role in writing the bills that appropriate money for State Department operations, USAID, foreign operations, foreign assistance, humanitarian assistance, and many other things. Those accounts all face unprecedented pressure next year as the GOP led Congress will be looking for spending cuts that don't have strong domestic constituencies.
Last month, we identified Granger as one of 10 Republicans who stand to be influential in the next Congress if the GOP won control of the House. Since then, we've received several e-mails from sources who had heard that Granger would forgo the subcommittee chairmanship to pursue leadership of another panel.
We've heard that Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), the third-ranking Republican on the panel, was eyeing the chairmanship with the expectation that Granger would step aside.
(Mark Kirk (R-IL), the second-ranking Republican on the subcommittee, was elected Tuesday night to become the junior senator from Illinois, the seat once held by Barack Obama.)
So how would subcommittee chairwoman Granger handle the responsibility of writing the State and foreign ops appropriations bill? Here's what we reported in October:
Although [Granger] supported the bill put forth this year by current chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), she criticized the increases for the foreign-ops budget, saying, "We also face the continued concern in our own country about our economy and the devastating effects of skyrocketing deficits and debt." She's a strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment, which doesn't bode well for foreign-aid funding in this dismal fiscal environment.
Granger also serves on the defense subcommittee, placing her at the intersection of the debate over how to balance the national security budget and shift resources from defense to diplomacy and development. Here she seems to favor the Pentagon, saying in June, "I want to be sure that we aren't increasing foreign aid at the expense of our troops." Her lack of support of international organizations was criticized by the group Citizens for Global Solutions, which gave her an "F" in its 2007 to 2009 rating. Granger is also on board with efforts to eliminate aid to countries that are not performing on internal reform, as she explained when expressing opposition to funding of the Senegalese government through the State Department's Millennium Challenge Corporation. "We can't just give out money and say we will put up with whatever you are doing," she said.
The committee leadership assignments won't be doled out for at least two to three weeks, our Hill sources report. But if Granger's bid is successful, she'll be instantly influential. The fiscal 2011 State and Foreign Ops bill still has not been completed by Congress, despite that the fiscal year began Oct. 1.
The stop gap funding measure that has been funding these programs since then, known as a "continuing resolution," expires in December. The lame duck Democratic led Congress is unlikely to be able to pass full appropriations bills on its way out the door, so they will likely pass another short term continuing resolution. That would leave the final work on the actual bill to the incoming class led by the GOP next year.
Wisconsin's Russ Feingold was no ordinary Democratic senator. He staunchly staked out unabashedly liberal positions on all things foreign policy and national security related, right up until his defeat Tuesday night.
Feingold is, or was, technically the third-ranking Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, after Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). With Dodd retiring, Feingold stood to become chairman if Kerry were ever tapped for secretary of state. In fact, the rumor around town is that the prospect of an independent-minded Feingold leading the panel worried the White House so much that it had negative implications on their consideration of Kerry for Foggy Bottom.
Even as a mere rank-and-file committee member, Feingold was more active on foreign policy than most. He had as many as five full-time staffers on the issues, we're told, which is more than double the contingent for the average senator. Feingold had an extensive foreign-policy agenda, the leading item of which was his call for the administration to set a flexible timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Feingold emerged after 9/11 as a champion of the liberal opposition to President George W. Bush's policies regarding the global war on terror. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001 when it first came up for a vote. He voted against giving Bush authorization to wage war in Iraq and pushed for withdrawal timelines throughout the war, often ignoring the wishes of Senate Democratic leadership. He introduced a resolution to censure Bush for violating Americans' civil rights through what he said was illegal domestic wiretapping.
Over the past two years, Feingold pleaded with the Obama administration to fulfill its promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He also used his perch as chair of the Africa affairs subcommittee to call for changes in U.S. policy toward Sudan. Whereas the House has a caucus of dozens of liberal antiwar lawmakers, in the Senate, Feingold led the few who shared his views and made sure those views entered the public debate.
On the economic front, Feingold resisted all free-trade agreements as well as Obama's efforts to relax export controls to countries like China and India. Those in the foreign-policy community who agree with those positions just lost their greatest advocate on Capitol Hill.
Notably, Feingold was also genuinely committed to bipartisanship. He famously voted for Attorney General John Ashcroft and voted against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner only days after Obama's inauguration. He also worked with John McCain to craft campaign finance-reform legislation.
With Feingold gone, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic roster is more centrist, just as the Republican side of the bench is set to become more conservative. With Dodd also leaving the Senate this year, that's a lot of institutional knowledge to lose in one night.
And if Kerry ever does become secretary of state, Feingold is no longer in the running to replace him. Kerry's departure would leave the job of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee up for grabs, with Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) as the early favorites.
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
As the sham Nov. 7 Burmese elections near, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia Subcommittee, is calling for the Obama administration to be more active in Burma and engage the country's military junta -- in order to prevent China from making Burma its client state.
Despite all the numerous failings of the Burmese junta and the limited results from the Obama administration's early outreach, the United States should keep on engaging the Burmese government -- even after what most expect will be severely flawed elections rife with human rights abuses, said Webb.
"We are in a situation where if we do not push some sort of constructive engagement, Burma is going to basically become a province of China," Webb said Wednesday morning at a breakfast meeting with Washington defense reporters.
"It does us no good to be out of there."
Webb, a former Navy Secretary with decades of experience in Southeast Asia, has been a thorn in the side of the State Department's Burma policy ever since the Obama team came to power. Before the State Department issued its new Burma policy, Webb was already at odds with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell about how strongly to engage the military dictatorship ahead of the upcoming elections.
Webb supported the administration's new Burma policy, which purported to mix engagement with pressure on the Junta to hold free and fair elections. But now, with Campbell admitting that the November elections will not be free or fair and with no real progress made on the engagement front, Webb is calling for a new push.
"The administration adopted a policy of smarter engagement with Burma… [but] I don't think the administration took advantage of the opportunities presented to it," he said.
Webb said there was a "big division" inside the State Department over whether to pursue more intensive engagement with Burma and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was inclined to try but ultimately yielded to pressure.
When asked how the U.S. could increase engagement with a regime behaving so badly, Webb criticized what he sees as a double standard in the administration's approach toward human rights -- and pointed to Beijing.
"When was the last time China had an election? How many political prisoners are there in China? Does anybody know? What's the consistency here?"
Webb visited Burma in 2009 and is the highest-ranking U.S. official to meet with Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's leader. But Webb cancelled a planned 2010 trip at the last minute due to rumors that revelations about Burma's nuclear ambitions were about to come to light.
After the elections, the administration should take another run at dealing with the Junta, even if they don't release Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, he said.
"We all respect Aung San Suu Kyi and the sacrifices she has made," said Webb. "On the other hand… How does the U.S. develop a relationship that could increase the stability in the region and not allow China to have dominance in a country that has strategic importance to the region?"
On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records -- despite their use of underage troops.
"I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the [Child Service Prevention Act]," President Obama wrote in a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the law, which prohibits U.S. military education and training, foreign military financing, and other defense-related assistance to countries that actively recruit troops under the age of 18. Countries are designated as violators if the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report identifies them as recruiting child soldiers.
The original bill was actually sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) before being added to a larger bill led by then Senator, now Vice President Joseph Biden. The only countries where the restrictions under this law are still in place are now Burma and Somalia.
