If President Barack Obama's administration wants to share sensitive data about U.S. missile defense systems with Russia, it now must at least tell Congress in advance, according to the final version of the defense authorization bill.
It was revealed in November that the Obama administration was considering sharing sensitive missile defense information with Russia in a bid to assure the Russians that U.S. missile defense capabilities in Europe were not a threat to their ballistic missile forces. For example, the United States reportedly offered to give Russia the details of the burnout velocity of the SM-3 interceptor missile, which would tell the Russians how far our interceptor missiles could chase their missiles.
The House version of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill banned any such sharing, but the conference report issued Monday evening softened that restriction. The final version of the legislation, which will land on Obama's desk later this week, requires that the administration give Congress 60 days notice before giving any classified missile defense information to the Russians. The defense bill is considered a "must pass" bill and Obama won't likely veto it over this provision.
The notification must include a detailed description of the information to be shared, an explanation for why such sharing is in the U.S. national security interest, an explanation of what the Russians are giving in return, and an explanation of how the administration can be sure the information won't be shared with third parties, such as Iran.
Of course, the future of U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation is unclear. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev seemed to announce the failure of the talks on Nov. 23, when he also announced a series of retaliatory measures to counter U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe and threatened to withdraw from the New START treaty. But the administration still insists that it plans to continue U.S.-Russian negotiations over how to work together on missile defense.
The concern on Capitol Hill is that the administration will give up valuable information before striking a deal, thereby undermining the effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses before they are even fully deployed.
"It's not at all clear that the Russians have any interest in so-called missile defense cooperation with the United States, but, assuming that the State Department or Defense Department propose to offer classified information to Russia on U.S. missile defenses, for the first time, they will have to tell Congress before they do so," a GOP congressional aide close to the issue told The Cable today. "Congress will have plenty of time to evaluate the proposal and raise objections as necessary."
Meanwhile, the top Russian official dealing with the issue, Russia's NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, has a new side job: accusing the United States of fomenting unrest in Russia. He gave a speech stoking fears of U.S. aggression against Russia at a rally this week for the ruling United Russia party. The demonstration was called to counter the protests that broke out last week in Moscow and elsewhere around the country after Russia's flawed parliamentary elections.
"There are forces today that consider Russia easy prey," Rogozin said. "They bombed Iraq. They destroyed Libya. They are approaching Syria. They stepped all over the people of Yugoslavia. And they are now thinking about Russia and are waiting for a moment when it is weak."
Rogozin, who got the red carpet treatment from the administration when he visited the United States in July, has also been keeping up his war of words on Twitter with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), whom he in July called a "monster of the Cold War," along with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
"My friend Kerk [sic] is relentless. He is now stifling Amb. Michael McFaul," Rogozin tweeted Dec. 4, linking to The Cable's article on Kirk's hold on McFaul's nomination to become ambassador to Russia. "With guys like Kerk US is pushing its way ahead."
The Senate voted late Monday to confirm Norm Eisen as ambassador the Czech Republic, but held up the stalled nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.
Both Eisen and Aponte are already serving at the posts under recess appointments that were due to expire at the end of this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for two cloture votes Monday night to get past Republican holds on the nominees. The Senate voted to overrule the hold on Eisen by a 70-16 vote, and he was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote shortly after. The Senate failed to override the hold on Aponte. The vote on proceeding to debate over her confirmation failed 49-37.
Republicans once again put politics above policy by blocking the confirmation
of a dedicated public servant," Reid said in a statement following the Aponte
vote. "In the fifteen months Mari Carmen Aponte has served as our ambassador to
El Salvador, she finalized an important international, anti-crime agreement and
forged a strong partnership between our nations. The Puerto Rican community and
all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a
diplomat representing our nation, as I am."
"I am disappointed Republicans continued a long-running trend of obstructing qualified nominees just to score political points. Unfortunately, defeating President [Barack] Obama is more important to Senate Republicans than confirming qualified nominees to represent our country in Latin America," said Reid.
There was broad GOP opposition to the Aponte confirmation, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It is unlikely Democrats will try to confirm her again before adjourning for the holiday break. There is also no sign yet that Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring up the confirmation of Matthew Bryza, whose recess appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan is about to expire, or the confirmation of Mike McFaul, whose nomination to be ambassador to Russia is being held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable Tuesday morning that he would try to move more nominations this week but he didn't have any specifics.
The Senate will debate and vote on two controversial State Department nominations next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced.
On Dec. 13, the Senate will debate and vote on whether to consider the nominations of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador and Norm Eisen to be ambassador to the Czech Republic. Both are sitting ambassadors who were sent to their posts under recess appointments that expire at the end of the year.
"There will be at least two roll call votes at 5:30 p.m. in relation to the Eisen and Aponte nominations," Reid said on the Senate floor on Thursday night. The votes will be to move on to debating the nominations, not on the nominations themselves. If both votes surpass the 60 senator threshold necessary to achieve cloture, both ambassadors could be formally confirmed by the end of next week.
Reid indicated, but didn't say outright, that there could be more nominations moving next week as well. If the Senate doesn't act this month, the recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to be ambassador to Azerbaijan will expire and he will have to come home.
The nomination of NSC Senior Director Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia is also stalled due to a hold by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who wants assurances from the administration it will not give sensitive missile defense data to the Russian Federation.
Reid is personally committed to the Aponte nomination, a Senate Democratic aide told The Cable today.
"Reid's a big fan of hers and he doesn't think her nomination should be a Democratic or Republican issue," the aide said. "He thinks her accomplishments in the past should be proof enough that she's qualified for the position. She's done a lot of work to strengthen U.S. ties with Latin America."
Aponte's nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was initially held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who allegedly had ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation at the time.
DeMint shows no signs of backing down, and Aponte was barely approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
Eisen was sent to Prague through a recess appointment because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO). Grassley is still upset over the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a position where he oversaw government programs such as AmeriCorps.
Eisen, the former White House ethics czar, was a key figure in the controversy and defended the White House's actions. He also made the case to Congress that Walpin was unfit for his position, writing in a letter to senators shortly after the sacking that Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Walpin called those allegations "absolutely amazing."
Grassley, along with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), has never dropped the issue of Walpin's firing. Grassley's staffers contributed heavily to a joint House-Senate report released last November, which they say alleged not only that Walpin's firing was handled improperly but also that Eisen misled Congress about the matter.
UPDATE: Reid issued the following statement on the Aponte nomination late Friday afternoon:
Mari Carmen Aponte's accomplished record as our nation's current ambassador to El Salvador should be reason enough for the Senate to confirm her on Monday. In 15 months serving our country, Ms. Aponte has already brokered an important transnational, anti-crime agreement and has strengthened our ties with El Salvador. Experts on the region from across the political spectrum support her confirmation. The Puerto Rican community and all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a diplomat representing our nation, as I am.
Unfortunately, a handful of extreme Republicans are threatening to block her nomination just to score political points. I hope Senate Republicans will put politics aside, and do the right thing for our foreign policy by voting to confirm Ms. Aponte.
