The State Department is still trying to convince Congress to restore funding for UNESCO, which was cut off after the U.N. cultural agency's members granted full membership to the Palestinians -- but there is little chance lawmakers will change the provision preventing U.S. funding.
State sent an unofficial memo to key congressional offices today titled, "How the Loss of U.S. Funding Will Impact Important Programs at UNESCO." The memo, which was passed to The Cable by a congressional source, argues that UNESCO programs will have to be cut back severely due to the loss of U.S. funding.
State Department spokespeople have said they are working with Congress in the hopes of amending the laws that cut off U.S. funds to any U.N. organization that admits Palestine as a full member, but there is broad bipartisan support for the funding cut-offs and no real congressional effort to change the law.
"The cut-off in U.S. funding may not directly affect extra-budgetary programs funded by other donors, but it will weaken UNESCO's presence in the field and undermine its ability to take on and manage such projects and programs," the memo stated (emphasis theirs).
UNESCO will lose $240 million of funding for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013 -- roughly 22 percent of its budget -- and will have to scale down programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, and South Sudan, the memo states.
The memo also lists several ways that UNESCO supports U.S. national security interests. These include "sustain[ing] the democratic spirit of the Arab Spring" and democratic values around the world, promoting nation-building in South Sudan, and encouraging Holocaust education in the Middle East and Africa.
Read the full memo after the jump:
The Obama administration reacted cautiously to today's International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear weapons program and declined to say how exactly how they would respond. But across Washington, suggestions for tightening the noose on the Iranian regime were abundant.
"I'm definitely going to tell you we need time to study it," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Tuesday following the release of the IAEA report, which alleges that Iran had until 2003 an intricate and extensive program to design and build a nuclear warhead to fit atop a Shabaab-3 missile. The report also stated that Iran worked on components for such a warhead, prepared for nuclear tests, and maintained aspects of the program well past 2003 -- activities that may still be ongoing today.
"I think you know the process here: that after a report like this comes out, we also have a scheduled meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors coming up on November 18th, so Iran will be an agenda item at that meeting. So we will take the time between now and then to study this," Nuland said.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, two senior administration officials predicted that the Obama administration would increase sanctions on Iran in light of the report but declined to offer any specifics on what they might be.
That explanation wasn't well received by lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday, who offered plenty of specific ideas on how to ramp up pressure on Tehran and have no intention of waiting for the administration to "study" the IAEA's findings.
The Cable spoke on Tuesday with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about the report.
"It's of enormous concern to everybody and a lot of conversations are taking place right now about how to respond," Kerry told The Cable. "It clearly means we have to ratchet up on Iran, probably tougher sanctions and other things."
Kerry declined to endorse one big idea floating around town, namely to take actions that would collapse the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and ruin the country's currency, bringing the Iranian economy to its knees.
"There are a lot of options, you want to pick them carefully and you want to be thoughtful about what's going to be effective," Kerry said.
Kirk, who co-authored a letter in August with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for collapsing the CBI, and which was signed by 92 senators, tweeted today that the White House's reaction to the report Tuesday constituted "national security malpractice."
Kirk met with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley on Monday night to give him the "hard sell" on the idea of collapsing the CBI, he told The Cable. Kirk said that the concept under consideration is to give friendly countries that are dependent on Iranian oil -- such as Japan, South Korea, and Turkey -- a time window to shift their purchases from Iran to Saudi Arabia.
Kirk and Schumer are planning to introduce a bill soon that would be a Senate companion to an amendment by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) to require the president to determine within 30 days the CBI's role in Iran's illicit activities. If the president determines that the CBI is complicit, the bill would require the administration to cut off any foreign banks doing business with the CBI from participating in the U.S. financial system.
The main risk in collapsing the CBI is that it could bring down the Iranian oil industry along with it, risking a cascading effect on world energy markets that would exacerbate the global economic crisis.
McCain told The Cable today that it's a risk he is willing to take. "Libya is cranking up their oil exports. There's always risk, but there's a greater risk when you know that they're about to become nuclear weaponized," he said.
"The first thing we should do is talk to the Russians and the Chinese and tell them to get with it and pass the increased sanctions through the U.N.," McCain said, adding that the Obama has leverage against Russian and China if it chooses to use it. "Russia wants in the WTO, China wants a lot of things. There should be consequences for their failure to act."
Graham agreed that the negative impact of collapsing the CBI was a necessary cost of ramping up pressure on Iran.
"We've got make a decision: What's the biggest threat to the world, a nuclear-armed Iran or sanctions that would hurt us and the people of Iran?" Graham told The Cable. "You've got two choices, the policy of containment or the policy of preemption. I'm in the preemption camp. I don't think containment works. The only way to stop this is to prevent this and that means changing behavior."
Graham said existing sanctions don't seem to be working, which means that the sanctions regime has to be fundamentally changed. "If that doesn't work, the other option is military force." But Graham cautioned that if there were to be a military strike on Iran, it would have to include a massive assault on Iran's counterattacking capabilities.
"You'd have to destroy their air force, sink their navy, and deal with their long-range missile threat. So you'd have to go in big," he said. "If you attack Iran you open Pandora's box. If you allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, you empty Pandora's box. So these are not good choices."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said in a statement that the threat of military force must be credible and he called for Congress to pass a new Iran sanctions bill, one that the administration previously said was unnecessary.
The House and Senate have each unveiled a version of the bill that would tighten existing sanctions, compel the administration to enforce penalties already on the books, and levy a host of new restrictions against members of Iran's regime and companies that aid Iran's energy, banking, and arms sectors. The bills are a follow-up to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA) that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed in July 2010.
Former Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Cable that there's no consensus yet inside the administration or around the world that collapsing the CBI would be possible without doing severe damage to the world economy.
But Levitt offered several things the administration can do immediately to ramp up pressure on Iran, including pressuring countries to scale back Iranian diplomatic presence in their capitals, restricting the travel of Iranian officials around the world, and setting up a multilateral customs body to enforce sanctions against Iran, modeled after what was done in wake of the Kosovo crisis.
"The administration is not being creative enough with the tools they have," Levitt said. In the coming days, he predicted, "You are going to see scrambling as to what can be done."
The top U.S. official at NATO said Monday that there is zero planning -- or even thinking -- going on about a military intervention in Syria.
"There has been no planning, no thought, and no discussion about any intervention into Syria. It just isn't part of the envelope of thinking, among individual countries and certainly among the 28 [full NATO members]," said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. "If things change, things change. But as of today, that's where the reality stands."
Daalder, speaking to an audience at the Atlantic Council, is in town along with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will meet later today with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They will be discussing the NATO summit to be held in Chicago next May and taking a victory lap following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Daalder said that there were three overarching conditions that need to be met before the Obama administration would even consider any future military intervention such as occurred in Libya.
"The formula was that there needs to be a demonstrable need, regional support, and sound legal basis for action," said Daalder. "It's those three things we need to look for before we even think about the possibility of action. None of them apply in Syria."
Daalder also noted that there is not enough evidence that air strikes would be effective in Syria, that the opposition and the Arab League have not asked for intervention, and that the U.N. Security Council has refused to act.
Daalder said several times that the United States had not been "leading from behind" in Libya, and he offered his take on the Obama administration's foreign-policy philosophy, as implemented during the Libya intervention.
"The administration came to power with a particular view about how the world worked. And that was a view that in an age of globalization, security was no longer principally determined by geography, but developments anywhere in the world could have a major security impact at home, so as a result you had to find a way to work with others," he said. "The lynchpin of Obama foreign policy was rebuilding partnerships and alliances."
"As part of that analysis, there was also a belief that the era when the United States could decide, determine, and do everything by itself had also come to an end," he said.
The United States is conducting an exercise to examine the lessons learned during the Libya intervention. However, Daalder said that although the European countries ran short of key items such as precision missiles during the war, the United States was perfectly well-prepared and did everything basically right throughout the mission.
"I'm not sure there is a lesson we need to learn for the United States," Daalder said. "In terms of capabilities, we know where the shortfalls are, but they are European shortfalls.... We could have done this campaign by ourselves. But the wise decision was not to do something we could, because others could help too."
Daalder also acknowledged that NATO-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation are at an impasse over a dispute regarding Russian demands for written assurances that U.S. systems are incapable of being used against Russia. The United States has no intention of giving such assurances, according to Daalder.
"We have put on the table numerous proposals for cooperation, which in many ways take their proposals as the basis," he said.
"They want a written guarantee that is legally binding that says the system will be incapable and will never be directed against them," he said. "And we have said that a legal guarantee like that is not something we want nor something we could ratify."
Following the State Department's announcement that it had cut off U.S. funding from UNESCO in response to its overwhelming vote in favor of accepting the Palestinian bid for full membership, senators from both parties predicted the United States would cut funding or even withdraw from several other international organizations the Palestinians seek to join.
As The Cable reported last month, the Obama administration is required by existing U.S. law to cut off funding for any international organization that grants the Palestinians full membership. . Membership in UNESCO also grants the Palestinians membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The United States is not a member of UNIDO, but will be forced to stop contributing to WIPO.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg. The Palestinians could seek membership in more prominent international organizations, which could result in the United States defunding or even withdrawing from institutions such as the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The AP reported today that the Palestinian Authority was examining seeking membership in 16 more U.N. organizations.