The only reason provided in the memorandum was that Obama determined it was in the "national interest" to waive the law for those four countries.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the Obama administration has decided that working with militaries that recruit child soldiers actually helps solve the problem more than ignoring those militaries would.
"In each of these countries, we are working with the governments to stop the recruitment of child soldiers or demobilize those who may already be in the ranks," Crowley explained. "These countries have put the right policies in place, but are struggling to effectively implement them. These waivers allow the United States to continue to conduct valuable training programs and by working with these militaries help them meet international norms."
So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.
"We will continue to work with these governments to reduce the recruitment or use of child soldiers within the ranks of their armed forces," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mailed statement. "We will also generally endeavor to prevent foreign security forces that recruit and use child soldiers from benefitting from any U.S. foreign assistance."
If you have any insight on the reasons behind this decision or its implications, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the administration attempts a full-court diplomatic press in Sudan in the final stretch before the January referendum on splitting the country, Congress is also ramping up its involvement in the issue, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) leading the effort.
Kerry is on his way to Sudan now and will be there throughout the weekend, where he will hold high-level meetings with government officials representing both the North and South in Khartoum and Juba. Kerry previously traveled to Khartoum and Darfur in April 2009.
"Sudan is at a pivotal moment. Every reliable source indicates that Southern Sudan will vote for separation, dividing Africa's largest country and taking with it some 80 percent of known Sudanese oil reserves," Kerry said in a statement. "The Sudanese in the North and the South must seize this moment and address the difficult issues that could seriously disrupt the fulfillment of the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which included provision for the referendum, and lead to unnecessary violence. America must help North and South Sudan find a peaceful path forward."
Last month, Kerry introduced the Sudan Peace and Stability Act of 2010, which calls for the U.S. government to provide increased aid to southern Sudan, develop contingency planning in case violence breaks out, review existing sanctions if the country splits into two, appoint a full-time senior official to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and develop a multi-year strategy for helping end the Darfur tragedy.
In an op-ed last month, Kerry clearly stated his position that the January referendum can't be delayed, as some officials in the North are now saying is necessary.
"The deadline for the Southern referendum promised in the peace agreement, January 9, 2011, is not negotiable," he wrote. "But exactly how the North and South will simultaneously separate while remaining interconnected must be."
Kerry has not staked out a clear position in the Obama administration's long-running internal debate on how tough the United States should be on President Omar al-Bashir's government, which continues to propagate atrocities in the run up to the poll. The administration has promised to employ both incentives and pressures on Bashir, but officials are divided over how to balance these policy tools.
For anyone interested in the administration's latest thinking on Sudan, there will be a briefing at the State Department's Foreign Press Center Friday morning with Special Envoy Scott Gration, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson (Hey-oh!), and NSC Senior Director Samantha Power.
With the Nobel committee set to announce its selection for the 2010 Peace Prize on Friday, speculation has mounted that it will be awarded to one of two prominent activists, hailing from Afghanistan and China. An American is not among the frontrunners for the prize, experts say.
One of the organizations closest to the process (both in mission and geography) is the Peace Research Institute of Olso (PRIO). Director Kristian Berg Harpviken offered his predictions over who would win this year's prize in an event Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace. His top three contenders are: female Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
Samar is his top choice because this is a crucial time in the formation of the Afghan civil society and the establishment of a human rights regime, which the Nobel committee might want to capitalize on, he said.
"I think a prize to Sima Samar would put considerable pressure both on the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular, and on the international community," Harpviken said. "It would make it considerably harder to leave human rights issues by the roadside in Afghanistan and it would be much more difficult for the president... to continue to neglect her and the issues that she stands for."
PRIO's recommendations have hit the nail on the head twice in the last five years, but are based on informed speculation, not any insider's knowledge, he cautioned.
One contender who is leading the odds makers' prediction but is not on Harpviken's short list is imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose nomination has already sparked very public opposition from the Chinese government.
"I don't see it as very likely that he will be awarded the prize," Harpviken said, arguing that 2008 would have been a better year to focus on Chinese human rights violations, in response to Chinese government oppression surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
The committee is sensitive to Chinese government pressure, he said. "The prize for a Chinese dissident would have consequences and I don't think that goes down too well with the committee," he said. "You have a certain level of sensitivity to what that could provoke."
Similarly, since the chairman of the committee Thorbjon Jugland is also secretary general of the Council of Europe, he might not be enthusiastic about choosing a Russian dissident for the prize, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, according to Harpviken.
There aren't any quotas, but the Nobel committee does like to achieve some demographic balance with its awards, he explained. For example, since a woman hasn't been awarded the Peace Prize since Wangari Maathai won it in 2004, women like Samar might have a better chance this year.
One thing Harpviken is pretty confident about is that no American will win the prize, especially after the controversial selection last year of President Barack Obama.
"The fact that one fourth of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been Americans would effectively rule out American candidates this year," he said.
The process by which the five-member committee selects the nominee is extremely opaque. What we do know is that there were 237 candidates nominated. 18 of those have been confirmed by name while another 23 are rumoured to be on the list.
The selection committee is made up of five Norwegian politicians selected by the Norwegian Parliament. Chaired by Jugland, the committee also includes Kaci Kullman Five, Sissel Ronbeck, Inger-Mari Ytterhorn, and Agot Valle.
"It's a bit problematic that the parliament appoints membership in this way. I don't think any of these members are appointed first and foremost for their expertise on matters of war and peace," Harpviken said
Some of the other top contenders Harpviken mentioned include the International Crisis Group, Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, and Richard Goldstone, the author of a controversial U.N. report on the 2006 Gaza war.
The State Department has been stepping up both its rhetorical and punitive actions against Iran, but the question still remains whether the administration will go as far as to sanction companies based in countries where relations are delicate, especially China.
Last week, the United States announced two steps to increase pressure on Iran: President Obama signed an executive order on Sept. 29 targeting eight Iranian individuals for serious human rights abuses, and the State Department announced on Sept. 30 that it was imposing sanctions on the Switzerland-based Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO) due to its involvement in the Iranian petroleum sector. These actions are based on the Iran sanctions legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last June.
On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China, one in Singapore, and one in the UAE.
There are some positive signs, however, that international pressure is having an effect on companies' willingness to do business in Iran. Several firms -- hailing from Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, India, and the United Kingdom -- told the GAO that they are halting their refined petroleum business with Iran.
But leading senators aren't convinced that the holdouts are planning to follow suit. They are pressing the Obama administration to use the new sanctions law to punish those who won't go along -- especially if they are from China.
"The GAO report released today provides encouraging evidence that the comprehensive sanctions legislation passed by Congress earlier this year is indeed persuading many companies to stop selling gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran. We applaud those firms that have taken this responsible and important step," said Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) joint statement. Lieberman and Collins had requested the GAO report in July.
However, the success of sanctions legislation has only made it "even more imperative" that the Obama administration pressure countries that have maintained their ties in Iran, the senators stated. "We are particularly concerned that the majority of the companies that GAO identifies as still selling gasoline to Iran are in China. We urge the Administration to complete its own investigations swiftly and enforce the sanctions law, comprehensively and aggressively, against any violators," the statement read.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told reporters last week that the State Department was looking at additional firms' business in Iran and would consider more direct sanctions through a two-step process that takes up to 180 days. But he added that the administration was first trying to negotiate with foreign governments to stop the companies' activities in advance of imposing penalties.