House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith (D-WA) told The Cable today that claims he is trying to "water down" Iran sanctions legislation inside secret conference negotiations is "utter and complete bullshit."
Smith reached out to The Cable today to refute claims made by a senior GOP aide in our story yesterday that he and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) were pushing for changes to the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions amendment that would weaken its penalties on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and any foreign banks that do business with it. The administration has been pushing for changes to the amendment that would weaken the sanctions, and give the administration more flexibility in implementing them.
The Kirk-Menendez amendment was added to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill last week by a 100-0 vote in the Senate. House and Senate conferees are meeting behind closed doors this week to hash out a compromise version of the bill, which includes negotiations on the Kirk-Menendez language. Whatever emerges from the secret conference will be voted on by both chambers next week and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
A senior GOP aide told The Cable on Thursday that Smith and Levin were advocating inside the secret conference for the changes the administration wants. Smith said flatly today he may be seeking changes in the amendment, but is not trying to "weaken" the sanctions.
"It is not accurate to say we are trying to water it down," Smith said, declining to get into specifics about what changes he is seeking.
"Different people have different views on what is stronger than something than something else, but this notion that Menendez and Kirk got it absolutely 100 percent perfectly right, and that there's no point discussing anything else that can be done to it, doesn't make any sense to me," Smith said.
"It's not a matter of weaker or stronger, it's a matter of making sure we get the language right, in order to put us in a position to put the maximum amount of pressure on Iran. That's what we're trying to do."
The secret nature of the negotiations has contributed to the confusion of what's going on with the Iran sanctions language. Adding to the problem is that, once the conferees reach a final decision, it will be virtually impossible to go back and alter the language because that would open up the entire defense bill again and there's no time to do that if Congress wants to pass the bill this year.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are both upset at the administration over its handling of the sanctions negotiations, could have kept total control over the amendment by not adding it to the defense bill in the first place, which is managed by the Armed Services Committee and therefore somewhat out of their control. But they needed to attach the amendment to a piece of "must pass" legislation in order to see their ideas sent to Obama quickly and without a real possibility of a veto.
Smith was careful in our interview to explain that while the secret process is managed by him, Levin, House Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), and Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), the negotiations would take the views of other lawmakers into consideration as well.
"We're certainly not going to just leave it up to the four of us to figure out how to work this," Smith said. "But we are trying to make sure it gets in the bill, gets signed, and gets into force as soon as we can do it."
House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), who announced yesterday that he would definitely not be the one carrying the administration's water on the issue, is one of the other key voices within the conference.
"I will not, and Congress should not, give into entreaties from the administration or elsewhere ... to dilute our approach to sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran's petroleum transactions," Berman said to applause at a conference on Thursday sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy and research organization. "The Kirk-Menendez amendment is a good amendment."
Menendez also spokes at the FDD conference and doubled down on his push for the stronger measures.
"In the case of Iran I've argued that we have no choice but to impose the most robust sanctions possible because we will NEVER permit Iran to have a nuclear weapon and the timeline for acting is now - NOT when we are facing no other choice than military action," Menendez said.
"Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to support this option... The time to act is now."
Levin's office declined to comment on the secret negotiations.
House and Senate leaders are meeting this week behind closed doors to work out language for new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), and the administration is pressing key Democrats hard to adopt their position, which aims to weaken the sanctions measures.
The debate is taking place as part of the negotiations over the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, which passed both the House and the Senate and is in conference right now. The legislation will probably emerge from conference next week and pass both chambers, at which point President Barack Obama will be under heavy pressure to sign the "must pass" defense bill, with whatever Iran sanctions language the conferees agree on.
The current sanctions language at the center of the closed door debate is the amendment by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which passed the Senate by a rare 100-0 vote over the very public objections of top Obama administration officials. The amendment would direct the Obama administration to take punitive measures against foreign banks that do business with the CBI, but gives the administration more leeway to implement the sanctions than Kirk's original language.
The administration urged Kirk and Menendez to come up with a compromise amendment but then came out against that very compromise last week, angering and alienating Menendez, who needs to be tough on the issue ahead of his re-election bid next year. The Cable has obtained the administration's private communications to the conferees spelling out the changes they want to the Kirk-Menendez amendment; they can be found here and here.
Basically, the administration wants to delay the implementation of sanctions not related to oil purchases from 60 to 180 days, and wants to water down the severity of sanctions measures if and when they are put into effect.
Initially, the administration turned to House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) to help them with the changes. Berman, who is inside the closed conference, initially indicated that he wanted to work with the administration to change the Kirk-Menendez amendment.
But Berman also has a tough reelection fight coming up against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who he must face after their districts were combined, and he can't afford to seem weak on Iran. Today, Berman announced that he does not want to want to water down the Kirk-Menendez language at all. In fact, he said he wants to strengthen it.
"Every administration wants total discretion on foreign policy, but that is an impulse that Congress must always resist," Berman said at a conference on Thursday sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a conservative policy and research organization. Berman spoke just after a panel on Syria, moderated by your humble Cable guy.
"I will not, and Congress should not, give into entreaties from the administration or elsewhere ... to dilute our approach to sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran's petroleum transactions," Berman said to applause. "The Kirk-Menendez amendment is a good amendment."
Berman said the only change he wants to the Kirk-Menendez amendment is to shorten the administration's window for implementing sanctions on those who do oil business with the CBI from 180 days, as the Kirk-Menendez bill specifies, to 120 days.
Sherman, in a Thursday interview with The Cable, accused Berman of flip-flopping on the issue and said the Kirk-Menendez language should be sent to Obama's desk exactly as it is.
"Berman was helping the administration and now he's made a 180 degree change, which is good," Sherman said.
"We need to protect the Menendez-Kirk language," he said, making sure to name the Democrat first. "The White House doesn't want to do it. And the White House will be trying to stop the Menendez-Kirk amendment from being in legislation that the president has to sign."
Having lost Berman, the administration then turned to other senior Democrats to carry its water inside the conference. We're told by a senior GOP congressional aide close to the conference negotiations that House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith (D-WA) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) are now arguing inside the conference for changes to the Kirk-Menendez amendment to satisfy the administration's concerns.
"Right now the Republicans want to adopt the
Menendez/Kirk amendment while the Democrats, specifically Congressman Smith and
Senator Levin, are working to incorporate the Obama administration'
The administration has argued publicly that the Kirk-Menendez amendment could alienate foreign countries, make it more difficult to form an international coalition to pressure Iran, and raise oil prices, which could actually help the Iranian economy. They have argued in private meetings with lawmakers that the effort could hurt the U.S. economy.
Supporters of the Kirk-Menendez amendment point to an extensive report on CBI sanctions compiled in the midst of the negotiations by the FDD.
"The (once) confidential report was provided to the administration and select members of Congress during the discussions on the Menendez-Kirk Central Bank amendment," FDD's Mark Dubowitz told The Cable. "The report concluded that, even if the Saudis did not release additional oil supplies, it was still possible to reduce Iran's oil revenues without spooking oil markets and driving up the price of oil."