While leading senators in both parties acknowledge that such an outcome would be negative for U.S. interests and influence, they have no intention of intervening to change the law. To the contrary, several top senators in both parties told The Cable they support the policy and will work to enforce it, despite the consequences.
"This could be catastrophic for the U.S.-U.N. relationship. This could be the tipping point," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee, told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
"There's a lot of bipartisan support for cutting off funding to any political U.N. organization that would do this," he said. "What you are going to do is eventually lose congressional support for our participation in the United Nations. That's what's at risk here. That would be a great loss."
Graham said he believes it is in the U.S. interest to actively participate in these organizations. And yet, he plans to introduce a Senate resolution to formally withdraw U.S. membership in UNESCO -- a more serious action than simply cutting off funds. He intends to do the same for any other international organizations the Palestinians succeed in joining.
Graham also said that Congress is poised to cut off U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which totaled $550 million in fiscal 2011, despite the fact that he still thinks financial support for the PA is a good idea.
"I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen, that's where this thing is headed," Graham said.
But isn't the United States just spiting itself by withdrawing from organizations in order to punish them for recognizing the Palestinians?
"Not really," Graham replied. "The world has to make a decision.... If the U.N. is going to be a body that buys into Palestinian statehood ... then they suffer. It's a decision they make."
Graham is seen as the most important GOP lawmaker in the fight to maintain foreign aid and U.S. involvement in international organizations, because of his subcommittee position and his genuine support for such issues. But when it comes to the issue of Palestinian recognition, the politics just don't allow any room for compromise, he said.
"I'm the closest thing to a friend [U.N. supporters] have [in the GOP]," he said. "But if the Palestinians continue to go to more organizations, such as the World Health Organization, well -- it's just going to be politically impossible for a guy like me to support a body who's playing a destructive game with the peace process."
Most of Graham's GOP colleagues are not as conflicted as he is with the idea of U.S. withdrawal from U.N. organizations.
"They've made a decision and they will pay the consequences for their decision," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable, referring to UNESCO. "And that is that U.S. tax dollars are not going to be spent, if I have anything to do with it, on organizations that take the measures they've taken."
Will senior Senate Democrats intervene on behalf of the U.S. role in international organizations? Not likely. Democratic senators told The Cable they either support cutting funds to U.N. organizations that grant membership to the Palestinians, or at least don't plan to do anything about it.
"We've put a very clear marker down in terms of what would be the result if there was an effort to prematurely declare a Palestinian state and [the administration] is implementing what they said they would do," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). "It was the right thing to do and they should be implementing it."
Levin said that he hoped U.S. retaliatory action would slow down the Palestinian drive for recognition, and maintained that the United States would increase its influence by carrying through on its threats. The vote in UNESCO's General Conference was 107 to 14 in favor of Palestinian membership, with 52 abstentions.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told The Cable today he was fine with the cutting off of funds to UNESCO.
"That's what the law requires. It's been there for 20 years and whether I support it or not, that's the law," he said.
The senators don't blame the Obama administration for what is happening at the United Nations, because the administration has consistently called for the Palestinians to stop their statehood bid there. But Hill staffers in both parties have complained that the administration doesn't seem to have a plan to get out of the crisis or find a way around the law.
One Senate Republican staffer close to the issue told The Cable, "The administration is behaving just like a deer frozen in the headlights on this."
Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) will begin its handover of power and set up elections following the death of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the Libyan ambassador to Washington told The Cable.
"That's what they declared before and that's what they have to do now. Now they have to start work for the election and the institution building for the new Libya," said Ambassador Ali Aujali today.
Aujali also outlined the help that Libya was seeking from the U.S. government and the American business community in the wake of Qaddafi's death. The NTC wants U.S. assistance in training its military, protecting its borders, and setting up the foundations of the new government and civil society. He invited American companies to participate in the reconstruction of Libya.
"Qaddafi was the one who was always an issue and an obstacle to a relationship based on confidence and mutual interest," Aujali said.
He specifically called for U.S. medical aid for injured Libyan fighters, a proposal that senators such as John McCain (R-AZ) have also supported. Medical assistance was part of the $11 million aid package that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on her visit to Tripoli earlier this week.
(Clinton learned of Qaddafi's death over her Blackberry during a stop in Afghanistan earlier on Thursday.)
Aujali said that Qaddafi was killed by rebel militias and his death was not related to any NATO airstrike missions. He also said that he had heard, but could not independently confirm, that Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam was dead.
"These types of regimes always end in tragedy," he said.
The Libyan embassy in Washington is tasked with expressing the NTC's gratitude to its American interlocutors for the role the United States played in the months-long struggle against the Qaddafi regime.
"Thanks to the U.S. and NATO and the Arab countries that supported us and came forward to help the Libyan people," Aujali said.
President Barack Obama made brief remarks about Qaddafi's death at the White House this afternoon and called for a quick formation of an interim government and a stable transition to Libya's first free and fair elections.
"You have won your revolution and now we will be a partner as you forge a future that provides dignity, freedom, and opportunity," he said "For the region, today's events prove once more that rule by an iron fist inevitably comes to an end."
Tonight, when Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad comes to Washington to speak at the annual gala of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP), he will be endorsing an organization that is punching well above its weight in the U.S. policy debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
ATFP, a non-profit, moderate pro-Palestinian organization that has been in existence since 2003, has only five permanent staff members in its downtown D.C. office, but has managed to vault itself to the fore of the Washington foreign policy discussion over the Middle East peace process. "They've been critical in getting sustained and high levels of support from both Republican and Democratic administrations," an administration official told The Cable. "They have pretty high access, they can pass messages, they can work quietly with the Hill, they're not media attention seekers, they are trusted and they try to work behind the scenes."
ATFP's willingness to play the Washington game, on Washington's terms, has earned it both praise and scorn, but there is no doubt that it has given the organization a prominence in the Israeli-Palestinian debate that other pro-Palestinian groups have failed to achieve over the years.
The group is led by president and founder Dr. Ziad J. Asali, Ghaith Al-Omari, a former foreign policy advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Senior Fellow Hussein Ibish. The trio has managed to attract high-level administration favor (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keynoted their gala last year) and praise from the pro-Israel community. The downside of their strategy, however, has been a notable absence of grassroots Palestinian support and a recent backlash from parts of the Palestinian establishment, including a break in relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington.
"We have chosen to work within the establishment," Omari said in an interview with The Cable. "Basically we believe the two-state solution is in the U.S. national interest. When we came up with this mission nine years ago it was groundbreaking. Now it is policy."
Omari noted that ATFP has framed its policies in terms of the U.S. national interest and its willingness to engage with parts of the Washington establishment that other pro-Palestinian groups have neglected.
"What we have discovered, much to our surprise, is that we were knocking on open doors," Omari said. He coined the strategy as one of "mainstreaming Palestine."
Some media reports have compared the group to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) because of ATFP's lobbying tenacity on Capitol Hill and its interwoven relationships with administration officials and Washington interest groups on all sides of the political divide. But Omari rejects that comparison.
"We are very different from AIPAC. We're not lobbyists, we're a non-profit organization," he said. "I wish we had the Palestinian-American community as such an organized political presence."
ATFP's policy positions often deviate from the orthodoxy within the Palestinian community. The group's board narrowly voted to stay neutral on the issue of Abbas's bid to seek member state status for Palestine at the United Nations (a bid Fayyad was rumored to oppose). It also doesn't currently support the idea of a unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Omari said.
But can ATFP help defend against congressional cuts in U.S. funding for Palestinian institutions? That's the main mission of the group right now, he said.
"There are tons of pro-Israel organizations in Washington that engage in the debate; in the pro-Palestinian community I could argue we are the only one," he said. "There is a hunger in this town for a voice that understands the Palestinians and can speak about their interests in a way that takes into account the way that Washington operates."
ATFP's clash with the Palestinian establishment has come into public view in recent weeks. Board member Daoud Kuttab broke ties with the group after it refused to endorse Abbas's U.N. strategy.
"The paternalistic attitude that Americans including American Palestinians know what is best for Palestinians and their leadership is an arrogant attitude that I can't agree to be part of," he wrote. "Whenever a lobbying organization reaches the position that it has to worry about its own existence and how the local powers consider it, that is the day that such an organization has lost its mission statement."
Then, last week, Politico reported that the PLO mission in Washington led by Maen Rashid Areikat had sent a letter to ATFP announcing that the mission was severing all ties to the group.
In an interview, Ibish confirmed the existence of the letter but said it didn't make sense to him because ATFP never had formal ties to the PLO mission in the first place.
"Why the PLO sent us this cryptic letter and gives no context whatsoever is really something that I can't explain," Ibish said.
Like Omari, Ibish rejected the comparison to AIPAC. "It's in a sense flattering. I think if we had the kind of resources they do, we'd probably look more like WINEP [Washington Institute for Near East Policy] than AIPAC."
Ibish said that the majority of ATFP's funding comes from Arab sources, but he acknowledged that the organization has Jewish donors as well, who are welcome to give as long as they support ATFP's goal of a two-state solution.
Josh Block, former spokesman for AIPAC, said that ATFP is respected in Washington policy-making circles, including the pro-Israel community, "because they are seen as serious players with ideas and access -- on the Hill, with the White House, and in the region."