"We are following the process outlined in the statute," said Steinberg. "If we find credible evidence [of firms violating the sanctions], then we go to the next stage, which is to conduct an investigation ... and then we would make a decision," Steinberg said.
One of the main concerns on Capitol Hill is that, as countries pull out from Iran, other countries will take over contracts, thereby nullifying the effect of the sanctions and enriching themselves at other countries' expense -- a practice known as "backfilling."
The administration and Congress worked hard to convince Japan and South Korea to impose unilateral measures against Iran, which they did, but there's particular concern that China will simply come in and take over those contracts.
Kyl and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week on this very issue, pointing out reports that China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) replaced the Japanese firm Inpex and agreed to invest around $2 billion to develop Iran's South Azadegan oil fields last year.
"The Administration, by continuing to ignore blatant violations of our sanctions laws by Chinese companies, has undermined our sanctions regime on Iran. It has sent the message to our friends and allies -- many of which have taken the difficult steps to reduce their economic ties with Iran -- that others will be let off the hook," Kyl said Sept. 30.
"If President Obama genuinely believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable, he must stand by those words and apply the authority Congress has given him to punish all who are violating U.S. sanctions laws, particularly China," said Kyl. "Time is of the essence."
Steinberg addressed the issue of backfilling in his briefing, saying that such activity would provoke actions under the sanctions legislation. "We've made clear to all our international partners that we are strongly discouraging substitution. And of course, were there to be substitution that came within the ambit of the act, it would raise questions under the act," he said.
Bob Einhorn¸ State's senior advisor on Iran and North Korea sanctions, is the man responsible for delivering that message and he traveled to Beijing last week to press the Chinese not to undermine the sanctions. It's not clear yet if he was successful.
In a July 29 hearing, Einhorn referenced a previous GAO report that identified 41 foreign firms with a petroleum interest in Iran. "There are a number of entities that are very problematic. I have to say that a number of them have been engaged in sanctionable activity," he said in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.
Complicating matters are the persistent rumors that China may have secured some type of immunity from additional sanctions as part of their agreement to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which established relatively benign sanctions against Iran as punishment for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
Undersecretary of State William Burns said at an Oct. 1 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department had competed an internal review of the companies noted in the GAO report and would make more determinations soon, but he cautioned not to expect too many companies to be singled out for punishment.
"There are probably -- there are a number of cases, less than 10, in which it appears that there may have been violations of the Iran Sanctions Act. Most of those appear to involve activities that have stopped, in other words, involving companies that have pulled out of business in Iran, but there are a couple that appear to be ongoing," he said.
Capitol Hill observers have been encouraged by the administration's recent moves -- but are still not convinced they constitute enough of a commitment to increasing pressure on Iran. Staffers say that the administration's new forceful tone and rhetoric are a marked improvement, even if they are only fulfilling the actions required by the sanctions legislation.
What's clear is that the administration is not yet finished implementing sanctions against firms doing business with Iran, and Congress will be pressing it not to back down from punishing companies from countries that may take retaliatory measures.
"Many in Congress are worried that the administration will fall for Iran's latest bid to buy a reprieve from sanctions by appearing interested in negotiations," said one senior GOP senate aide. "Congress will not let up on the pressure on the administration to go after Iran and those who are supporting it, namely, the Chinese."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to vote yesterday on a bill to drastically expand U.S. government support to end violence against women around the world. Before that could happen, however, there was to be a debate over GOP attempts to add broad new restrictions on government funding for abortions.
But neither the debate nor the vote happened. The meeting was cancelled because too many senators were out campaigning.
"We can't get a quorum [to hold the meeting] because Senator Boxer has a debate, Senator Feingold is not here, and some Republicans have a caucus," Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), told The Cable.
Ironically, Boxer has spoken out forcefully for the legislation, called the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), at past meetings. But her absence Wednesday contributed to a delay that will push consideration of the bill until after the Nov. 2 midterm elections and probably until next year, when the political makeup of the Senate will have changed dramatically.
The legislation would give expansive new authorities to the State Department and the Defense Department to fund all types of organizations that are working to combat violence against women and girls in various countries.
This issue is a key priority of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and it constitutes a rampant problem throughout the world. In Congo, for example, U.N. peacekeepers have been completely unable to stop widespread rape by warring militias.
But the bill cannot come to a vote until committee members debate a Republican amendment prohibiting any organization receiving U.S. government funds from performing or promoting abortions in any way, even with money obtained from other sources.
That is what's been known since 1984 as the "Mexico City Policy," named for the city where President Ronald Reagan first announced it. President Clinton rescinded the policy in 1993, President Bush reinstated it in 2001, and President Obama rescinded it again in 2009.
This time, the man trying to reinstate it is Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who was planning to offer this amendment to the IVAWA at the SFRC business meeting scheduled for Wednesday. He talked about his amendment in an interview Wednesday with The Cable.
"It's designed to make sure that the numerous NGOs and private charitable entities that are empowered by this act do not pay for or advocate for abortions," Wicker said, adding he didn't know if the amendment would pass.
Democrats currently control the Senate and therefore the committee, so could seemingly vote down Wicker's amendment. Kerry said he had prepared another amendment that would protect the current policy.
But Bob Casey (D-PA), one of the Democrats on the committee, is pro-life and told The Cable that he also has prepared language to add to the bill that's not quite the same as Wicker's but still places new restrictions on abortion funding.
If the bill had been approved by the committee Wednesday, it could have been passed by the full Senate. Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are sponsors of the bill, meaning that even if Casey voted no, Democrats could gather the 60 votes needed to close debate and approve the bill.
But since that is now impossible this year, passing the bill is expected to become even more challenging following the midterm elections, when more Republicans are expected to be in the Senate and on the SFRC. When senators return next year, they may have to make further concessions to Wicker and others on the abortion issue in order to get enough votes. Or they may just abandon their attempts to pass new laws to protect women from violence altogether.
What's clear is that the abortion issue needs to be resolved before the bill can move forward. "Seems to me that we should solve this issue first, because there a lot of good things in this bill that I support," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN).
By not showing up for Wednesday's meeting, pro-choice and pro-women advocates like Boxer and Feingold may have assured that this will not happen.
UPDATE: Committee sources now tell The Cable that Kerry intends to bring up the bill during the November lame duck session after the election. If he is able to do that, Wednesday's delay won't have a negative effect on the progress of the bill, at least as far as the committee is concerned.
As for the full Senate vote, that was never really a possibility before recess anyway, these sources report, because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has made it clear he will place a hold on the bill unless an offset is found for the money it authorizes, meaning that passage by unanimous consent would be off the table and floor time would be needed for a debate and vote on the bill.
An Israeli government official sends along this photo that he contends shows the only "humanitarian" goods found aboard the Irene, a ship of Jewish activists who tried to break the Gaza blockage.
The photo and others like it show four small backpacks with assorted toys for young children, such as coloring books, painting kits, and small dolls. The Israeli official points to the items as evidence the sole purpose of the mission was a desire to create a confrontation with the Israeli forces that are enforcing the blockade of Gaza.