Sherman's view on that tension is shared by most lawmakers. "You can't stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon without breaking some eggs," he said.
At least five U.S. embassies could begin the New Year without an official ambassador at the helm, due to the ongoing feud between the State Department and the Senate over several ambassadorial nominees and secret Senate holds.
As of Jan. 1, if Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, there will be no U.S. ambassador in Russia, India, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan. Three of the current ambassadors at those posts (Czech, El Salvador, and Azerbaijan) were placed there by President Barack Obama through recess appointments that expire at the end of this month, but face stiff opposition in the Senate and may not be confirmed for their posts. The nominee for the fourth (Russia) is being held up by GOP senators over issues not related to his qualifications for the job. The India ambassador slot is vacant now and nobody has been nominated to fill it.
U.S. ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle will leave Moscow this month and return to the United States, multiple administration officials confirmed. Obama has nominated National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul to replace him, but McFaul's nomination is being held up in the Senate by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who wants the administration to give Congress assurances that the United States will not share sensitive missile defense data with the Russian Federation. Several other senators may also emerge to oppose the McFaul nomination, several Hill sources report, not due to any personal objections to McFaul, but due to their unhappiness with Obama's reset policy with Russia.
Eight prominent conservative foreign policy experts wrote to Obama today to ask the administration to strike a deal with Kirk in order to facilitate McFaul's confirmation and avoid having a vacancy at the top of the Moscow embassy.
"Time is short if Dr. McFaul is to be in Moscow before the New Year. In the aftermath of the deeply flawed Duma election, it is imperative to have Dr. McFaul's voice heard in Russia as soon as possible. We urge you to work with Senator Kirk's office in order both to protect our national security and to expedite Ambassador-Designate McFaul's confirmation," wrote Eric Edelman, Jamie Fly, Bruce Jackson, Robert Kagan, David Kramer, David Merkel, Steve Rademaker and Randy Scheunemann.
The same group wrote a letter last month praising McFaul as a good choice for ambassador to Russia. Conservatives are torn between their desire to see Congress push back against Obama's Russia policies and their support for McFaul personally.
Another U.S. ambassador nominee that has a lot of conservative support is Norm Eisen, the current ambassador to the Czech Republic. Eisen was sent to the Prague as a recess appointment because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO). Grassley is still upset over the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a position where he oversaw government programs such as AmeriCorps.
Eisen, the former White House ethic czar, was a key figure in the controversy and defended the White House's actions. He also made the case to Congress that Walpin was unfit for his position, writing in a letter to senators shortly after the sacking that Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve." Walpin called those allegations "absolutely amazing."
Grassley, along with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), has never dropped the issue of Walpin's firing. Grassley's shop contributed heavily to a joint House-Senate report released last November they say alleged not only that Walpin's firing was handled improperly, but also that Eisen misled Congress about the matter.
A slightly different group of conservative foreign policy hands wrote to Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to urge them to push the Eisen confirmation process forward.
"Ambassador Eisen's appointment was already delayed after his initial nomination in 2010, leaving us without an ambassador in Prague at a key moment in U.S.-Czech relations. The absence of an ambassador in 2012 would again send the wrong message to our Czech allies," the experts wrote. "While we support the prerogative of senators to raise concerns about presidential nominees, we believe that in this case, the importance of having an ambassador in Prague as well as Ambassador Eisen's record over the last year should ensure his speedy confirmation."
letter was signed by Fly, Jackson, Scheunemann, Rick Graber, Stuart Levey, Michael Makovsky, Clifford D. May, John
O'Sullivan, Gary Schmitt, Kurt Volker, and Ken Weinstein.
The Cable reported last week that Mari Carmen Aponte, the currently serving U.S ambassador to El Salvador, might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year because her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who allegedly had ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation at the time. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
DeMint shows no signs of backing down and Aponte was barely approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with a 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
Another U.S. ambassador who may have to pack his bags this month is Matthew Bryza, Obama's envoy to Azerbaijan. His nomination was being held up last year by two Democrats, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who are seen to be representing the Armenian voting constituencies unhappy with the administration's policy opposing a congressional resolution condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN), an Azeri diaspora group, has started a public awareness campaign to push for Bryza's confirmation.
"Armenians are working to get Bryza [to] return to America in January 2012, seeking thereby to paralyze the mission of the US ambassador to Azerbaijan and to show that the Armenian lobby has a veto in relation to who will be the next U.S. ambassador to Baku," USAN said in a statement on Tuesday.
Former Ambassador to India Tim Roemer left his post in June for family reasons. The Obama has yet to nominate anyone to replace him in New Delhi.
President Barack Obama's administration is working behind the scenes to water down congressional language that would impose crippling sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI).
The Obama administration sent to Congress this week a list of requested changes to the sanctions language found in the Senate's version of the defense authorization bill, which was passed last week. Those sanctions, which would punish any bank that does business with the CBI, were part of an amendment authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that passed the Senate over the administration's objections by a vote of 100 to 0.
The House and the Senate are negotiating over the defense authorization bill this week behind closed doors, so the administration has one more chance to try to change the sanctions language before the bill lands on Obama's desk. If the Kirk-Menendez language is sent to the president without any alterations, he will be forced to either accept it or veto the entire defense authorization bill. There's no indication yet which way he would go.
The administration's laundry list of requested changes to the bill was sent to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The administration wants to delay the implementation of sanctions not related to oil purchases from 60 to 180 days, and wants to water down the severity of sanctions measures if and when they are put into effect.
Kirk and Menendez sent a letter on Monday night to House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA), which was obtained by The Cable, urging them to hold the line and keep the Senate language as-is.
"The Menendez/Kirk amendment is tough, responsible and, most importantly, bipartisan. It provides the Administration another key tool to curb Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons while keeping oil markets stable and encouraging other nations to reduce Iranian oil purchases. With the support of every single United States Senator, it needs no alterations," they wrote.
"We understand the administration has submitted to your Committee a list of proposed changes to the Menendez/Kirk amendment -- both ‘technical fixes' and ‘alterations.' We would note that proposals to delay sanctions implementation and water down the amendment's penalties are not ‘technical' in nature and should be rejected."
Menendez had been working with the administration on how to sanction the CBI, but publicly announced on Dec. 1 that he felt burned by the administration's public opposition to his amendment. "This certainly undermines your relationship with me for the future," Menendez told administration officials at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
So the administration must now look toward Howard Berman (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for help in altering the Kirk-Menendez amendment. Berman's committee has shared jurisdiction on the bill, and Berman has been active in sponsoring legislation to sanction Iran and the CBI.
In a statement e-mailed to The Cable, Berman indicated that the Kirk-Menendez language might not be the final say in how Congress moves to sanction Iran.
"As the original author of the House amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, I am pleased that the Senate has taken action on this urgent issue. In the near future, the House will pass the Iran Threat Reduction Act, which includes my amendment," Berman said. "Meanwhile, I will be working with my colleagues in the House, the Senate, and the Administration in an effort to ensure that the final language of the Kirk-Menendez amendment is as tough and sensible as possible and provides a time-frame that corresponds to the rapid progress Iran is making toward developing nuclear weapons."