"One of the things that distinguishes them from the other actors in the Arab pro-Palestinian camp is their willingness to challenge corruption, condemn terrorism without equivocation and meet with other stakeholders without precondition," he said. "Credibility in Washington is hard to come by, and Ziad Asali has certainly earned it."
Even Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who would have attended tonight's gala if not for the fact that he was observing the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, had kind words for the group.
"We interact very frequently and on a friendly basis with the ATFP," he said. "We view them as partners and as friends."
And if you are at the gala tonight, stop by and say hello to your humble Cable guy. I'm usually seated somewhere near the back of the room.
All the GOP presidential candidates agree on one thing: The United States should cut foreign assistance and international humanitarian assistance programs. Their only differences are over how much.
"The American people are suffering in our country right now. Why do we continue to send foreign aid to other countries when we need all the help we can get for ourselves?" asked a woman in the audience of Tuesday's GOP primary debate in Las Vegas.
Rick Perry started off the responses by calling for "a very serious discussion about defunding the United Nations." The crowd cheered and applauded.
Calling the Palestinian drive to seek member status at the United Nations in September a travesty, Perry said that was reason enough to stop contributing. "Why are we funding that organization?" he asked.
Mitt Romney said that defense-related portions of the foreign aid budget should be transferred to the Defense Department and humanitarian aid responsibilities should be ceded to the Chinese government.
"I happen to think it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give it to another country for humanitarian aid. We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are -- and think of that borrowed money," he said to applause from the crowd.
If either of the leading candidates were somewhat measured, Ron Paul was not. He said that foreign aid "should be the easiest thing to cut" because it's not explicitly authorized in the Constitution. "To me, foreign aid is taking money from poor people in this country and giving it to rich people in poor countries, and it becomes weapons of war, essentially, no matter how well motivated it is," he said.
Paul also said we should cut all foreign aid to Israel. Michele Bachmann disagreed, taking the opportunity to make the case that President Barack Obama is the first president to put "daylight" between the United States and Israel.
"That's heavily contributed to the current hostilities that we see in the Middle East region," she said, reprising her criticism of the entire Arab Spring.
The candidates also weighed in on defense spending. Bachmann was asked if defense spending should be on the table for cuts, and wavered somewhat, opening the door to cuts while saying that $500 billion in defense budget cuts that would be triggered if the congressional supercommittee can't come to a deal to find at least $1.2 trillion in cuts was too much.
Newt Gingrich, calling himself a "cheap hawk," said that the supercommittee was not qualified to make such decisions and said the defense budget should be driven by strategy and threats, not arbitrary numbers.
"The idea that you'll have a bunch [of] historically illiterate politicians who have no sophistication about national security trying to make a numerical decision about the size of the defense budget tells you everything you need to know about the bankruptcy of the current elite in this country -- in both parties," he said.
For FP Passport's compilation of the debate's foreign policy highlights, click here.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that the State Department is firmly opposed to the U.N. reform bill being marked up on Thursday by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and promised to recommend to President Barack Obama that he veto the legislation.
"This bill mandates actions that would severely limit the United States' participation in the United Nations, damaging longstanding treaty commitments under the United Nations Charter and gravely harming U.S. national interests, those of our allies, and the security of Americans at home and abroad," Clinton wrote in a letter today sent to Ros-Lehtinen and her Democratic counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA).
"At a time when we are all expected to do more with less, this bill would gravely diminish our ability to burden share with other nations, defray costs, and enhance the impact of our own limited resources," Clinton wrote. "This bill also represents a dangerous retreat from the longstanding, bipartisan focus of the United States on constructive engagement with the United Nations to galvanize collective action to tackle urgent security problems."
The bill, introduced by Ros-Lehtinen in August, would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," overhauling the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't receive 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United State to cut its contribution by 50 percent.
The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.
It would also punish any U.N. organization that goes along with the Palestinian statehood drive, withhold funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, call for the United States to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation" of the Goldstone Report, and pull the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone Report and has historically been used as a platform to criticize Israel.
Ros-Lehtinen held a press conference in September to state that she was not "bashing" the United Nations. Poster-sized photos of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and posters of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi at the U.N. speaker's podium were spread around the press conference.
Berman told The Cable in September that the bill was "radical" and has no chance of becoming law. Politico reported today that Ros-Lehtinen is seeking a floor vote for her bill, but as of yet none has been scheduled.
The U.N. Foundation released a poll today that found an overwhelmingly majority of Americans surveyed support U.S. involvement in the United Nations and a majority want the United States to fully meet its financial obligations to U.N. organizations.
"At a very high level, Americans really do not want something as a matter of American public policy that would either undermine the United Nations as an institution going forward or that would undermine America's ability to play a leadership role within the United Nations," Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, said in a Wednesday conference call regarding the poll. "On that point, the research is quite clear."
Top officials in the State Department are going to extensive lengths to coordinate international pressure on Iran in the wake of the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, although it remains unclear exactly what the Obama administration's next retaliatory steps might be.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns have been calling leaders around the world to discuss the indictment against a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen and an Iranian member of the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps al-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), which alleges that they hatched an elaborate plan to kill Jubeir by bombing a restaurant in Washington, possibly Café Milano in Georgetown.
Clinton has personally spoken with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal al-Saud, her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and will be making several more calls today. Burns hosted a meeting of dozens of foreign diplomats this morning at the State Department on the plot, urging foreign ambassadors to convey a message back to their capitals that the United States is seeking more international pressure and condemnation of Iran.
Clinton and Burns met Wednesday morning with the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Livia Leu Agosti. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran through their embassy there because the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations. The meeting was previously scheduled, but the focus was switched to discuss the bomb plot.
The State Department also sent a message to all U.S. ambassadors and chiefs of mission around the world directing them to meet with officials in their host countries to brief them on the situation and encourage them to aid the United States in increasing pressure on the Iranian government.
The administration sent briefers to talk to congressional staffers in a classified setting today, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will testify tomorrow in an open hearing that is now expected to focus on the plot.
The State Department is also offering to send briefing teams to any embassy in Washington that wants more detailed information about the plot.
In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is holding individual meetings will all 14 other countries on the U.N. Security Council on the issue today and tomorrow.
"We are looking for countries to join us in increasing the political and the economic pressure on Iran," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing. "We believe that all countries should look hard at how they can tighten sanctions, how they can enforce sanctions and whether sanctions are well-enforced to the limits of their own national law."
Iran's permanent representative to the U.N. Mohammad Khazaee sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon denying any role in the plot and stating that, "Iran has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."
The State Department has made no decisions on whether to seek formal U.N. action against Iran, such as a Security Council resolution or presidential statement, Nuland said, and she wouldn't comment on Sen. Mark Kirk's (R-IL) demand that the administration sanction the Central Bank of Iran, an idea supported by over 90 senators.
Nuland said the administration doesn't know why Iran decided to attempt such an attack, but she dismissed the notion that the plot was out of character for the Iranian government.
"You know, Iran has a long history of using cut-outs. It also has some clumsy efforts in its past. I can't speak to what they were thinking when they planned this, but our concern is that it appears to be an escalation in tactics, and a dangerous one," she said.
Clinton spoke about the plot on Wednesday morning during remarks at the Center for American Progress.
"This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law, and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government's long-standing use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism.... This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system," she said.
"Iran must be held accountable for its actions....We will work closely with our international partners to increase Iran's isolation and the pressure on its government, and we call upon other nations to join us in condemning this threat to international peace and security."
The Obama administration is scrambling right now to find a way around the fact that existing U.S. law could force the United States to stop participating in the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO if the Palestinians are given member state status, setting a precedent that could repeat itself in a host of other U.N. organizations.
The administration is contending with a 1994 law (P.L. 103-236, Title IV), which would bar U.S. contributions "to any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood."
Another law (P.L. 101-246, Title IV), from 1990, states that, "No funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any other act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states."
The Palestinians cleared a hurdle this week when the UNESCO executive board approved their bid to join the organization, sending the matter to a vote by UNESCO's 193-nation General Conference. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized UNESCO on Wednesday for taking up the issue.
"I think that that is a very odd procedure indeed and would urge the governing body of UNESCO to think again before proceeding with that vote," Clinton told reporters in the Dominican Republic.
She acknowledged the "strong legislative prohibition that prevents the United States from funding organizations that jump the gun, so to speak, in recognizing entities before they are fully ready for such recognition."
The U.S. has not yet paid their bills on UNESCO for 2011, about $80 million, which is 22 percent of UNESCO's budget. If the law is triggered and the U.S. does not pay in 2012, the U.S. would lose its vote in the organization. Plus, UNESCO officials have told the U.S. that if U.S. funds are not expected over the next two years, they may have to initiate massive layoffs beginning in January to account for the shortfall in funds.
Palestinian membership in UNESCO would also grant them immediate membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The U.S. would have to stop contributing to WIPO but America is not a member of UNIDO.
We're told that the State Department is currently having their attorneys draft a legal opinion on how U.S. laws would affect U.S. participations in U.N. bodies that grant the Palestinians member state status. Their ruling will have ramifications not only for UNESCO, but for all other U.N. specialized agencies that the PLO is expected to submit their application to, such as the IAEA, WTO, WHO, World Bank, and others.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the administration was "still working" on what the legislative triggers regarding funding would mean. But a State Department official said that the administration has not been able to find a way around the law.