"The photos show that his was another example of an unnecessary provocation that has nothing to do with helping the people of Gaza or supplying them with humanitarian aid," the official said.
The Israel Defense Forces boarded the Irene Tuesday. The IDF said the interception was peaceful, but some of the activists claimed that Israeli troops employed violence, including the use of tasers. The ship set sail from Famagusta, Cyprus, and had 10 activists on board: 5 Israelis, 3 Brits, 1 German, and 1 American, all of whom were Jewish.
The South Korean government announced a series of sanctions against Iran on Tuesday after intensive lobbying from the Obama administration.
The new measures, which target Iran's energy and banking sectors as well as specific Iranian bad actors, follow similar moves by Japan last week. They are also in line with measures imposed by the European Union last month, though not quite as extensive as the administration had proposed to Seoul.
Regardless, the administration and members of Congress who are pushing for countries to put more pressure on Iran hailed the announcement, noting that South Korea moved forward despite the potential cost to its domestic industries.
"I know that this was not an easy or cost-free decision for the ROK government, either politically or economically. But it is precisely Seoul's willingness to shoulder rather than shirk its international responsibilities that confirms the Republic of Korea's emergence as a global leader," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, in a statement.
Japan has the third largest economy in the world, South Korea ranks as the eleventh largest, and both countries have major business interests in Iran -- especially in the energy sector. The new measures would prevent the initiation of any new joint business ventures but allow existing projects to continue.
For the administration and its allies in Congress, the South Korean and Japanese sanctions announcements reaffirm their strategy of using the U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran, which was passed on June 9, as a framework for taking additional steps aimed at convincing Iran to address the international community's concerns about its nuclear program.
The coordination is a positive sign of cooperation between Washington and its two most important East Asian allies. At the same time, Iran watchers note that Beijing stands to profit if Chinese companies move to fill the demand gap created by the South Korean and Japanese sanctions.
Lieberman is warning that if Beijing undermines the new sanctions, Congress will move to enforce sanctions against Chinese companies using authorities provided in the recent U.S. sanctions legislation.
"Chinese companies have unfortunately in the past been allowed by their government to pursue their commercial self-interest in Iran, exploiting the restraint of other countries," Lieberman said. "If this trend continues, China will isolate itself from the responsible international community in Asia and around the world."
Behind the scenes, State Department and Treasury officials had been working hard to encourage the South Korean and Japanese governments to adoptthe strongest measures possible. This effort has been led by Stuart Levey, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, and Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control.
Einhorn and the NSC's Daniel Glaser traveled to Tokyo and Seoul last month, and a Congressional staff delegation visiting Seoul and Tokyo last week also was partially focused on the push for strong sanctions language.
National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers, the NSC's Tom Donilon, Asia Senior Director Jeffrey Bader, and Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell were in Beijing last weekend and the topic of Iran sanctions was also on their agenda.
The main hub of Iranian financial activity in South Korea is the Seoul branch of Bank Mellat, a Tehran-based bank that has already been targeted by both the United States and the European Union. South Korea only agreed to a 60-day suspension of Korean dealings with Bank Mellat Seoul, with a promise to reevaluate after. Washington had wanted a total freeze.
Iran watchers on Capitol Hill said the temporary suspension would have the desired effect by making it clear to investors they should not do business with Bank Mellat in Seoul.
"The fact is they are taking action against Bank Mellat and they are embedding this action within a broad framework of other actions," said one GOP Senate aide. "It's very possible that everybody and their brother is going to run for the exits... that bank is going to be kryptonite."
Levey and Einhorn have also been working hard on the recently announced new U.S. sanctions on North Korea, a topic in which both Japan and South Korea have a vital interest. Aides said that, while the two efforts weren't directly linked, there are indirect links in that Iran and North Korea are involved in some of the same illicit activities.
"There is a tie in the sense that North Korea and Iran actively cooperate on a range of illicit proliferation-related activities," said one Congressional staffer close to the issue. "That's a linkage that both the Koreans and the Japanese recognize and appreciate."
UPDATE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also praised the new sanctions and saw them as a message to China. He tweeted, "Korea adopted strong new sanctions on Iran today. Japan did the same last week. China should follow their good example of global leadership."
A Florida group's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 could hurt the international mission in Afghanistan and put allied troops at risk, the head of NATO said Tuesday.
"I strongly condemn that. I think it's a disrespectful action and in general I really urge people to respect other people's faith and behave respectfully. I think such actions are in strong contradiction with all the values we stand for and fight for," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "Of course, there is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops."
Rasmussen's comments came just one day after Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus issued a statement criticizing the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, which plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book for 10 reasons they explain on their website.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Petraeus said.
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the head of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, told CNN that the issue was already a hot topic of discussion among Afghans and said, "We very much feel that this can jeopardize the safety of our men and women that are serving over here in the country."
The Associated Press reported that hundreds of Muslims in Kabul have already rioted in protest of the planned Koran burning.
Rasmussen is in Washington to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House Tuesday afternoon. Topping the agenda are metrics for assessing progress in Afghanistan, as well as preparations for the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon in November.
In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Rasmussen expressed guarded optimism about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, where about 40,000 NATO troops are fighting alongside American soldiers and marines.
Rasmussen said he agreed with President Obama's decision to begin the transition of authority over security matters from allied forces to the Afghan government, including troop withdrawals, in July 2011. He said the pace of withdrawals were to be determined by conditions on the ground, and that the goal was to complete the transition by the end of 2014.
"I can tell you when it will begin, I can tell you when it would be completed, but I can't tell you exactly what will be the time differences between these two points," he said about the transition, predicting an announcement regarding the beginning of the transition at the Lisbon conference.
He acknowledged that there is an ongoing process to identify which provinces to transition to Afghan control first, and what metrics to use in judging progress on goals. He said it was premature, however, to say which provinces might be ready first or what specific metrics might be used.
"We will not leave until we have finished our job... A handover doesn't mean an exit," he said. NATO forces will have an ongoing role, which will include the presence of a base in Kabul that will allow them to continue to provide support at some level in perpetuity, he said.
On the ever-puzzling issue about what to do regarding Afghan government corruption, Rasmussen said that the international community must keep up political pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai but said that he believes Karzai is sincere about cooperating with the NATO-led coalition on this issue.
"He realizes that it is a prerequisite for gaining the trust of his own people that he and his government fight corruption determinedly," he said. "I really do believe he will do what it takes."
Rasmussen said the Lisbon conference will address a host of issues, including tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO cooperation on missile defense, and cyber warfare. He also endorsed a NATO missile defense shield and extended an offer to Russia to participate. (Russia has shown little enthusiasm for missile-defense cooperation.)
On nuclear weapons, Rasmussen said that while he shared Obama's goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, for the time being nukes will remain in Europe as part of NATO's posture. He said the conference will not come out with specific numbers for the reductions of nuclear weapons based in Europe.
"We will not give up nuclear capabilities as a central part of our deterrence policy," he said.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to publicly denounce the impending trial of a journalist and blogger facing execution at the hands of the Iranian regime.
The journalist, Shiva Nazar Ahari, who has been imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison since December, goes on trial Sept. 4 for crimes such as "anti-regime propaganda," "acts contrary to national security through participation in gatherings," and "enmity against God." The last charge can carry a death sentence.