One GOP congressional aide told The Cable that if Berman seems to be working to weaken the Senate language, Republicans are ready to use that as fodder against him in his upcoming primary fight against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). The two lawmakers' districts were combined due to redistricting, and they now have to run against each other next year.
"I can't imagine why Howard Berman would want to put his seat at risk by helping the Obama administration weaken Iran sanctions," the GOP aide said. "All he needs to say is 'The House recedes' and the Menendez/Kirk amendment becomes law. Brad Sherman must be licking his chops."
A team of conservative policymakers and thinkers believes that there's a real chance that Western efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon will fail, in which case the United States would have to lead an international effort to contain Iran and deter the Islamic Republic from using its nuclear weapons capability.
Experts at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative Washington think tank, have spent the last six months thinking about how the United States should respond to a nuclear-armed Iran. They are getting ready to release an extensive report tomorrow detailing a comprehensive strategy for dealing with that scenario, entitled, "Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran."
"The report is very much an acknowledgement of the very real possibility of failure of the strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and any responsible party should recognize that failure is an option. There's been a huge disservice done by all who have spent their lives in denial of that possibility," AEI Vice President Danielle Pletka told The Cable in a Monday interview. "Whenever you devise a strategy for what happens before a country gets a nuclear weapon, you should have a strategy for what happens after they get one as well."
Pletka will unveil the report on Tuesday morning at an event with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and fellow AEI experts Tom Donnelly, Maseh Zarif, and Fred Kagan. The project brought together Iran experts of all stripes to brainstorm what would be needed to create the maximum level of confidence that, if Iran does develop a nuclear weapon, it would not decide to use it.
"While there can never be certain deterrence, Cold War presidents often had confidence that the United States had sufficient military power to support a policy of containment through a strategy of deterrence; for most of the period they felt that deterrence was assured," the report states. "It is worth repeating Dean Acheson's basic formulation: ‘American power would be employed in stopping [Soviet aggression and expansion], and if necessary, would inflict on the Soviet Union injury which the Moscow regime would not wish to suffer.' Assured deterrence began with assured destruction of the Soviet regime."
Pletka said that while the geopolitical environment is now different, the basic goal of U.S. policy is the same -- to create a situation whereby Iranian leaders would credibly believe that any nuclear attack would mean the end of their regime. But Pletka doubts whether this administration has the stomach for such a stance.
"Take out Soviet and Moscow from Acheson's quote, and sub in Iran and Tehran. Are we willing to inflict on Iran injury which the Tehran regime would not wish to suffer? I doubt it," Pletka warned. "There's no question that a country can be deterred from using a nuclear weapon, the only question is if there is the will to put those tools in place."
The report works under the assumption that Iran is working to build a nuclear weapon now and could complete one before the 2012 U.S. presidential election, after which it would continue to build nuclear weapons at a rapid pace. The report also assumes that the Obama administration is unwilling to go to war with Iran before November 2012 over the issue, and that even a limited strike by Israel would not achieve a full destruction of Iran's nuclear capabilities.
"Strategically, Iran's leaders would be foolish to wait until after November 2012 to acquire the capability to permanently deter an American attack on their nuclear program," the report states. "Sound American strategy thus requires assuming that Iran will have a weaponized nuclear capability when the next president takes office in January 2013. The Iranians may not test a device before then, depending, perhaps, on the rhetoric of the current president and his possible successor, but we must assume that they will have at least one."
"Make no mistake -- it would be vastly preferable for the United States and the world to find a way to prevent Iran from crossing that threshold, and we wholeheartedly endorse ongoing efforts that might do so," the authors write. "But some of the effort now focused on how to tighten the sanctions screws must shift to the problem of how to deal with the consequences when sanctions fail."
For Donnelly, part of the report's value is that it highlights the high costs of a deterrence and containment strategy compared to the costs of taking stronger actions now to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
"Deterrence and containment are the default mode for the people who are not up for going to war, but we wanted to point out that this was not a cheap or easy alternative, which is the way a lot of people make it sound," Donnelly told The Cable in an interview.
At Tuesday's event, Kirk will make the argument that the deterrence and containment strategy are too costly and too uncertain to depend on. His speech will be entitled, "If Iran gets the bomb..."
"Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is on the march to nuclear weapons. And if this brutal, terrorist-sponsoring regime achieves its goal -- if Iran gets the bomb -- we, the United States of America and freedom-loving nations around the world, will have failed in what could be our generation's greatest test," Kirk will say, according to excerpts of his speech provided to The Cable.
"Iran remains the leading sponsor of international terrorism -- a proliferator of missiles and nuclear materials -- a regional aggressor -- and an abuser of human rights. We cannot afford to risk the security of future generations on a policy of containment."
The Obama administration keeps on naming new ambassadors, but several key State Department nominees remain stalled in the Senate.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Joseph Macmanus to be U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), William Todd to be ambassador to Cambodia, Jonathan Farrar to be ambassador to Panama, and Phyllis Powers to be ambassador to Nicaragua.
Macmanus, who is now principal deputy assistant secretary of state (PDAS) for legislative affairs, replaces Glyn Davies, the new special coordinator for North Korea policy. Previously, Macmanus has served as the executive assistant to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.
Todd, who spent the last year in the U.S. embassy in Kabul coordinating development and economic affairs, was previously the U.S. ambassador to Brunei. Joe Donovan, the recently departed PDAS for East Asian and Pacific affairs, had been rumored to be in line for the Cambodia post -- a consolation prize after he was considered as U.S. ambassador to Seoul but then was not selected. Inside South Korea, there was some criticism of Donovan's relatively low profile compared to other U.S. ambassadors in East Asia.
The Obama administration eventually picked Sung Kim as the U.S. envoy to Seoul and he's been welcomed warmly by the South Koreans as he's the first Korean-American to hold the post. Donovan is now working at the National Defense University. We're told that Tokyo Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Zumwalt is expected to return to Washington as the new deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, although nothing has been formally announced.
Meanwhile, several State Department nominations remained stalled in the Senate due to various objections by GOP senators. The Cable has confirmed that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) placed a hold Thursday on the nomination of National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul, who has been nominated as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia. Kirk and McFaul met on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Apparently, the meeting did not go well.
Kirk told the Associated Press on Thursday that "he wants written assurances that the United States will not provide Russia with any currently classified information on the missile defense system."
Other State Department nominations currently facing GOP Senate opposition include the nominations of Norm Eisen to be ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador, and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Eisen and Aponte are currently serving in their posts under recess appointment that expire at the end of this month.
Here we go again. Only months after the United States and Iraq failed to come to an agreement on a post-2011 troop presence, NATO is now scrambling to negotiate an extension of its own training mission in Iraq, and the prospects don't look good.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly asked NATO to stay," Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said at a Friday morning breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group, an organization that brings reporters together with senior officials to discuss world affairs over greasy eggs and bacon.