"We have a suicide vest padlocked around our torso and the Palestinians have the remote control," the State Department official said. "They get to decide whether they blow us up or not. It's 100 percent up to them."
Meanwhile, Congress is ratcheting up its own involvement on the issue. Later today, 10 House appropriators will call on UNESCO not to move forward with consideration of Palestinian membership, in a letter to UNESCO Executive Director Irina Bokova obtained by The Cable.
"We... respectfully request that you do everything in your power to ensure that the Palestine Liberation Organization's application to become a Member State does not come before the UNESCO General Conference," states the letter, prepared by the office of Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ). "Any recognition of Palestine as a Member State would not only jeopardize the hope for a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but would endanger the United States' contribution to UNESCO."
Signatories of the letter include the heads of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Tom Cole (R-OK), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Steve Austria (R-IL), Charles Dent (R-PA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
One senior Republican staffer pointed out the irony that it was President George W. Bush who brought the United States back into UNESCO, and now the United States might be forced to leave the organization by Obama -- a president who came to office promising to reverse what he argued was Bush's tendency to ignore the international community.
"Remember, we joined UNESCO in part because we needed them to help de-radicalize textbooks particularly in the Muslim world after 9/11 and as a platform to counter expanding anti-American attitudes in academia," the staffer said "And now, by de-funding UNESCO, we lose all the leverage we had gained."
As Prepared for Delivery -
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations - the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.
conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilization. But in the
first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on
a staggering scale. It was this killing that compelled the founders of this
body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but
on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent
conflict, while also addressing its causes.
No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt. He knew that a victory in war was not enough. As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, "We have got to make, not merely a peace, but a peace that will last."
The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than the absence of war. A lasting peace - for nations and individuals - depends upon a sense of justice and opportunity; of dignity and freedom. It depends upon struggle and sacrifice; on compromise, and a sense of common humanity.
Top Obama administration officials here in New York are working hard with Quartet members, including Russia, to come up with language for a new statement on the Middle East Peace Process, one that would be viable no matter what happens with the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the U.N. this week.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday evening on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and the Palestinian U.N. gambit was a major part of their conversation. Following the meeting, State Department officials said that Clinton was focused on the longer-term diplomatic picture.
"Both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton agreed that the Quartet envoys should continue working to find a way forward among the Quartet in the form of a statement that can help establish a pathway back to negotiations over time," a senior State Department official told reporters in a read out of the meeting.
But when pressed, the official could not note any progress or agreement between the U.S. and Russia on the contents of the statement. The official said, however, that the meeting was only the first of what will be several U.S.-Russian interactions on this issue this week.
"They talked about what the purpose or nature of a Quartet statement and product would look like and the desire by both of them to have the Quartet play a constructive role in producing a pathway that could lead back towards negotiations," the official said. "And they also talked about what some of the elements might look like in a statement that could provide a useful framework or context for negotiations between the two sides. And then they agreed that the envoys should continue working."
The Cable reported last week that among the issues under consideration within the discussions over a Quartet statement were two specific items: modified language to acknowledge the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and a U.S.-proposed timeline for resuming direct negotiations within four to six weeks.
But Clinton and Lavrov didn't get to that level of details on Monday evening. "Their conversation tonight was at more of a strategic level than at a level of text," the official said, adding that Clinton affirmed the U.S. position opposing the Palestinians move at the U.N., a move the Russian government is publicly supporting.
The official's briefing seemed to signal that the Obama administration has somewhat resigned itself to the fact that the Palestinians plan to move forward at the U.N. this week and that the administration is now looking over the horizon to minimize the damage to the peace process and focus on what happens after all parties leave New York.
"And so the question is: How do you deal with all the elements that are at play in the discussions here in New York in a way that can produce a pathway when people leave New York back to negotiations and then have those negotiations ultimately yield the two-state solution that everybody wants," the official said.
The reporters at the briefing repeatedly noted the administration change of emphasis away from criticizing the Palestinian U.N. activity and toward a diplomatic path that would begin after the General Assembly ends.
The official acknowledged that in Clinton's meeting with Lavrov, she didn't spend a lot of time trying to convince the Russians not to support the Palestinian statehood bid.
"I think she laid out her position on why she believes that action at the United Nations is not the best way forward, and she spent the bulk of her time encouraging the foreign minister to work with her on finding a way forward that would get the two parties back into negotiations."
The U.S. and Burmese governments are reengaging, both in Rangoon and in New York, as the State Department makes a new push to test the willingness of the Burmese military junta to reform.
Special Envoy Derek Mitchell is on his way home after a five day visit to Burma, where he met with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as well as a host of Burmese government officials, although not President Thein Sein. He called his talks with government officials a success in a press conference at the end of his trip.
"I consider this a very highly productive visit," said Mitchell, explaining that he had discussed the release of political prisoners but received no firm commitments from the Burmese government. He also met with Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Labor Minister Aung Kyi.
"We had a very candid dialogue on the subject" of human rights violations, Mitchell said. "The issue of sanctions was not a primary point of discussion."
"I know that many within the international community remain skeptical about [the Burmese government's] commitment to genuine reform and reconciliation, and I urge the authorities to prove the skeptics wrong," Mitchell said.
Apparently, the dialogue was encouraging enough for the State Department to schedule another round of meetings with Burmese officials, this time in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly next week. Maung Lwin is set to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Cambell, according to a U.S. official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in San Francisco this week.
"There are clear winds of change blowing through Burma. We are trying to get a sense of how strong those winds are and whether it's possible to substantially improve our relationship," the official said.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), one of only two U.S. senators to visit Burma, is also renewing his push for more interactions with the Burmese government. He argued in a recent statement that, despite the severely flawed elections in Burma that took place last November, positive change was occurring on the ground.
"The election resulted in a new governmental system and opportunities for engagement. Burma is now in the midst of a key transitional period that has yielded greater opportunities for interaction with government leaders and civil society, and restructuring of government and military institutions," said Webb.
The Senate is actually considering a bill this week to reauthorize sanctions on Burma. However, Senate Democrats decided to try to attach $6.8 billion in emergency disaster aid to that bill, which provoked resistance from the GOP, so its path in Congress is now caught up in the fight over the relief funds - despite the fact that neither party has any objection to the renewal of sanctions.
Webb said the bill should be passed but noted that it allows the president to waive specific sanctions if and when he feels it's in the U.S. national interest.
"There are clear indications of a new openness from the government, and the United States should be prepared to adjust our policy toward Burma accordingly," Webb said.
The internal GOP battle over U.S. policy in Afghanistan took another turn last night when Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal -- and hawkish GOP senators are not happy with Perry over the remarks.
"I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home as soon, and obviously as safely, as we can," Perry said. "And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time."
As the Perry policy team grows, some of the foreign policy advisors suggested to him by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are taking full-time positions on the campaign. The Cable has learned that Rumseld book researcher Victoria Coates, also known as the Red State blogger "Academic Elephant," has taken on the role of foreign policy director for the campaign.
Still, Perry's foreign policy identity doesn't always follow the GOP hawk's playbook, and that is irking some senior GOP senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
"I'm disappointed that some people in our party are not embracing the concept that the outcome in Afghanistan will determine our national security fate for decades to come," Graham told The Cable, when asked about Perry's remarks. "I would like to hear [Perry] talk about what does it matter to us as a nation whether Afghanistan is a success or a failure."
"We have 300 million people with targets on their backs here at home. The 100,000 are fighting these guys over there so we don't have to fight them over here," Graham said. "We are going to hand over responsibility to the Afghan government. But the 100,000 troops are needed to stabilize the country."
"Romney's been great, he says ‘listen to the generals,'" Graham said. "The transition plan has been accelerated [by Obama] in a very unwise way."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he didn't want to criticize any presidential candidates' statements, but did say that the isolationist trend in the GOP is growing.
"I've voiced many time concerns about the trends toward isolationism and that's always been present in our party, but there's no doubt the economic situation has caused them to gain more adherence," McCain told The Cable.
In a sign of how internally conflicted the GOP is on Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) appeared undecided on whether he supported President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012.
"For some time, we've said publicly we're very concerned about the way we're distorting the Afghan economy right now," he told The Cable, referring to the influx of foreign aid.
But does he support Obama's policy?
"I think the initial steps that have been taken -- I'm not talking about the whole 30,000 -- I don't have any problem with the initial steps," Corker said.
But what about the withdrawal of the entirety of the 30,000 surge troops? Corker said that policy probably will get changed anyway.
"Well, each step along the way, I'm sure the president is going to massage what he's doing.... For what it's worth, we're spending a lot of time in our office on that. I'm taking a trip there in the near future and you're asking me this question six weeks earlier than you should."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), during her press conference to push her U.N. reform bill, pledged that she is not trying to "bash" the United Nations by calling for withholding U.S. funds from the organization.
"This bill is about reforming the U.N.; it's not about bashing the U.N.; it's not about taking the U.S. out of the U.N.," Ros-Lehtinen said at the Tuesday morning press conference as she stood in front of poster-sized photos of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and posters of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi at the U.N. speaker's podium.
"Some call our bill backwards, but I don't think it's backwards to demand transparency, accountability, and reform. But I do think the adjective 'backwards' too often applies to what we're paying for at the U.N.," she said.
The bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory-assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't receive 80 percent of its funding from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United State to cut its contribution by 50 percent.
The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for U.S. contributions to the United Nations.
A summary of the legislation prepared by Ros-Lehtinen's staff says that the bill, "[o]pposes efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel" by seeking recognition at the United Nations and "[w]ithholds U.S. contributions from any UN agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission."
"The U.N. General Assembly has one permanent agenda item every year, and it is to condemn Israel," Ros-Lehtinen said.
She also responded to her ranking member Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who told The Cable that Ros-Lehtinen's bill was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival. "I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals here," he said.
"Most of what we're doing in the House has very little chance of becoming law, no matter what it is. Does that mean we should stop doing things? Whether the Senate is going to pass it does not mean that we should not propose a bill that will put a marker down," she said.
"I hope it becomes a bipartisan bill -- I would like that. And I hope the administration would join us. I am in the business of hope."
She also said Barack Obama's administration is doing a poor job of managing the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the United Nations later this month.
"It speaks to the lack of leadership of the Obama administration that, all these months, there has been a leadership vacuum at the White House," Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that even an elevated observer status for the Palestinians at the United Nations would be unwise.
"That should not be the consolation prize, which is what more or less it has become," she said.
Ros-Lehtinen was joined by 10 other GOP lawmakers, all of whom gave statements expressing criticism of the United Nations, but none of whom stuck around to field questions from the assembled reporters in the room.
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), a freshman member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), criticized U.N. support for China's "one child left behind" policy, apparently mixing China's one-child policy and America's "No Child Left Behind" education policy.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chair of HFAC's Middle East subcommittee declared, "If there's any organization that's in greater need of reform than the U.N., I don't know what it would be … except perhaps the United States Congress."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice addressed Ros-Lehtinen's bill this week, saying, "Legislation that would withhold funding for the United Nations is fundamentally flawed in concept and practice, sets us back, is self-defeating, and doesn't work."
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department is denying any knowledge or connection to the meetings this month between senior Qaddafi officials and former State Department official David Welch.
Al Jazeera reported today that files found in Muammar al-Qaddafi's intelligence bureau after the fall of the regime show that Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail, two top Qaddafi officials, met with David Welch, former assistant secretary of state under George W Bush, on Aug. 2, 2011, in Cairo. Welch was the man who brokered the deal to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya in 2008.
"During that meeting Welch advised Gaddafi's team on how to win the propaganda war, suggesting several ‘confidence-building measures', according to the documents," Al Jazeera reported, noting that the meeting was held at the Four Seasons hotel, only blocks from the U.S. embassy.
The minutes of the meeting also include Welch's purported advice that Qaddafi should feed the Obama administration damaging intelligence on the rebels by laundering it through allied governments and that Qaddafi should take advantage of the "double standard" in U.S. policy toward Libya and Syria.
"The Syrians were never your friends and you would lose nothing from exploiting the situation there in order to embarrass the West," Welch reportedly told Qaddafi's officials. Welch, who now works for Bechtel, did not return requests for comment. But Nuland confirmed that the trip occurred.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's briefing that Welch was acting on his own. "David Welch, a former assistant secretary, is now a private citizen. This was a private trip. He was not carrying any message from the U.S. government," she said.
Al Jazeera also found a memo of a conversation between an intermediary for Qaddafi's son Saif Al-Islam and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-OH). The memo included a request from Kucinich to Saif asking for dirt on the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC), such as evidence of corruption or links to al Qaeda.
"Al Jazeera found a document written by a Libyan bureaucrat to other Libyan bureaucrats," Kucinich said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable. "All it proves is that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post, and read there about my efforts to stop the war. I can't help what the Libyans put in their files."
Kucinich chief of staff Vic Edgerton would not confirm or deny that Kucinich did in fact have a conversation with a Qaddafi official.
"My opposition to the war in Libya, even before it formally started, was public and well known," Kucinich said. "My questions about the legitimacy of the war, who the opposition was, and what NATO was doing, were also well known and consistent with my official duties. Any implication I was doing anything other than trying to bring an end to an unauthorized war is fiction," Kucinich said.
If the Palestinians go forward with their drive to seek recognition as a state at the U.N. General Assembly next month, all agreements governing Israeli-Palestinian and U.S.-Palestinian cooperation could become null and void, according to Israel's ambassador to the United States.
"We have a lot of agreements with the Palestinian Authority, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine,'" Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told The Cable in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "It's just a fact, we have no agreements with a ‘Government of Palestine.' It puts us in a different realm."
Oren said that agreements covering all sorts of fields, such as import-export, water sharing, and Israel-Palestinian security forces cooperation, would become invalid if the Palestinians declare statehood unilaterally, based on a vote at the U.N. -- rather than by negotiating statehood with the government of Israel via the stalled peace process.
"It's not just our agreements with the Palestinian Authority, it's America's agreements with the Palestinian Authority (that are at risk)," Oren said. "America is a cosignatory to the Oslo Accord and this would seriously undermine it.... Unilateral steps would have legal, economic, and political ramifications for us and for America as a cosignatory."
The current strategy by the Obama administration is to continue to push the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia -- to agree on a statement that would affirm the 1967 borders with agreed swaps and recognize Israel's identity as a Jewish state as the basis for moving forward with negotiations. The "Jewish state" clause was the roadblock that prevented the Quartet from agreeing to a statement during their meeting last month in Washington. But Oren said that effort won't solve the problem.
"There is no guarantee that even if the Quartet members succeed in putting out a common position on negotiations that that will in any way divert the Palestinians from their intention of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally," Oren said.
Oren said that the U.S. and Israeli governments are coordinating on the issue in a "daily and intensive manner" and "we see very much eye to eye."
In fact, the Obama administration has said often that it opposes the Palestinian drive for a U.N. vote on statehood and sees no alternative to direct negotiations. The question is whether the Obama administration is doing everything it can to convince other countries not to support the U.N. vote.
"I think they understand what needs to be done," Oren said. "We're working for similar goals."
But when pressed Oren didn't say whether or not the Obama administration is doing everything it can on the diplomatic front.
Some pro-Israel supporters in Washington think the administration needs to do more. "The United States must begin a vigorous public effort to lobby other countries, large and small, to oppose the Palestinian effort and join President Barack Obama in pressuring the PA to call it off," former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block wrote in a recent op-ed.
Oren said the PA is planning to use the statehood declaration to prosecute never-ending "lawfare" against Israel in international forums, which will lessen the chances for a negotiated solution.
"We want to be able to negotiate but we won't be able to negotiate if they are attacking our legitimacy in every international court. We're not going to negotiate under fire and it's a mistake for the Palestinians to think that we would," Oren said.
The Israeli government is publicly supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, the Palestinian economy is growing steadily, and Israel is cooperating logistically every day with Palestinian security forces, Oren said, but that could all be lost.
"The Palestinians have achieved a tremendous amount over the last 18 years and all of that could be at risk," Oren said. "The Palestinians risk all that has been achieved if they go forward with this ... and that would be a great tragedy."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a bill today that would effectively slash U.S. contributions to the United Nations and punish any U.N. organization that goes along with the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood next month.
The Cable has the bill text and a summary of the legislation prepared by Ros-Lehtinen's staff. The summary says the legislation, "[o]pposes efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel" by seeking recognition at the United Nations and "[w]ithholds U.S. contributions from any U.N. agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission."
"The Palestinian leadership's current scheme to attain recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN without even recognizing Israel's right to exist has been tried before, and it was stopped only when the U.S. made clear that it wouldn't fund any UN entity that went along with it," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "My bill similarly seeks to stop this dangerous scheme in its tracks."
Ros-Lehtinen spokesman Brad Goehner told The Cable today that the expected Palestinian statehood drive at the U.N. General Assembly next month was a major factor in the timing of the bill's introduction.
"Chairman Ros-Lehtinen felt it was important to introduce the bill, which includes a title withholding U.S. funding to U.N. entities which upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission, in advance of the Palestinian Authority's statehood push at the U.N.," Goehner said.
The bill would also withhold funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, call for the United States to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation" of the Goldstone Report, and pull the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone Report and has historically been critical of Israel.
More broadly, the bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United State to cut its contribution by 50 percent.
The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.
Bloomberg was the first news outlet to report on the bill this morning. Interestingly, Bloomberg editors also published an editorial this morning that was supportive of the United Nations, arguing that a "strong relationship between the U.S. and UN is in the interests of both."
The United Nations has been a target of Ros-Lehtinen and the GOP House leadership since they took power early this year. In Ros-Lehtinen's State Department authorization bill, which was debated last month, her committee voted to cut off foreign assistance to any country that did not support U.S. positions at the United Nations. Her Democratic counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) called the debate over that bill a "series of tantrums."
Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation, told The Cable today that not only was Ros-Lehtinen's bill unwise and would undermine the U.S. position at the United Nations, but also that it has no chance of ever becoming law.
"It's an extremist bill, and as a result of that is has little chance of getting broad bipartisan support," he said. "[Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads] John Kerry and Richard Lugar have been strong supporters of a sound relationship between the U.S. and the U.N., and we'll continue to have strong Senate and executive branch opposition to this initiative."