Her activism and defense of political prisoners, which included acting as the spokesman for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, has raised the ire of the Iranian government for years. Conservative writers have been calling on President Obama to personally call for her release.
"I am urging you and President Obama to press the Iranian regime for the immediate release of Ms. Ahari ... It is crucial for the United States to advocate for brave Iranian citizens like Ms. Ahari, and I hope you will do all you can to secure her release." Brownback wrote to Clinton Aug. 31. "Obviously, time is of the essence."
According to the State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report on Iran, authorities arrested Ahari and two of her colleagues from the Committee for Human Rights Reporters on Dec. 20 as they were headed to Qom for the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had been one of the leading spiritual figures behind Iran's reform movement.
"According to human rights organizations, authorities arrested seven of the nine leaders of the organization during the year and pressured the group to close its Web site," the report said.
Clinton did call for Ahari's release in June, on the one year anniversary of the highly disputed Iranian presidential election that sparked a wave of violence and suppression. She also called on Iran to release human rights defenders Narges Mohammadi, Emad Baghi, Kouhyar Goudarzi, Bahareh Hedayat, Milad Asadi, and Mahboubeh Karami, as well as the three American hikers who have been detained without charge for over a year and a missing former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007.
The State Department has been stepping up its public advocacy on behalf of imprisoned Iranians lately. Clinton gave her first public condemnation of the detention of Baha'i faith leaders last month. None of the political prisoners or hikers has, as of yet, been released.
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.
The State Department's top spokesman cautioned reporters Tuesday not to take snippets of edited remarks on the Internet by the "Ground Zero mosque" imam and use them to brand him a radical, lest they repeat the mistakes made by the media in calling former USDA official Shirley Sherrod a racist based on edited clips of her promoted on conservative websites.
Imam Feisal Rauf, the spiritual leader of the proposed Park 51 community center in lower Manhattan, is on his State Department-sponsored trip to the Persian Gulf right now, giving speeches in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates about what it's like to be a Muslim in America.
Rauf has been traveling on behalf of the department since 2007 on trips sponsored by both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. He belongs to the progressive Sufi sect of Islam and has been praised as a bridge-builder even by conservative pro-Israel bloggers, such as the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who has had extensive interactions with him.
But activists who oppose the Park 51 project have pointed to various statements by Rauf to build the case that he's dangerous radical. For example, yesterday Pamela Geller of the blog Atlas Shrugs posted a clip of excerpts from a speech Rauf gave in 2005. Those excerpts include Rauf saying:
We tend to forget, in the West, that the United States has more Muslim blood on its hands than al Qaida has on its hands of innocent non Muslims. You may remember that the US-led sanctions against Iraq led to the death of over half a million Iraqi children. This has been documented by the United Nations. And when Madeleine Albright, who has become a friend of mine over the last couple of years, when she was Secretary of State and was asked whether this was worth it, said it was worth it. [emphasis Geller's]
P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, told reporters Tuesday that they shouldn't be quick to take those remarks out of context.
"I would just caution any of you that choose to write on this, that once again you have a case where a blogger has pulled out one passage from a very lengthy speech. If you read the entire speech, you will discover exactly why we think he is rightly participating in this national speaking tour."
The Cable asked Crowley directly, "Is he the Muslim Shirley Sherrod?"
Crowley responded, "That's a good cautionary tale for everybody."
The University of South Australia's Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre has the full transcript and full audio recording of Rauf's 2005 remarks. Here are some excerpts not posted by the Atlas Shrugs blog:
On the bonds between Islam and Judeo Christianity:
We are united with Christians and Jews in terms of our belief in one God. In the tradition of the prophets. In our tradition of scriptures. The Jewish prophets, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist and Mary are in fact religious personalities and prophets of the Islamic faith as well...
From the point of view of Islamic theology, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history, the vast majority of Islamic history, it has been shaped or defined by a notion of multiculturalism and multireligiosity, if you might use that term. From the very beginning of Islamic history Islam created space for Christians of various persuasions, of Jews and even of Muslims of different schools of thought within the fabric of society.
On religious freedom:
A necessary part of this is to embrace and to welcome and to invite the religious voices in the public square, in the public debate, on how to build a good society. So multiculturalism, in my judgment, involves not only differences of culture and ethnicity but also multireligiosity, and that's where the challenge and the rub comes in for many because there is a perception that multireligiosity must mean the potential conflict between different religious voices in the public square. I, for one, believe that that is not in fact the case.
On religious tolerance:
[O]ur law, our sense of justice, our articulation of justice, must flow from these two commandments of loving our God and loving our neighbour, and if we are not sure of how to articulate the love of God in the public square we certainly can allow each person and each group of each religious group to choose to love God in the vernacular and in the liturgy that it chooses and it prefers, but it gives us a broad basis of agreement on which we can love our fellow human beings and this, I suggest, is the mandate that lies before us today as we embark on this 21st Century and is the mandate and the homework assignment that lies ahead of us.
On Islam and terrorism:
The broader community is in fact criticising and condemning actions of terrorism that are being done in the name of Islam... What complicates the discussion, intra-Islamically, is the fact that the West has not been cognisant and has not addressed the issues of its own contribution to much injustice in the Arab and Muslim world. It is a difficult subject to discuss with Western audiences but it is one that must be pointed out and must be raised.
Acts like the London bombing are completely against Islamic law. Suicide bombing, completely against Islamic law, completely, 100 per cent. But the facts of the matter is that people, I have discovered, are more motivated by emotion than by logic. If their emotions are in one place and their logic is behind, their emotions will drive their decisions more often than not, and therefore we need to address the emotional state of people and the extent to which those emotions are shaped by things that we can control and we can shape, this is how we will shape a better future.
Rauf is in Doha, Qatar, now, where in addition to giving a speech on Muslim life in America at a local university, he is meeting with government officials and NGO representatives and will hand out gifts and treats to children at the Doha Youth Center, Crowley said.
Although Rauf is getting questions about the controversy from his interlocutors and from the press in the areas he is visiting, don't expect him to talk about the Park 51 project, Crowley said.
"It's been suggested that through this tour he's going to be promoting this center, that's not true, or that he's going to be fundraising and that's not true," said Crowley. "He has chosen not to comment on the center so we can't be accused of doing things that are not consistent to the goals of the international program he's participating in and we respect those decisions."
Crowley also shot down another story in the conservative blogosphere today speculating that Rauf's wife Daisy Kahn will join the State Department-sponsored trip. Khan has elected to stay in the United States, he said.
Last week, we reported that the GOP is holding up the nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Today, we bring you the letter from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining his objections to the nomination.
Brownback, who will retire from the Senate at the end of this year, has long been critical of Ricciardone dating back to the nominee's time as ambassador to Egypt during the Bush administration and as one of the key officials chosen to strengthen Iraqi opposition groups in early 2003. Brownback states in his letter that Ricciardone "downplayed" the Bush administration's pro-democracy efforts in Egypt and "did not favor" a strong effort to work with Iraqi opposition groups in the run up to the invasion.
"From the latter days of the Bush administration to today, opposition groups from Africa to the Middle East to Asia have been questioning the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights. Given these questions, I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone is the right ambassador for Turkey at this time -- despite his extensive diplomatic experience," Brownback wrote.