"We are trying to make that desire for the NATO training mission to stay a reality," said Daalder, explaining that intense negotiations are underway but that, without an agreement by Dec. 31, all NATO trainers will have to leave Iraq.
Daalder acknowledged that the main sticking point in the negotiations is the requirement that NATO troops in Iraq be given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. The lack of an agreement on immunity for U.S. troops was the main reason that the American presence was not extended beyond this year.
The White House maintains that President Barack Obama always wanted to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but several officials in the Defense and State Departments had publicly and privately been working hard to negotiate an extension. Ultimately, all the senior officials within the Obama administration agreed that, without immunity for U.S. troops, an extension was not possible.
The Obama administration had demanded in its negotiations with the Iraqi government that any immunity agreement would have to be formally approved by Iraq's parliament, known as the Council of Representatives (COR), in order to reassure the U.S. government that the immunity would be honored. Due to the explosiveness of the issue in domestic Iraqi politics, that proved impossible.
Pressed by The Cable, Daalder wouldn't say whether the NATO negotiators were demanding that any immunity agreement be passed by the COR, but he did say that any agreement on immunity would have to be acceptable to all 28 NATO member states, including the U.S. government.
"The same immunity problem of the American trainers' agreement is facing us today with NATO," Qassim al-Aaraji, a member of the COR's security and defense committee, told Military Times on Thursday.
The Iraqi army is badly in need of assistance as it tries to make up for the lack of U.S. military support. The Iraqi armed forces have not developed to the point where they can conduct large-scale maneuvers, coordinate air and ground forces, or manage a complicated logistics system for military supply, according to several reports from Iraq.
NATO hasn't given up on the negotiations, but it now has less than one month to complete the negotiations, and then to receive approval of any agreement by both NATO and Iraq.
"We are working it hard. Time is running out," Daalder said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Iraq this week has ended. Administration officials traveling with him made clear that, after U.S. troops leave this month, they are not coming back.
"There is no discussion, no contemplation, no thought of returning U.S. troops to Iraq," a senior administration official told reporters traveling with Biden on Wednesday.
That seems to contradict what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, when he said, "Our hope would be that this isn't just a State Department presence, but that ultimately we'll be able to negotiate a further presence for the military as well."
The Obama administration first urged Senate leaders to compromise on new legislation that would sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) -- but then came out today against that very compromise, angering and alienating a key Democratic Senate ally.
Two senior administration officials testified Thursday morning that the current bipartisan amendment to impose new sanctions on the CBI and any other bank that does business with them is a bad idea that could alienate foreign countries, make it more difficult to pressure Iran, and raise oil prices, which could actually help the Iranian economy.
The administration's strategy of working behind the scenes to change what's become the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions amendment, only to publicly oppose it today, angered several senators, including Robert Menendez himself. The New Jersey Democrat took seven minutes at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to chastise Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen at Thursday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting for asking him to negotiate on their behalf, and then criticizing the compromise he struck with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
"At your request we engaged in an effort to come to a bipartisan agreement that I believe is fair and balanced. And now you come here and vitiate that agreement.... You should have said we want no amendment," Menendez said. "Everything that you have said in your testimony undermines your opposition to this amendment. The clock is ticking."
Menendez said he regretted working with the administration on the issue, and said that perhaps he should have just agreed to Kirk's original Iran sanctions amendment, which was more severe and provided the administration with less room to maneuver than the compromise amendment that is set to be voted on and passed in the Senate as early as tomorrow.
"This certainly undermines your relationship with me for the future," Menendez told the administration officials. He also urged for more drastic measures, such as a gasoline embargo on Iran. "If the Europeans are considering an embargo, we shouldn't be leading from behind, we should be leading forward."
The break between this Democratic senator, who is up for reelection next year, and the Obama administration comes two days after the administration sent three very senior officials to meet with senators to try to get them to scuttle the amendment. On the morning of Nov. 29, Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough called an emergency meeting on Capitol Hill, multiple Hill sources told The Cable.
They sat down with Sens. Kirk, Menendez, and SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). The officials argued that the Kirk-Menendez would get in the way of their efforts to build a multilateral coalition designed to increase pressure on Iran, and they warned the amendment might cause severe disruptions to the world oil markets and therefore have negative effects on the U.S. economy. Kirk and Menendez flatly refused to back down, our sources said, while Kerry reportedly said exactly nothing in the meeting.
The officials' sentiments were echoed in a letter sent today to Senate leaders by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who we're told is personally invested in the administration effort to thwart the Kirk-Menendez amendment.
"I am writing to express the administration's strong opposition to this amendment because, in its current form, it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have taken to build strong international pressure against Iran," wrote Geithner. "In addition, the amendment would potentially yield a net economic benefit to the Iranian regime."
Geithner argued that because the Kirk-Menendez amendment would force foreign banks to choose between doing business with the U.S. or Iran, some might choose Iran and resist going along with American unilateral efforts, thereby helping the Iranian economy and hurting our own.
Menendez addressed that point by saying that the amendment allows the implementation of the sanctions to be waived if the president determines there's not enough supply in the world oil market, or if he determines a country is making progress in divesting itself from Iranian business relationships.
"So we basically say to financial institutions, do you want to deal with a $300 billion economy, or do you want to deal with a $14 trillion economy? I think that choice is pretty easy for them," Menendez said at the hearing. "So I find it pretty outrageous that when the clock is ticking, and when you ask us to engage in a more reasoned effort, and we produce such an effort in a bipartisan basis, that in fact you come here and say what you say."
One GOP Senate aide told The Cable today that while the amendment was crafted to avoid disrupting the world economy as much as possible, administration officials' warnings of economic consequences could have an effect of their own.
"The administration is going to spook the oil markets themselves in opposition to an amendment that would not," the aide said. "They could create their own self-fulfilling prophecy of driving up oil prices, so their strategy seems to be self defeating."
UPDATE: The Kirk-Menendez amendment passed the senate late Thursday by a unanimous vote of 100-0.
Obama confidant Mark Lippert has been nominated to become the Pentagon's top Asia official, but before he can be confirmed, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wants answers on Lippert's internal feud with Gen. Jim Jones when they both worked at the National Security Council (NSC).
"In several passages of his book Obama's Wars, published in 2010, Bob Woodward discusses your official relationship with [National Security Advisor] General James L. Jones and offers a disturbing portrayal of your actions that could be described as arrogant and disloyal," McCain wrote to Lippert today, in a letter obtained by The Cable.
McCain didn't say outright that he wants to hold up the Lippert nomination, but he strongly implied that his support depends on Lippert's explanations of what went on during his tenure at the White House.
"Your actions while working at the NSC are an important indicator of your fundamental qualification to carry out the duties of the critically important position for which you have been nominated," McCain wrote.
He then listed 21 specific questions for Lippert to answer in written form, dealing with almost every juicy anecdote related to White House infighting found in Woodward's book. McCain wants to know exactly how Lippert interacted with Jones, as well as with political advisors at the White House. He also wants to know if Jones had power over Lippert -- or if it was the other way around.