Moreover, the ideas Ros-Lehtinen puts forth, such as a system of voluntary contributions, are not shared by other U.N. member states so are unlikely to gain traction, he said.
"There's no consensus for this in New York, so it's not going to happen," said Yeo. "America can't lead if we don't pay our dues." "
A Democratic congressional staffer told The Cable today the bill is destined to die after House passage.
"[Former committee Chairman] Henry Hyde was only able to secure House passage of this bill, and that was with a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House. I can't imagine Ros-Lehtinen is thinking her legislation is anything more than a one House bill," the staffer said. "The bill is simply a mechanism to cut off funding for the U.N.; it's as simple as that.… It would make Jesse Helms blush."
UPDATE: Berman issued this statement late Tuesday afternoon:
"At a time when efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the General Assembly and elsewhere are gaining steam, I can't see how a bill that will undoubtedly weaken our influence at the UN and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood is in Jerusalem's interest let alone our own."
The U.N. sanctions committee struck a deal to release to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) $1.5 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets late on Thursday afternoon, but only a fraction of those funds will actually be placed in the TNC's hands.
Under the compromise between the U.S. -led members of the committee and South Africa, the lone holdout, the official document releasing the funds won't specify that the money is being released to the TNC -- it will only say that the funds are going to the "relevant Libyan authorities." A senior U.S. official said that this would have no practical effect, but explained that it allowed South Africa, which has not yet formally recognized the TNC, to sign on to the agreement.
The $1.5 billion represents about half of the frozen funds held in the United States and only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion of Qaddafi funds frozen worldwide.
$500 million of the newly-thawed assets will go to U.N. organizations involved in relief missions in Libya and will be disbursed directly to them. Another $500 million will be paid directly to fuel vendors, with $300 million of those funds reimbursing vendors for fuel that has already been delivered, leaving $200 million for future fuel needs.
The last $500 million will be placed in the hands of what's called the temporary financial mechanism, an account created by the Libya Contact Group, which is made up of countries supporting the TNC. The TNC will have to go to the Contact Group with specific bills or receipts to get the money, which will be given to them on a case-by-case basis for education, health, or humanitarian needs.
The TNC has assured the United States that none of the money will be used for military items, the senior U.S. official said.
"Today, we have secured the release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in the United States. This money will go toward meeting the needs of the people of Libya. We urge other nations to take similar measures. Many are already doing so," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"As funds are released, we look to the Transitional National Council to fulfill its international responsibilities and the commitments it has made to build a tolerant, unified democratic state -- one that protects the universal human rights of all its citizens."
Clinton also called on the TNC to prevent revenge and reprisal attacks against Qaddafi supporters , protect Qaddafi's weapons stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands, provide basic services, and move quickly to start the process of democratic transition.
A Reuters reporter found 30 dead Qaddafi loyalists Thursday in a military encampment in central Tripoli who appeared to have been executed.
"From the beginning, the United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, today in Istanbul, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns led the U.S. delegation to the political directors' level meeting of the Libya Contact Group, its first since the Qaddafi regime fell. Assistant Secretaries of State Jeffrey Feltman and Phil Gordon also attended. The issue of whether to introduce foreign troops in Libya was discussed.
"It is our understanding that the TNC is unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force, but it may need U.N. and international community help supporting its policing needs. And precisely what it may ask for remains to be determined," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Clinton will attend the ministerial level meeting of the contact group in Paris next week.
The Cable also asked the senior U.S. official why the U.S. government calls the rebel council the TNC, when the rebel council seems to refer to itself as the NTC (National Transitional Council).
"The TNC in its own documents and statements, refers to itself sometimes as the TNC and sometimes as the NTC, so we've chosen to stick with the TNC, which they began using first, since they seem to use both," the official said.
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
Officials, friends, and supporters of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) convened on the sidewalk outside the Watergate complex this afternoon to sing and celebrate the formal reopening of the Libyan embassy in Washington, DC, which is now officially under the TNC's control.
The new charge d'affaires Ali Aujali presided over the event, giving a speech to the assembled crowd, unlocking the doors, and inviting guests inside for an impromptu press conference. Aujali was quite familiar with the surroundings. He served Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi as the Libyan regime's top representative in Washington for years before defecting to the rebel side in February.
When your humble Cable guy snuck into the Libyan embassy in March, there were still huge posters of Qaddafi on the wall and stacks of his famous "Green Book" manifesto piled high in the lobby. But today, all signs of the regime had been removed. The space where Qaddafi's portrait once hung is now filled with a poster of Omar Muktar, the leader of the Libyan anti-colonial uprising who was hanged by the Italians in 1931. All of the green regime flags have been replaced by the tricolor pre-Qaddafi monarchial flag that has become a symbol of the revolution.
"For the first time in 50 years, this embassy represents a free Libya," Aujali said to the assembled crowd outside. "This new embassy, under the control of the Transitional National Council, is committed to serving the Libyan people and advancing the call for freedom and democracy in Libya. The Libyan people are not in this struggle alone. They will be forever grateful to the United States for coming to their aid in their greatest time of need."
But the event was also peppered with constant reminders that the TNC, despite being recognized by the Obama administration as the official government of Libya last month, is still in the midst of battle and struggling with the U.S. government to get control of the billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets that have been frozen by U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
"Diplomatic recognition is not an end in itself, but rather an important step toward bringing greater cooperation between the TNC and the United States. I am hopeful that the United States government will soon move forward with releasing the frozen assets in the U.S. that belong to the Libyan people," Aujali said. "We need immediate access to these resources to avert a further humanitarian crisis."
On the street, we met some Libyan-Americans, including Heba Benomran (pictured below), who told us she had driven all morning from Columbus, OH, to attend the ceremony. Heba carried a message, "Thank you America," printed on a sign and she's even set up a website to sell Libyan rebel apparel.
Inside the embassy, Aujali took questions from the press on the next steps for the TNC effort in Washington. He said he was confident that State and Treasury Departments would soon deliver good news to the TNC on releasing some frozen funds. He said he expects a current drive to unfreeze international assets that are frozen by United Nations Security Council resolutions to succeed as well. The U.N. sanctions committee is reviewing that issue now.
But Aujali disagreed with the State Department's repeated insistence that the money goes to humanitarian purposes only, and not toward buying weapons.
"If Qaddafi was killing his people with potatoes and eggs, I would accept that. But Qaddafi is killing his people with real weapons. We must have arms to defend ourselves," he said, adding that the TNC has the option of getting arms from other countries.
We found two U.S. officials at the event: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Easter Affairs and Ambassador-designate to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski, and Alyce Abdalla, the current desk officer for Libya at the State Department.
"It's a good day for Libyans and a good day for Americans," Krajeski told The Cable. What about the funds? "We're working on it," he said.
GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is calling for the United States to cut off its contributions to the United Nations, but only a few years ago, he helped lead an effort calling for reforms at the United Nations that recommended increased U.S. funding for several of its programs.
Gingrich, in a Wednesday op-ed entitled, "Suspend U.N. Funding Now!" criticized the United Nations for entertaining an expected resolution that would grant statehood recognition to the Palestinian territories. He said that the United States should suspend all of its contributions to the United Nations if the resolution is allowed to proceed.
"We should be willing to say that if the U.N. is going to circumvent negotiations and declare the territory of one of its own members an independent state, we aren't going to pay for it. We can keep our $7.6 billion a year," Gingrich wrote. "We don't need to fund a corrupt institution to beat up on our allies."
More broadly, Gingrich criticized the Obama administration's commitment to working within U.N. institutions, calling it "clearly a corrupt organization."
"The administration's commitment to ‘multilateralism' at the U.N. is nothing more than appeasement," he wrote.
But back in 2005, Gingrich was singing a different tune. He co-chaired a task force on how to improve the United Nations with former Senate majority leader and recently departed Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell, and issued a report written with the help of the United States Institute of Peace.
"The American people want an effective United Nations that can fulfill the goals of its Charter in building a safer, freer, and more prosperous world," Gingrich and Mitchell wrote in a joint statement at the top of the report. "What was most striking was the extent to which we were able to find common ground, including on our most important finding, which was ‘the firm belief that an effective United Nations is in America's interests.'"
The task force featured a bipartisan set of foreign policy leaders, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, Thomas Pickering, Danielle Pletka, Wesley Clark, and James Woolsey.
The report did include a great deal of criticism of the United Nations, the U.N. Human Rights Council, and its ineffectiveness in protecting victims of genocide around the world. But Gingrich and Mitchell saw the answer to these problems as increasing funding for U.N. institutions, not withholding U.S. contributions from the United Nations.
They called for more staffing and funding for peacekeeping operations, more funding for the international mission in Darfur, a doubling of the budget for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and more funding for the World Health Organization.
As Mark Goldberg pointed out today on the U.N. Dispatch blog, the $7.6 billion the United States contributes to the U.N. largely goes to support exactly those programs that Gingrich once saw as important enough to warrant budget increases. Moreover, U.N. supporters argue that withholding contributions gives the United States less influence over U.N. actions, not more.
"If the USA stopped paying its U.N. dues, it would be stripped of its voting rights at the U.N. Presumably, that would it much harder to defend Israel at the Security Council and General Assembly," Goldberg wrote. "I can't help think that the Gingrich of 2004 would be appalled at the reasoning of 2011 Gingrich."