Brownback also criticized Ricciardone for his work while in Cairo to establish an endowment fund to provide non-military aid to Egypt, which the senator argued would have been a slush fund for the Mubarak government and contributed to the further marginalization of democracy and human rights opposition groups there. The Obama administration is negotiating over the controversial endowment even to this day.
"I believe democracy and human rights should be considered on par with other aspects of our bilateral relationships, but I am not convinced that Ambassador Ricciardone shares that view. I am concerned that the endowment plan will marginalize further discussion about the development of democracy in Egypt," he wrote.
All of this speaks to how Ricciardone would conduct American diplomacy in Turkey, according to Brownback, who alleges that secular Turkish opposition groups are already complaining they don't have good access to current ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who is on his way to take over for Chris Hill in Baghdad.
Brownback is requesting that State provide written answers and assurances on a list of questions ranging from Ricciardone's views on numerous issues to assurances regarding how the State Departmetn will conduct aspects of foreign policy. He also signaled that Turkey's recent decisions to vote against new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council and harshly criticize Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident will also be part of Ricciardone's confirmation debate, which could resume when Congress returns from recess.
"I am also concerned that we have not fully considered the ramifications of a Turkish tilt toward Iran and away from Israel, and I will give those issues some attention before the Senate reconvenes in September," Brownback wrote.
Full letter after the jump:
As the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq accelerates, the thousands of Iraqi citizens who have worked with the U.S. military since the 2003 invasion face an even more uncertain future. Congress is calling on the administration to devise a new plan to help them.
In 2008, a shocking article in the New York Post written by U.S. Marine Owen West described the harrowing experience of translators and aides to U.S. troops in Iraq as they try to escape the threats on their lives and transition to a better life in America. An excruciatingly long process full of bureaucratic hurdles faced these refugees, to the point that even then-ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker wrote to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to complain of "major bottlenecks" in the system.
For those who have made it the United States -- and over 35,000 Iraqi refugees have arrived since 2003 -- they then face another set of near-insurmountable challenges. Your humble Cable guy has come across several young Iraqis, mostly women, who found themselves with no job, no money, and no place to live once they made it to the Washington, DC area. Eligible for one-time grants ranging from $900 to $1800, most have trouble finding work and are still fighting with the State Department for permanent residence status. Many were completely dependent on the kindness of the soldiers they had worked with in Iraq, and many returning veterans have taken former translators and their families into their homes.
Congress held hearings and eventually passed legislation in 2008 to expand the services for Iraqis who had worked with the U.S. military, largely due to the work of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who led a campaign to bring attention and resources to the issue right up until his death.
But now, as the U.S. military leaves Iraq, Congress is calling on the administration to do more.
Twenty-two senators and congressmen wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates Friday to demand the administration come up with a comprehensive plan to support the thousands of Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. military.
"Time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches," the lawmakers wrote. "The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives -- and the lives of their families - to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest. Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection."
The lawmakers praise the State Department for speeding up the visa process but lament that only about 2,000 visas have been issued out of the 15,000 visa limit State has set for such Iraqis. The process still takes over a year and requires hundreds of dollars in fees many refugees can't afford. Specifically, the lawmakers are asking the administration to speed up the resettlement process, expand the visa program to include Iraqis who worked for non-governmental organizations, and consider an airlift of Iraqis who are in danger as the withdrawal date approaches.
The letter was authored by the chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Hastings added a provision to the fiscal 2011 defense policy bill calling for a plan to expedite resettlement of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis at risk as troops withdraw from Iraq.
At the commission's July hearing on the issue, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration Eric Schwartz said that the Obama administration is devoted to improving the resettlement program for Iraqis who can't return home and will triple the number of those resettled to the United States this year.
Schwartz also said he authorized a doubling of the one-time grant refugees are given when they arrive in the United States.
"It won't eliminate the enormous challenges faced by new arrivals, nor will it address the longer-term adjustment needs that are addressed by the Department of Health and Human Services, but it will help to ensure that incoming arrivals have a roof over their heads and have sufficient provisions for their first months in the country," he said.
The Obama administration's work in fighting for human rights across the globe has been largely behind the scenes, a strategy that has elicited criticism from those who believe public admonishment is the best way to shame brutal regimes into better treatment of their citizens.
When it comes to Iran, the administration's calculation is more complicated. Their ongoing pursuit of engagement with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which coexists alongside a policy of increasing sanctions, requires a delicate balancing act. The State Department has been very vocal in its call for the release of the American hikers that have been detained in Iran since July 2009, but more reticent in supporting indigenous groups facing persecution by Iran's government, such as the pro-democracy Green Movement.
But there are signs that may be changing and that the State Department is poised to become more vocal in its public criticisms of Iranian human rights offenses.
Members of the Baha'i faith, one long-persecuted group in Iran, were greatly reassured Thursday when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement criticizing the Iranian government's persecution of the group. Seven Baha'i leaders were each sentenced to 20 years in prison this week.
"The United States strongly condemns this sentencing as a violation of Iran's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Clinton said. "Freedom of religion is the birthright of people of all faiths and beliefs in all places. The United States is committed to defending religious freedom around the world, and we have not forgotten the Baha'i community in Iran."
Persecution of the estimated 300,000 Baha'is in Iran has existed since the religion's inception in the 19th century, but increased dramatically following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when the eradication of the Baha'i faith became official government policy. Since the revolution, over 200 Baha'is have been killed by the regime, while hundreds have been imprisoned and thousands have been denied access to basic human rights, including the right to education and to work.
Shastri Purushotma, Human Rights Representative for the U.S. Baha'i community, told The Cable that they greatly appreciated Clinton's statement, whichmarked the first time she had spoken out on behalf of the Baha'is.
"The Obama administration and the State Department have spoken up at every major stage of their trial," he said. "It would be wonderful if President Obama could speak out about this too, in the right opportunity and right setting."
Clinton's statement on the Baha'i prosecutions came just two days after she sharply criticized Iran for its treatment of several other citizens who had been denied due process or basic freedoms.
She mentioned the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery, the case of Ebrahim Hamidi, who is being executed for sodomy, and the cases of Jafar Kazemi, Mohammad Haj Aghaei, and Javad Lari, three protesters arrested after the flawed June 2009 elections.
"The United States is deeply concerned that Iran continues to deny its citizens their civil rights and intimidate and detain those Iranians who seek to hold their government accountable and stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens," Clinton said.
For the Bahai, public awareness of their plight is crucial.
"If someone is trying to commit a crime, if they can do it in the dark, they have a better chance of getting away with it," said Purushotma. "All of these things are intertwined, you can't separate out human rights and the nuclear issue, because the way a country treats his own people is an indication of how they will treat their neighbors."
Jared Mondschein contributed to this article.
President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, could be on his way to a new job in Kenya as the White House prepares a new approach to Sudan ahead of a January referendum that analysts fear could split the country into two separate nations -- or even spark a new civil war.
The news comes in the wake of a contentious principals-level meeting at the White House last week, in which Gration clashed openly with U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice over the direction of Sudan policy.
At the meeting, Rice was said to be "furious" when Gration proposed a plan that makes the January referendum a priority, deemphasizes the ongoing crisis in Darfur, and is devoid of any additional pressures on the government in Khartoum.