More specifically, McCain wants Lippert to spell out whether any of the charges of insubordination found in Woodward's book are true, whether Lippert ever leaked to the press about Jones, and whether he tried to cut off Jones' access to President Barack Obama, as Woodward reported. McCain also wants Lippert to detail any and all conversations he may have had with Jones regarding their contentious time working together.
In one part of the letter, McCain asks Lippert to comment on Woodward's contention that Jones viewed him and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough as "major obstacles to developing and deciding on coherent national security policy."
McCain also wants Lippert to answer charges found in Woodward's book that he cut NSC Senior Coordinator for Iraq and Afghanistan Gen. Douglas Lute out of important discussions as well.
Behind the McCain inquiry might lie a bit of political revenge, however. Lippert was one of Obama's earliest and closest advisors on foreign policy, having been with Obama since his days as a senator. He was a key figure in Obama's presidential campaign, leading the foreign policy advisory team, and then served as chief of staff of the NSC, a position that had not existed in George W. Bush's administration but which Obama resurrected in 2009.
According to Woodward's book, Lippert was pushed out of the White House after an internal struggle with Jones, who blamed Lippert for a series of negative leaks to the press about Jones' mismanagement of the NSC.
"In July , Jones laid out his case to Obama and others. All seemed to agree that it was rank insubordination. Obama promised to move on Lippert," Woodward wrote. "On October 1, the day of the McChrystal speech in London, the White House press secretary issued a three-paragraph statement that Lippert was returning to active duty in the Navy. The statement made it sound as though this had been Lippert's choice. ‘I was not surprised,' Obama said in the statement, ‘when he came and told me he had stepped forward for another mobilization, as Mark is passionate about the Navy.'"
Jones was later pushed out himself, after being blamed by top White House officials for a series of his own leaks to the press about the White House's top advisors, whom he called "the water bugs, the "Politburo," "the mafia," and the "campaign set."
The Lippert nomination was an open secret in Washington as early as April, but was delayed for months. The rumor was that Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not want Lippert, a close confidant of the White House clique, burrowed inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
At Lippert's Nov. 17 nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain also brought up Lippert's initial opposition to the surge in Iraq, an issue that was front and center during the feisty 2008 presidential campaign between Obama and McCain.
"Mr. Lippert appears to be qualified and I praise his service in uniform. I have serious concerns regarding his nomination. At a meeting in my office I asked Mr. Lippert his views on the success of the surge in Iraq and I find his answers to be less than satisfactory," McCain said on Nov. 17.
Lippert testified at his hearing that he never leaked to the press about Jones and that his departure from the White House was due to his own personal desire to return to active duty military service.
"In terms of the press accounts, I did not leak to the press about General Jones. My departure from the White House was voluntary. I actually turned down a promotion at the White House to return to active duty," Lippert said at the hearing. "General Jones and I worked collaboratively on many issues and I'm proud of what we accomplished, but there was also times we disagreed, but I knew General Jones was the boss."
McCain pressed Lippert to admit that his departure had anything to do with Jones, but Lippert would only say that he left voluntarily after being offered a "promotion" to serve in the White House Military Affairs office.
In addition to McCain, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has also indicated he might oppose the Lippert nomination, due to Cornyn's ongoing unhappiness with the administration's refusal to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter planes, which are built in Cornyn's home state. Cornyn had filed an amendment to the defense policy bill aimed at forcing the administration to make the sale, but that amendment was spiked this week.
Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.
Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.
At today's business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aponte's nomination was narrowly approved by 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.
"This nomination needs a vote by the end of the year otherwise we won't have an ambassador in El Salvador," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at the meeting. Other senators that spoke up for Aponte included chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Menendez and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) were initially the only senators allowed to review Aponte's FBI file, but DeMint eventually got permission to view the file. He said at today's meeting that the file was incomplete and that it hadn't been updated since 1998. He asked for a closed hearing on Aponte, but Kerry said that was not an option.
"She has done a solid job as ambassador," Kerry said today, pointing out that under Aponte's tenure, El Salvador became the first Latin American country to send troops to aid NATO forces in Afghanistan. He asked at the hearing for DeMint to work with him to move the nomination but the other GOP committee members backed up DeMint's objection.
"There are legitimate questions about Miss Aponte," DeMint said, arguing that his concerns were not limited to her relationship with Tamayo. "This is not a witch hunt."
Durbin pointed out that, since 1998, when Aponte withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, she has twice received Top Secret security clearances. "Obviously, many tough questions have been asked and answered," Durbin said, arguing that Aponte's personal background was no longer an issue.
DeMint alleged that political people in the Obama administration overruled intelligence officials in granting Aponte security clearances, but he offered no evidence of that in the public business meeting.
Boxer said she suspected DeMint's problems with Aponte stemmed from a June 2011 op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadorian newspaper promoting tolerance and acceptance of people in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community.
"Ms. Aponte's decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans, presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job," DeMint wrote in a response on the Human Events conservative news and opinion website. "The Senate should reject her nomination when her recess appointment expires at the end of this Congress and force the president to appoint a new nominee who will respect the pro-family values upheld by the people of El Salvador."
But Durbin said at today's business meeting that Aponte was simply following a State Department cable sent to all diplomatic posts that they publish op-eds in support of LGBT awareness month.
Regardless, Aponte's re-nomination bid seems to be in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, SFRC approved the nominations of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Two Republicans voted against the McFaul nomination: Bob Corker (R-TN) and James Risch (R-ID).
Corker didn't object to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but rather used the nomination to press for administration assurances that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which includes the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, will be fully funded for Fiscal Year 2012. He told The Cable today that he was working with the administration on the issue.
"I just want to see the administration work with us to follow through on commitments made to us last December," said Corker.
Risch, however, is one of several GOP senators who want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage to press the administration to hand over information on various aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, such as the details of missile defense cooperation discussions with Russia. It's not clear whether the administration is willing to give those senators enough information to facilitate the McFaul nomination.
The McFaul nomination is now headed to the senate floor, where several GOP senators not on the committee are expected to voice objections. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is expected to place a formal hold on the McFaul nomination due to ongoing concerns on the lack of disclosure of documents related to U.S. missile defense cooperation and questions as to whether the administration will be sharing classified missile defense data with the Russian Federation, a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.
As for Jacobson, only one senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) objected to the nomination. He said at the meeting that he was concerned with the Obama administration's overall policy in Latin America and that he would hold all related nominees until the administration engages with him more directly on these issues.
SFRC was also supposed to bring up a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the Libya war, but that resolution was not offered at today's meeting and no explanation was given as to why it has disappeared.
Senate Democrats and Republicans have agreed on a way forward regarding new sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) that would impose crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, with an eye toward preventing a catastrophic consequence for the world oil markets.