On the second day of its marathon markup session, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to reinstate and expand a wide-ranging ban on funding international non-governmental organizations that discuss abortion known as the Mexico City Policy.
Following a contentious day of debate Wednesday on Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill, the committee finally adjourned at 2 a.m. Thursday morning and then returned at 9 a.m. to resume work on the legislation. One of their first orders of business was to vote on an amendment by ranking Democrat Howard Berman to strip language that would ban any funding for groups that counsel women on family planning options from the bill.
The language that Berman wanted to strip reads: "None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this act or any amendment made by this Act may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term."
The bill's language is a version of what has been known since 1984 as the Mexico City Policy, named for the city where President Ronald Reagan first announced it. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy in 1993, President George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001, and President Barack Obama rescinded it again in 2009.
Republicans have been trying to restore the policy ever since. Last year, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) helped defeat the International Violence Against Women Act by attaching the Mexico City Policy to the bill in committee, thereby preventing the legislation from reaching the Senate floor.
Berman's amendment failed by a 17-25 vote that played out largely along party lines. Only one Democrat broke ranks, Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY). The Ros-Lehtinen language is actually an expansion of the policy as it existed during the Bush administration because it would ban all funding for organizations that discuss abortion and not make exceptions for certain programs such as HIV/AIDS funding. Bush made allowances for HIV/AIDS programs to receive funding even within organizations that were affected by the policy.
“The provision included in this bill is far more extreme than the Global Gag Rule policy that was implemented under Presidents Reagan, George Bush, or George W. Bush," said Berman. "It bars ALL assistance to local health care providers in poor countries – including HIV/AIDS funding, water and sanitation, child survival, and education. In the name of 'right to life,' the majority is cutting off funds that are literally saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”
There's no telling if Ros-Lehtinen's bill will ever see the House floor, much less become law or be signed by Obama, but the inclusion of the Mexico City Policy signals that the GOP intends to keep the issue alive throughout this year's cycle of authorization and appropriations bills, until or unless it is reinstated or defeated outright.
"It is a sad day for the millions of women around the world who need and want access to contraception," said Craig Lasher, director of government relations for Population Action International, an international NGO that advocates for women's access to contraception and reproductive counseling. "Committee members should be ashamed for taking the Republican Party's war on women to the global stage."
The top Republican and Democrat foreign aid leaders in the House of Representatives are warning the Palestinian Authority (PA) that U.S. aid will be withheld if the Palestinians seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September.
"We write to reiterate our serious concerns about your intentions to pursue recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations," reads a July 11 letter sent to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas by the leaders of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), obtained by The Cable.
"It has been the longstanding belief of the United States government that the path to a true and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis will come only as a result of direct negotiations. We write to reaffirm that belief and warn of the severe consequences of abandoning it."
The Obama administration has been clear that it doesn't support the Palestinian plan to seek a vote on statehood at the United Nations in September, but it so far hasn't spelled out any consequences for the Palestinians if they should choose to do so. Congress, on the other hand, is doing a lot to make those consequences known. On July 7, the House passed a resolution opposing the statehood plan by a 407-6 vote. The Senate passed the same resolution unanimously.
In May, 29 senators promised to cut off all U.S. assistance to the PA if it formed a unity government with Hamas. The United States gave the PA about $550 million in aid in fiscal 2011, a mixture of project funding and direct cash to the government.
The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, told The Cable in May that the plan to seek recognition at the United Nations was not final and could be scuttled if negotiations resume. He also said that the unity government would not change its policies regarding the peace process at least until Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, which are tentatively scheduled for May 2012.
The House plans to mark up its fiscal 2012 appropriations bill on July 27, and several foreign aid accounts are under scrutiny. And following the apparently fruitless meeting this week of the Quartet members here in Washington, the path back to direct negotiations remains unclear -- a fact that will only further endanger U.S. assistance to the PA.
Already, Congress has been taking a harder look at funding for the Palestinian territories. Multiple Hill sources said that a recent routine request for program funding for USAID staffers vetting Palestinian aid projects was held up by the House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) for weeks before finally getting approval.
"American assistance has always been predicated upon Palestinian leaders' commitment to resolve all outstanding issues through direct negotiations," the congresswomen wrote. "Current and future aid will be jeopardized if you abandon direct negotiations and continue your current efforts."
GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty will deliver a major address on foreign policy on Tuesday in what his top aides are billing as a rebuttal to what they see as President Barack Obama's flawed May 19 speech on the Middle East.
All the Republican presidential candidates are being forced to sharpen their foreign policy chops as the primary race heats up, but Pawlenty has been vocal on several key foreign policy issues for some time. His campaign may for now be light on foreign policy infrastructure, but it's heavy on policy positions and ideas, several of which he plans to lay out tomorrow morning when he addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
"There's a frustration the governor feels with President Obama, that there's no strategic coherence to his foreign policy. Whether it's the Arab Spring, the Middle East peace process, Iran, or Syria there's an ad hoc approach to what they're doing. And the learning curve never seems to get flatter," Pawlenty's senior foreign policy advisor Brian Hook told The Cable.
"The governor's speech will set forth a strategically coherent approach to the Middle East and he will discuss a better way forward in the Middle East peace process."
Pawlenty will lay out a set of principles that the United States should adhere to in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Pawlenty will also put forth his own views tomorrow for how the United States should respond to the Arab Spring. He will divide the countries of the region into categories -- those that are struggling for democracy, entrenched monarchies, anti-U.S. regimes such as Syria and Iran, and Israel. He will then argue that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for the problems plaguing the Middle East.
Hook, a former assistant secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, also worked as an advisor to two U.S. ambassadors: Zalmay Kalizad and John Bolton. He emphasizes that on foreign policy, Pawlenty is a "Reagan Republican" when it comes to the broad strokes.
On specific issues such as the president's approach to Israel, U.S. policy toward Iran, or U.S.-Russia relations, Pawlenty often shares the views of leading GOP hawks in the Senate such as Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). But Pawlenty doesn't want to be identified as a neoconservative, and doesn't want his views to be tied to those senators in particular.
"I wish you could think of another way to describe this wing of the party, other than McCain and Lindsey Graham. I love John, but that's like saying we're embracing Nelson Rockefeller on economics," Pawlenty joked during his interview with Bloomberg News.
The other major foreign policy voice so far in Pawlenty's campaign is former Minnesota congressman and campaign co-chair Vin Weber, who was a member of the neoconservative group Project for a New American Century and an early supporter of the invasion of Iraq
But Hook said Pawlenty's foreign policy identity is his own.
"Governor Pawlenty believes in an exceptional America. He believes that a President must provide strong and decisive leadership to the forces of democracy, and President Obama has repeatedly failed at this basic task," he said.
Pawlenty mostly sticks to that forward-leaning approach, particularly in regard to Obama's intervention in Libya, a topic that he will also address on Tuesday. Pawlenty was among the first to call for a no-fly zone over Libya and for Muammar al-Qaddafi to go, but he's not satisfied with the way the Obama administration has handled the war.
"A quick, decisive decision by Obama in days, not weeks, to impose a no-fly zone would have given us a very different result. But once the president of the United States says that Qaddafi must go, you just can't let him sit there indefinitely and thumb his nose at us. He's a third-rate dictator who has American blood on his hands," he said.
Pawlenty's staff is aware that there is a fractious internal debate going on inside the GOP on foreign policy. The influx of Tea Party candidates in Congress has conflated foreign policy with calls to slash the budget, and candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are now questioning the continued commitment to Afghanistan. But Pawlenty is unmoved by the politics of the moment.
"Some foreign policy positions are not politically popular today, but the governor bases his decisions on principle and American values -- not what the polls say this week or next," Hook said.
As U.S. contributions to the United Nations and its participation in the controversial Human Rights Council (HRC) are under attack in the Congress, a top State Department official said on Wednesday that U.S. engagement at the HRC has been effective and benefited Israel.
"U.N. bodies, including the Human Rights Council, have improved as the result of direct U.S. engagement. If we cede ground, if our engagement in the U.N. system is restricted -- these bodies likely would be dominated by our adversaries," said Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Prior to the U.S. decision to join the HRC in 2009, Israel was singled out for six special sessions intended to single out Israeli actions for condemnation, there were too many unbalanced resolutions focused on Israel, and too little attention paid to the world's worst human rights situations, she said.
But now, Brimmer contended the situation was getting better: "The challenges continue at the Council, but the Council's improvement through U.S. engagement is undeniable."
She highlighted the council's decision on Wednesday to issue a statement calling on the Syrian government to allow access to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and referred to "daily reports of killings, arbitrary detention, and torture of men, women, and children."
Most of Brimmer's speech focused on what she called "the administration's far reaching efforts to normalize Israel's status in and across the U.N. and the broader multilateral system."
Brimmer also criticized congressional efforts to withhold U.S. funding for the United Nations, an effort led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
"The United States must maintain the strongest position it can at the U.N., and that means paying its bills on time and in full," she said. "How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on Iran or North Korea if we were continuing to incur arrears?"
"How would it impact the president's commitment to a shared security with Israel?" Brimmer said. "These are risks we cannot afford to take. The United States cannot afford failed short-term tactics that have long-term implications for our security, and we must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills."