According to multiple sources briefed on the meeting, Gration's plan was endorsed by almost all the other participants, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and will now go the president for his approval. Rice was invited to provide a written dissent. Vice President Joseph Biden did not attend.
It wouldn't be the first battle Gration has won over how to deal with the brutal regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal who has driven his nation to ruin since coming to power in a 1989 military coup. Gration advocates closer and more cooperative interactions with the ruling National Congress Party, which he sees as the best way to influence its behavior, along with a de-emphasis on public criticism of the regime's deadly tactics.
The tension between Gration and Rice goes back to the early days of the administration. In June 2009, ABC News reported that Rice, who has long advocated a tougher line on Khartoum, was "furious" when Gration said that Darfur was experiencing only the "remnants of genocide." The State Department quickly confirmed that its official position is that genocide is ongoing.
Now, Gration's penchant for gaffes and his poor relations with communities of interest may have finally taken its toll, observers say.
"The fact that he's being rotated out of this position suggests that he may have won a number of battles but lost the war. If people were overwhelmingly happy with his performance, it seems odd you would move him out to be ambassador of a neighboring country," said John Norris, executive director of the Enough Project, a leading Sudan anti-genocide advocacy organization.
Gration, who has been the administration's point man on Sudan for more than a year, is currently considering taking the job of U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, according to multiple sources both inside and outside the administration. Discussions are ongoing and no formal offer has been made, but as of one week ago Gration was said to be lobbying hard to keep his Sudan portfolio if he moves to Kenya.
Gration has wanted to be envoy to Kenya for some time, according to multiple administration sources. If he is successful in keeping his role in Sudan policy, he would be hugely influential on three major Africa policy issues: Sudan, Kenya, and Somalia, which is largely managed from the embassy in Nairobi.
The more likely scenario is that if and when Gration is sent to Kenya -- assuming he passes a Senate confirmation process that will likely be contentious -- he would have to relinquish the Sudan portfolio.
"The special envoy job is a full-time job, as is being ambassador to Kenya during this crucial time," Norris said. "I can't imagine they would place one person in charge of both."
One administration source said that the plan had been to nominate Gration during the congressional recess, as to avoid a lengthy confirmation debate, but that plan was no longer operative and Gration would be nominated and confirmed through the usual process. Gration's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Leading figures in the Sudan advocacy community have long been critical of Gration, whom they see as too cozy with the Khartoum government and wholly uninterested in applying additional pressures on Sudan's government in response to rising violence.
When the administration rolled out its new Sudan policy last October, Secretary Clinton promised that both carrots and sticks would be used to influence Bashir's behavior. "Assessment of progress and decisions regarding incentives and disincentives will be based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground. Backsliding by any party will be met with credible pressure in the form of disincentives leveraged by our government and our international partners," she said.
But though Sudan is under a variety of unilateral and multilateral sanctions, the administration never publicly identified what additional pressures it was bringing to bear. That, combined with Gration's statements about the need to engage Khartoum positively, have led most observers to conclude that no additional pressures were ever applied.
"During the last year and a half, we've seen increased violence in Darfur and the deadliest months in five years, we saw an election that was completely compromised without any resulting sanctions, we've seen a deepening of the rifts that could cause a resumption of war between the north and the south. None of these have elicited from the Obama administration anything more than an occasional statement," said John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project. "This has given a clear green light to the regime in Khartoum to pursue its warmongering as usual. Gration has overseen this policy."
Administration officials played down the conflict between Rice and Gration, saying that such meetings are supposed to be deliberative. "This is a policy debate. People often disagree. If they didn't, what's the point of having the meeting?" one White House official said.
Regardless, for Sudan watchers, the hope is that the president will finally weigh in and make his views known, to settle the internal debate.
"There's always going to be divisions inside an administration," said Prendergast. "This is the first time you have a clear choice placed directly in the hands of the president. It's time for him to step up."
Meanwhile, the world is bracing for an eruption in Southern Sudan. Khartoum has been caught fomenting violence between southern groups, agreements on borders and revenue sharing are nonexistent, and the conduct of the last election gives nobody confidence the referendum is on track.
Analysts worry that the international community and the U.S. in particular are missing their last opportunity to prevent Bashir's government from undermining the credibility of the referendum to a degree where armed conflict would break out.
"Good diplomacy backed by serious pressure can potentially prevent this from happening, but that's what's so disappointing; we have poor diplomacy with almost no pressures whatsoever," said Prendergast. "It's a worst-case scenario."
AFP / Getty Imgaes
A behind-the-scenes clash is playing out over President Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey, a key Middle East post at a time of tense relations between Washington and an increasingly independent-minded Ankara.
The would-be envoy, Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., is a 32-year veteran of the Foreign Service who most recently served as the deputy ambassador in Kabul. He's served in Ankara in the past and speaks fluent Turkish. Ricciardone also played a role in organizing the Iraqi exile community before the 2003 U.S. drive to Baghdad.
But it's his tenure as George W. Bush's envoy to Egypt that has provoked the most criticism, particularly among neoconservatives who are hoping to persuade Republican senators to torpedo his nomination.
Ricciardone served as the U.S. ambassador in Cairo from 2005-2008. Activists and journalists dubbed those first few years the "Arab Spring," when street demonstrations, political ferment, and contested elections in Baghdad, Beirut, and other Arab capitals inspired hope that the Middle East's stagnant authoritarian regimes -- including that of Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 -- might finally fall.
The Bush administration exerted special efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Egypt, a longtime recipient of billions in military and economic aid, and a close U.S. partner on regional security matters. U.S. officials repeatedly raised human rights concerns with Mubarak's government, including the case of dissident political leader Ayman Nour. Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a ringing 2005 address on democracy at the American University in Cairo, calling on Mubarak to embrace political reform.
Those efforts came crashing down months later, amid the widespread fraud and violence of Egypt's parliamentary elections. The opposition Muslim Brotherhood performed surprisingly well in the early rounds, prompting a harsh government crackdown that continues to this day. When Hamas shocked the world by winning the Palestinian elections the following January, the Bush administration appeared to lose its appetite for promoting Arab democracy altogether.
Former top National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams blames Ricciardone.
"Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy," Abrams told The Cable.
Ricciardone's supporters counter that he is a distinguished diplomat with a history of serving in tough parts of the world. Some former officials maintain he forged close working relationships across the interagency, worked effectively with the military, and argue that his past experience in Turkey makes him ideal to advance that relationship and U.S. interests across the region as a whole.
"He's an outstanding and extremely dedicated Foreign Service officer who has served his country in some very delicate and dangerous postings," said Mitchell Reiss, who served at the State Department's director of policy planning under Bush,
But other former Bush administration officials are circulating stories they believe show Ricciardone in a negative light.
In one of them, before Rice's Cairo speech, she had a particularly nasty press conference with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, where Gheit defended his regime's conduct by criticizing U.S. conduct in the war on terror. Sitting next to Rice following the press conference, Ricciardone blurted out "the problem is that fucking Patriot Act," one senior Bush administration official said, adding that Rice was incensed.
Egyptian officials have cited the Patriot Act in explaining the continued need for their own much-criticized Emergency Law, which contains loopholes that facilitate far-ranging restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.
"Putting aside the language, this seemed to those in the secretary's party to be yet another case of our ambassador's unwillingness even to see bad conduct by the government of Egypt, and to blame any case of it on Washington," the official said.