Last night, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) filed a new amendment to the defense policy bill that represents a compromise of the two separate amendments each had filed last week. The new bipartisan language would build upon the administration's announcement last week that it was naming the CBI as a "primary money laundering concern" under the Patriot Act and go further than President Barack Obama's Nov. 19 executive order expanding sanctions on Iran's petroleum sector. The Senate amendment would add to that by barring any U.S. financial institution from doing business with any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducted any significant financial transaction with the CBI.
The Kirk-Menendez amendment got unanimous consent in the Senate on Monday for consideration on the defense bill, which is on the floor this week. It will get a vote, probably before Dec. 2, and is expected to pass overwhelmingly. The administration has resisted any congressional efforts to force the imposition of Iran sanctions ahead of its own schedule, but Obama will be hard pressed to veto the must-pass defense bill over the issue.
"The amendment is hard-hitting, responsible and, most importantly, completely bipartisan. It'll have an enormous impact on the Iranian economy without hurting our own while providing the administration additional diplomatic leverage," a GOP Senate aide told The Cable today. "Last week the administration told the world that the Central Bank of Iran was a terrorist bank; I think they'd have to agree this amendment is an appropriate way of dealing with a terrorist bank."
The main concern with Kirk's original amendment was that it would have forced measures against central banks in other countries that do oil business with the CBI. The compromise language softens that requirement by giving a six-month grace period for petroleum-related sanctions to go into effect. And after six months, the penalties against central banks in other countries could be waived by the president for another six months if the Energy Information Agency reports there's not enough non-Iranian oil supply in the market, or if specific countries are showing strong efforts to move away from Iranian oil purchases.
The amendment would also require the president to initiate a "multilateral diplomacy initiative" aimed at convincing other countries to stop purchasing oil from Iran.
Read a best-guess timeline of the implementation of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions, compiled as a memo by Hill aides and given to The Cable, after the jump:
The State Department announced today that it would stop fulfilling its obligations under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty with respect to Russia, in retaliation for Russia's 2007 decision to stop honoring that treaty altogether.
"This announcement in the CFE Treaty's implementation group comes after the United States and NATO allies have tried over the past four years to find a diplomatic solution following Russia's decision in 2007 to cease implementation with respect to all other 29 CFE States," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "Since then, Russia has refused to accept inspections and ceased to provide information to other CFE Treaty parties on its military forces, as required by the treaty."
The treaty, which was signed at the very end of the Cold War in 1990, was meant to impose limits on key categories of conventional weapons placed in Europe by NATO and Russia.
Russia suspended its observance of the CFE treaty in 2007: It claimed that NATO enlargement had resulted in the organization breaching treaty limits, objected to NATO member states' efforts to link the treaty to a Russian troop presence in Georgia and Moldova, and argued that U.S. missile defense plans in Eastern Europe constituted a violation of the treaty.
Nuland was actually the administration's lead official on negotiating with the Russians regarding the CFE before she was named the new State Department spokeswoman. A year of U.S.-Russian negotiations on the treaty broke down last May, a month before Nuland returned to Washington. She said that the United States will continue to honor the treaty with all states, except Russia.
"We will resume full treaty implementation regarding Russia, if Russia resumes implementation of its treaty obligations," she said. "The United States remains firmly committed to revitalizing conventional arms control in Europe."
But critics on Capitol Hill said that the State Department's move is not likely to convince Russia to come back to the negotiating table or resume fulfilling its treaty obligations.
"The Obama administration has adopted a limited countermeasure that is too late and too weak.... Since Russia refuses to end its occupation of Georgia, there is little point in attempting to bring it back into compliance with its obligations under the CFE Treaty," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.
"Moreover, the Obama decision to continue to provide U.S. data to all other CFE Parties does not mirror Russian data denial to all parties, nor will it be effective, since Moscow will likely obtain data from several CFE parties provided by the United States. Such a move undermines effective efforts to answer noncompliance of the CFE Treaty particularly, and shows the extent to which the Obama administration lacks a credible policy in Europe."
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is rolling out his foreign policy and national security team today, as the candidates get ready to spar on foreign policy issues tonight.
Newt's team, which has been working together informally for months, is led by Herman Pirchner, the founding president of a small, conservative think tank in Washington called the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC). Also on Team Newt is AFPC Vice President Ilan Berman and AFPC Senior Fellow for Asian Studies Stephen Yates, a former staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney's top Middle East advisor David Wurmser is also part of the Newt campaign advisory team, along with former President Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Reagan-era National Security Council (NSC) senior directors Norman Bailey and Ken deGraffenreid, Reagan-era Undersecretary of State for security assistance, science, and technology Bill Schneider, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and others. We're also told Newt is talking to former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and former Central Command head Gen. John Abizaid.
If Newt's foreign policy team seems a little long in the tooth, it is. Most of these experts have known Newt for decades, and see themselves as helping a candidate who already boasts a long track record and well-formed intellectual identity when it comes to foreign policy.
"I have depended on the counsel of this world-class group of experts throughout my career, and I am honored that they have decided to be with me as we work to ensure that the United States remains the safest, strongest, and freest country in the world," Gingrich said in his Tuesday press release. "I look forward to drawing on their vast knowledge and experience as we assert our vision of an exceptional America that, contrary to what Barack Obama may believe, will continue to be both the world's leading power and most assiduous defender of freedom for generations to come."
"In order to lead, one must have a comprehensive knowledge of world issues and dynamics that can only come from decades of study and experience," said Pirchner. "I have worked with Speaker Gingrich for many years, and in these dangerous times, he is by far the best candidate to lead when American lives and American interests are at stake."
As House speaker, Gingrich weighed in on the U.S. interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti and was a key supporter of North American Free Trade Agreement and other major Clinton-era trade deals. Since leaving politics, he has researched, as an independent scholar, the roles of Reagan and Pope John Paul II in the closing days of the Cold War. He holds a PhD in modern European history.
As to his stance on foreign policy, Gingrich is not a realist in the sense of Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft, nor is he a neoconservative in the model often attributed to Paul Wolfowitz or Doug Feith.
"I don't think either of those labels would apply to Newt Gingrich," Yates told The Cable today. "His world view is one that emphasizes being actively competitive. We don't need to impose our will in the world but we ought not to be hiding behind our desks."
For a more detailed idea of how President Gingrich would organize his national security and foreign policy priorities, a campaign advisor provided to The Cable a memo Newt sent to the Defense Department leadership in 2003 titled "Seven Strategic Necessities."
"We need an elevated debate about the larger zone of American security and the threats to that security," Newt wrote.
He advocated that the debate over national security should aim to divide the nation into three factions: "Those who would hide and ignore reality (essentially the McGovern-Dean Democrats), those who pretend to be responsible but really want to carp and complain without an effective alternative, and those who understand that this will be a hard campaign and may take years and will involve mistakes."
Newt also advocated strong support for moderate Palestinians who were fighting against Hamas for control of Palestinian society and government.
"The only hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is for the United States to overtly ally with those Palestinians who will accept Israel if they have safety, health, prosperity and freedom and in this alliance defeat and ultimately eliminate the threat of the terrorists, " he wrote. "Victory in the Israel-Palestinian conflict thus inherently means victory both in a campaign against terrorists and in a campaign to build a safe, healthy, prosperous, free Palestinian society."