The State Department is publicly blaming Syria for the clashes between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and unarmed protesters that resulted in over a dozen deaths Sunday, but officials didn't offer any direct evidence to support that assertion.
"We do think that this is an effort by the Syrian government to play a destabilizing role," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at Monday's briefing in response to a question from The Cable. "It's clearly an effort by them to take focus off the situation that's happening right now in Syria. And it's a cynical use of the Palestinian cause to encourage violence along its border as it continues to repress its own people within Syria."
Toner's comments follow those of White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said on Monday morning that the United States is "strongly opposed to the Syrian government's involvement in inciting yesterday's protests in the Golan Heights. Such behavior is unacceptable and does not serve as a distraction from the Syrian government's ongoing repression of demonstrators in its own country."
Both spokesmen affirmed Israel's right to defend its own borders. Neither offered any direct evidence that the Syrian government was directly involved. The violence along the Golan Heights marked the first clashes on the Syrian-Israeli border in 37 years.
A State Department official, speaking on background basis, explained the thinking to The Cable.
"It's a pattern that we've seen. I don't know that we have any direct evidence, but I think we're pretty confident that this is something that Damascus has done in the past and we believe they have had a hand in it," the official said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday morning, and officials confirmed that Syria was among the topics they discussed. The persistent anti-government protests there will also be mentioned in President Barack Obama's Thursday speech on the overall U.S. approach to the Arab world.
On Capitol Hill, Syria's involvement is also regarded as a given.
"It is not surprising that President Assad is using Palestinian protesters to distract from the democratic uprising that is occurring within Syria's own borders," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said in a statement. "But it nonetheless displays a shocking level of cynicism to risk provoking war in order to maintain a grasp on power. President Assad must end the violent crackdown in Syria, stop his collaboration with Iran, and respect Israel's right to exist."
Seven Republican senators are demanding that the Obama administration take tougher measures to punish banks still doing business in Iran, and they are threatening to stall the nomination of a top Treasury Department official unless they get their way.
The dispute between the White House and Congress revolves around implementation of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) of 2010, the wide-ranging law signed into law last year. The Treasury Department issued a draft rule last week that lays out how it intends to implement a key provision of the law, which deals with Iran's banking partners in countries around the world. And that rule raised the ire of seven GOP senators, who expected Treasury to enforce the law much more stringently.
The key provision, section 104(e), directs the administration to punish any international financial institutions still doing business with Iran by cutting them off from the U.S. financial system.
"We were extremely unhappy with the draft rule to implement section 104(e) of CISADA publish by the Treasury Department last week," wrote Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), David Vitter (R-LA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Mike Johanns (R-NE), in a previously unreported letter sent Tuesday, and obtained by The Cable.
The letter was addressed to David Cohen, the acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department. Cohen took over for Stuart Levey, the previous sanctions chief at Treasury, who moved on to the Council on Foreign Relations last month after more than 4 years on the job.
The senators are threatening to hold up Cohen's nomination if their demands regarding enforcement of the sanctions provisions aren't met. Cohen had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and, afterwards, Kirk sent Treasury a list of follow-up questions he says must be answered before he'll allow Cohen's nomination to move forward.
"The acting undersecretary's response to our letter and questions for the record will weigh heavily in any confirmation decision," Kirk told The Cable.
Kirk also identified 44 international financial institutions servicing Iranian banks and 18 U.S. institutions that are working with those who do business inside Iran. He got this list from a 2010 report entitled "Iran's Dirty Banking", which sourced the information to the Banker's Almanac.
Kirk wants Treasury to require all U.S. banks to certify that any foreign banks they deal with aren't dealing with Iran. He also wants those foreign banks to certify that any banks they are dealing with aren't doing business with Iran. But Treasury's current plan calls for banks to provide such information only if and when the Obama administration asks for it.
"The object is to make sure we are doing anything and everything we can to drive Iranian business out of our banking system and this is how to do it," one senior GOP senate aide said.
"Large American banks and foreign banks that are operating here have not been hauled before Congress and have not been forced to tell the people and shareholders why they have not complied with the law," said another senior GOP aide.
Specifically, the aide said that the senators who signed the letter want Treasury to publish a final rule on implementation of the provision that requires audits of all banks' interactions with Iran on an ongoing basis. If that happens, the Cohen nomination can go through.
All of the senators who signed the letter, except for Kyl, are on the banking committee.
In his Tuesday testimony, Cohen defended the Treasury Department's efforts to tighten the noose around Iran's banking sector, including the passing of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 and subsequent successful efforts to convince European and northeast Asian countries to drop their Iranian banking ties.
Since 2006, Treasury has sanctioned 20 Iranian state-owned banks involved in facilitating Iran's nuclear program for penalties, and officials have traveled the world to try to convince foreign governments to take similar actions.
Cohen also said that sanctions against foreign owned banks that are working with Iran aren't necessarily the best tool in all cases, and indicated that there are more penalty decisions coming soon, such as the designation of more third country banks.
"The first best option is to get them to stop. Our second best option is to apply sanctions. And without getting too much into the details of any particular investigation that we're conducting, I can tell you that we are, I would say, close to a decision point on several institutions," he testified.
Matthew Levitt, a former deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department and now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that Treasury was not against congressionally mandated sanctions, but believes they should only be used after all efforts to persuade foreign banks to shape up fail.
"What you have here is a struggle between two branches of government trying to get the same job done, but using two different paths to the same end," he said. "In some instances, it may be, you will get more compliance if you don't hit them with the hammer."
Levitt also defended the Treasury's efforts to put pressure on Iran's financial activities. "It's almost silly for anyone to claim the Treasury Department has been soft on Iran," he said.
On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed.
The State Department's congressional notification about the aid funds, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Times, stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC) as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.
"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition - is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on this morning.
"There's an urgent situation here and they need our help," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.
But as of today, six days after the State Department notified Congress it planned to give the aid, the White House has still not signed off and none of the aid has begun its journey to the rebels, despite that intense fighting is ongoing.
"Yesterday's announcement of the 25 million in drawdown assistance was not fully cooked. That still needs to head to the White House, be confirmed or ratified by the president, and then we can begin implementing it," Toner explained at Thursday afternoon's State Department briefing.
So what's the hold up? National Security Staff spokesperson Tommy Vietor declined to comment on why the White House was holding up the funds or when a decision would be made.
Meanwhile, a State Department official said that the State Department's top official in Libya Chris Stevens continues to work with the NTC to figure out what they need and whether the U.S. can provide specific items of assistance.
If the aid is approved by the White House, Libya rebels could be soon wearing U.S. military uniforms, although without the U.S. flag stitched on them.
"Many places around the world people wear old NYC police uniforms, they won't be the current uniforms, they have old stocks," the official said.
The U.S. and other countries are readying further measures to increase pressure on Qaddafi through further sanctions on the regime's oil business and tighter enforcement of existing sanctions, the official said.
When asked if the U.S. was considering military advisors to Libya, as the British and French are doing now, the official said, "No."
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn't given it.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration's top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.
"I've never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It's kind of odd," said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed.
"Everything from body language to the way they are addressing members of Congress, it's very clear that there's lots of tension inside that Cabinet right now. This to me is why it's so important for the president to lead on this," said Rogers. "I think [Obama's] reluctant on this, at best. And there are differences of opinion and you can tell that something just isn't right there."
Rogers wouldn't confirm or deny the report that Obama issued what's known as a "presidential finding" authorizing the intelligence community to begin broadly supporting the Libyan rebels, because such findings are sensitive and classified. But he said that if Obama wanted to arm the rebels, the president would need Rogers' support, which he doesn't yet have.
"Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won't get a sign off from me," Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. "I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don't know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don't really who they are for. We don't have a good picture of who's really in charge."
Rogers said that the issues of providing covert support and actually arming the rebels are separate issues.
"There is a public debate about arming the rebels... that somehow got intertwined and it probably shouldn't have."
But Rogers has no objections to putting CIA operatives on the ground to gather information on who the rebels are. National Journal reported late Wednesday that about a dozen CIA officers are now on the ground in Libya doing just that.
"That should be happening anyway, through public means, through intelligence, all of that should be happening," he said. "The agencies are by statute and by law allowed to go overseas to collect information, that means any country."
The intelligence committees do need to be notified about major intelligence operations, either before or immediately after in exigent circumstances, a committee staffer said.
Rogers said he was concerned about al Qaeda's involvement with the Libya opposition.
"The number 3 guy in al Qaeda right now is Libyan. They have put a fair number of fighters into Iraq from Libya. So it is a place where al Qaeda is, [but] that doesn't mean this is an al Qaeda effort."
He also said that the Libyan regime, led by Col. Muammar al Qaddafi, still possesses stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration missed a big opportunity when they didn't talk about chemical weapons stockpiles. I've seen it personally with these eyeballs. Their biological weapons program, we think we got it all but we're not sure," said Rogers. I worry a lot about who is safeguarding that material. We believe right now it is in the hands of the regime."
"Mustard gas in the hands of bad guy, you don't have to have a large scale event to have that be an incredibly dangerous terrorist weapon. And there are other things that he has as well."
The White House issued a statement late Thursday from Press Secretary Jay Carney that the Obama administration was not arming the rebels as of now.
"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," the statement read.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.