Ricciardone's critics claim that his strong personality and often blunt speaking style are the wrong mix for the current task at hand -- and that he has a tendency to get too close to his foreign interlocutors.
"Now is not the time for us to have an ambassador in Ankara who is more interested in serving the interests of the local autocrats and less interested in serving the interests of his own administration," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute.
Aides from two GOP Senate offices said that while it's too early to say there is firm opposition on the Hill, their bosses have reservations about Ricciardone that could complicate his confirmation process. They plan to not only examine his time in Cairo, but his stints as deputy chief of mission in Turkey once before and his time serving as an official in Baghdad and in Kabul.
"Ricciardone has a lot to answer for on his record in Afghanistan, Egypt and on Iraq policy. What's more, his temperament and professionalism are in serious doubt," said one senior GOP aide. "It's unclear why the administration would send this FSO [Foreign Service officer] to such an important country given the tenuous state of Turkey's relationship with the West."
For all of Riccardione's detractors, he seems to have at least as many supporters. Experts, former officials, and diplomats from across the political spectrum have contacted The Cable in recent days to express their support for him and push back against what they see as the criticisms of a few. They say Ricciardone was made the scapegoat for a flawed Bush administration democracy push that never really had the financial commitment or follow-through it would have needed to be successful.
Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that there was never real consensus inside the Bush administration as to how to implement the pro-democracy push Rice highlighted in her Cairo speech, and that Ricciardone was put in the impossible situation of having to manage a complex relationship with a supposed ally while implementing a new policy that was aimed at his overthrow.
"He was quite effective as a U.S. ambassador at a time when the Bush administration and the Egyptian government were at loggerheads. There needed to be someone who could continue the conversation on a range of other things, not just democracy promotion," said Cook.
Ricciardone was tasked with doing two things that seem to be in direct contradiction: Pushing Egypt to help the United States on a host of regional issues, such as the war in Iraq and the fracturing of the Palestinian government, while also pushing Cairo to make reforms it was severely resisting.
"The Bush administration was saying ‘Carry our water while reforming yourself out of power,'" Cook explained, adding that Bush's Egypt democracy initiative never had the financial backing it would have needed to succeed, especially in light of the fact that meanwhile, the U.S. was giving Egypt more than $1 billion in military aid.
Actually, Ricciardone had a solution for that as well. In Cairo, he worked with Faiza Abu El Naga, who runs Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation, to propose a huge new aid endowment for Egypt, under the thinking that by institutionalizing non-military aid to Egypt, democracy promotion could escape the annual tribulations of the often complicated congressional appropriations process. The fight over that endowment continues to this day.
The nomination fight over Ricciardone will likely become a debate over how best to approach Turkey during this delicate stage. For those who want to use the stick, he's destined to be the wrong choice. For those who think carrots are preferable, Ricciardone's extensive knowledge, fluent Turkish, and reputation for getting heavily involved in public diplomacy make him the perfect selection.
"Let's face it, there hasn't been much of an Obama effect in Turkey, so having an ambassador there who can get out among the people could be very useful," Cook said.
When push comes to shove in the Senate, the main question will be whether the Obama administration is willing to make that case and use some of its political capital to push the nomination through. They haven't always been eager to do so, as with the nomination of Robert Ford to be ambassador to Syria. Ford is well-liked by everybody, but the administration hasn't been active in pressing for his confirmation, potentially because it isn't eager to have a public debate about its policy of engaging Syria -- which has yet to show results.
Another Senate GOP aide who is critical of Ricciardone predicted that the administration won't want to make an issue of the Ricciardone nomination and anticipated that if they don't press it, his confirmation process could languish. "We don't need to put up much of a fight because things are moving so slowly anyway," the aide said.
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The White House confirms that President Obama will sign into law Thursday sweeping new measures to impose unilateral penalties on companies that contribute to broad swaths of Iran’s energy and banking sectors.
The signing will take place in the East Room of the White House, and will include "members of Congress, leaders of organizations that worked to pass the bill," and U.S. officials including U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, according to an adminstration official.
The legislation, led by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, and House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, was passed by the House and Senate last week by votes of 408-8 and 99-0, respectively.
The administration has said repeatedly that implementing the sanctions does not signal an end to its two-track policy of mixing engagement and pressure. The White House hopes the measures will convince Iran to come back to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Iran is planning to meet again with Brazil and Turkey to follow up on the nuclear fuel-swap deal the three countries announced just before the U.N. Security Council voted to impose its own new sanctions on Tehran. The Obama administration has been clear that it considers the Brazil-Turkey deal insufficient and inadequate in dealing with international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Typically, lawmakers are wary of encouraging the Obama administration to depend on the United Nations when it comes to Iran, but in a resolution passed just now, Congress urged the administration to initiate a case against Iran at the controversial Human Rights Council.
The bipartisan resolution, which passed with a unanimous voice vote, was brought to the Senate floor Monday to mark the one year anniversary of flawed Iranian presidential elections that sparked widespread violence and repression throughout Iran. It notes that the "Government of Iran has systematically undertaken a campaign of violence, persecution, and intimidation against Iranian citizens who have peacefully protested the results of the deeply flawed Iran presidential elections."
But later on, the resolution "encourages the President and Secretary of State to work with the United Nations Human Rights Council to condemn the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Iran and establish a monitoring mechanism by which the Council can monitor such violations."
Critics say the 47-member Human Rights Council, which the Obama administration signed America up for after a long absence, has been hijacked since its inception by notorious human rights violators such as Cuba, China, and Egypt.
Established in March 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, George W. Bush's administration refused to join, citing the council's nondemocratic makeup and its frequent criticisms of Israel, but the Obama administration reversed that decision last spring.
Their most recent act was to call for an investigation into the Israeli actions regarding the Gaza flotilla incident.
The council is also currently reviewing Iran's human rights record as part of its Universal Periodic Review process, but nothing close to a harsh condemnation is expected. To see how the Human Rights Council is treating Iran in the review, read this.
So now that the full Senate has called on the administration to use the Human Rights Council to initiative new action against Iran, what does that mean?
The lead sponsors of the resolution are Ted Kaufman, D-DE, Bob Casey, D-PA, Joe Lieberman, I-CT, John McCain, R-AZ, Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, Russ Feingold, D-WI, Sam Brownback, R-KS, Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Carl Levin, D-MI, and Jon Kyl, R-AZ.
Are they all now supporting the Obama administration's joining of that group?
Separately, McCain called on Obama to get more personally involved in Iranian democracy promotion in a speech last week.
"The United States has never had a president whose personal story resonates as strongly overseas as President Obama's does -- whose ability to inspire, to move people, to mobilize them on behalf of democratic change is one of the greatest untapped sources of strength now available to Iran's human rights activists," he said. "If the president were to unleash America's full moral power to support the Iranian people -- if he were to make their quest for democracy the civil rights struggle of our time -- it could bolster their will to endure in their struggle, and the result could be historic."
"Tonight the Senate spoke with one voice to condemn ongoing human rights abuses in Iran and mark one year since the flawed Iranian election," Kaufman told The Cable, "I hope the Iranian people know America stands by their side in their struggle for democracy, freedom, and human rights. A year may have passed, but the unconscionable events of June 12 and its aftermath have not been forgotten."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.