Several members of Newt's foreign policy team will be on hand tonight for the AEI/Heritage/CNN foreign policy-focused presidential debate. Your humble Cable guy and Foreign Policy's Election 2012 team will be at the debate and covering it in real time, so watch this space.
For a rundown of Newt's foreign policy positions during this campaign season, check out his profile on FP's new Election 2012 channel here. See a full list of Newt's foreign policy advisory team with bios after the jump:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) threatened today to place a hold on the nomination of President Barack Obama's confidant Mark Lippert, who has been nominated as the Pentagon's top official for Asia.
Lippert, who had his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday for the position of assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, is a close confidant of the president: He was the top foreign policy advisor in Obama's Senate office, and a key campaign advisor during the presidential campaign as well. Lippert served as National Security Council chief of staff, until he was reportedly pushed out by then National Security Advisor Jim Jones over a dispute regarding negative leaks about Jones in the press, which Jones thought came from Lippert.
Since then, Lippert had been deployed to the warzone in his capacity as a reserve Naval officer. But now that he's back, he's poised to take over the Asia office inside the Pentagon's policy shop at a crucial time -- assuming Congress gives him the green light. Some critics have pointed out that Lippert is light on experience dealing with East Asia and there is some bad blood left over in GOP circles from the 2008 campaign -- but Cornyn's threatened hold is about the administration's Taiwan policy, not Lippert personally.
Cornyn has been leading the congressional drive to pressure the administration to sell Taiwan the 66 new F-16 C/D fighters its government has been requesting. He's still unhappy about the result of the last time he used his Senate holding power to force administration action on the issue. In July, he successfully pressured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into publicly announcing the sale of retrofit packages for Taiwan's aging fleet of F-16 A/B fighters, in exchange for Cornyn lifting his hold on Deputy Secretary of State nominee Bill Burns.
At Thursday's hearing, Cornyn pressed Lippert on the issue (watch the video here) and then introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that seeks to force the administration to sell Taiwan new F-16s. That amendment has been voted down in the Senate once before.
When asked if he had an opinion on Taiwan's air defense needs, Lippert said he didn't, but he felt confident the Obama administration was fulfilling its responsibilities to provide for Taiwan's defense as mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act.
"That's based on the decision to upgrade the F-16 A and B's. That's based on the $12 billion in sales over the last two years to Taiwan, and that's based on the close coordination and consultation with the Taiwan government," Lippert said.
Apparently, that didn't satisfy Cornyn. He wrote a letter threatening to hold the Lippert nomination unless he gets some satisfaction on the issue.
"I remain disappointed by your de facto denial of Taiwan's request to 66 new F-16 C/D fighter aircraft, and I believe it sends a damaging message to nations in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond that the U.S. is willing to abandon our friends in the face of Communist China's intimidation tactics," Cornyn wrote. "I hope to be able to support the confirmation of this nominee (Lippert). However, I ask that you decide on a near term course of action to address Taiwan's looming fighter shortfall and provide me with the specific actions you plan to take."
Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved two bills this week aimed at supporting arms sales to Taiwan, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2011, and the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act of 2011. Both bills support the sale of F-16 C/D fighter planes to Taiwan, and were authored by the committee's chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and foreign operations.
Ros-Lehtinen criticized what she saw as the administration's "regrettable and short-sighted decision not to sell the next generation of F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan, despite growing evidence of China's increasing military threat to the island."
"Taiwan needs those F-16s and she needs them now to defend the skies over the Taiwan Strait," she said.
Also this week, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan commission that advises Congress, argued in its new annual report for the sale of new planes to Taiwan. The commission recommended that Congress "urge the administration to sell Taiwan the additional fighter aircraft it needs to recapitalize its aging and retiring fleet."
The Cable has obtained the document at the center of the "memo-gate" controversy, sent allegedly from the highest echelons of Pakistani's civilian leadership to Adm. Michael Mullen in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The memo offered to reshape Pakistan's national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamic radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy -- and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.
The Cable confirmed that the memo is authentic and that it was received by Mullen. The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani -- the rumored author of the memo -- has offered to resign over what has become a full-fledged scandal in Islamabad. The Cable spoke this evening to the man at the center of the controversy and the conduit of the memo, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.
"Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the Army to succumb to wholesale changes," reads the memo, sent to Mullen via an unidentified U.S. interlocutor by Ijaz. "If civilians are forced from power, Pakistan becomes a sanctuary for UBL's [Osama bin Laden's] legacy and potentially the platform for far more rapid spread of al Qaeda's brand of fanaticism and terror. A unique window of opportunity exists for the civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates due to their complicity in the UBL matter."
The memo -- delivered just 9 days after the killing of bin Laden -- requests Mullen's help "in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani that delivers Washington's demand for him and [Inter-Services Intelligence chief] Gen [Ahmad Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus."
"Should you be willing to do so, Washington's political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that, while weak at the top echelon in terms of strategic direction and implementation (even though mandated by domestic political forces), in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington, each of whom have long and historical ties to the US military, political and intelligence communities," the memo states.
The memo offers a six-point plan for how Pakistan's national security leadership would be altered in favor of U.S. interests. President Asif Ali Zardari would start a formal "independent" inquiry to investigate the harboring of bin Laden and take suggestions from Washington on who would conduct that inquiry. The memo promised this inquiry would identify and punish the Pakistani officials responsible for harboring bin Laden.
The memo pledges that Pakistan would then hand over top al Qaeda and Taliban officials residing in Pakistan, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, or give U.S. military forces a "green light" to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil, with the support of Islamabad. "This commitment has the backing of the top echelon on the civilian side of our house," the memo states.
The memo also promises a new Pakistani national security leadership that would bring transparency and "discipline" to Pakistan's nuclear program, cut ties with Section S of the ISI, which is "charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network" and other rogue elements, and work with the Indian government to punish the perpetrators of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Ijaz, who has a long and controversial record of acting as an unofficial messenger for the Pakistani and U.S. governments, has claimed repeatedly that the memo came from a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari and was given to Mullen through a U.S. interlocutor close to the then-serving Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Today, in an exclusive interview with The Cable, Ijaz alleged that Pakistan's U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was not only the author of the memo, but the "architect" of the entire plan to overthrow Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership, and was seeking U.S. help.
"Haqqani believed he and the president (Zardari) could redraft the architectural blueprint of how Pakistan should be governed in the future -- with civilians in command of the armed forces and intelligence services and the memorandum's content was geared in that direction," Ijaz said.
Over the past month, the rumors of the memo and its contents have ballooned into a huge political crisis in Pakistan. Islamabad's military leadership has pressed Zardari to start a full inquiry and the president has summoned Haqqani to the capital to explain himself. Haqqani offered to resign from his post on Wednesday, and told The Cable that he will travel to Pakistan on Friday.
On Wednesday, The Cable first reported that Mullen confirmed the existence of the secret memo delivered to him through an intermediary from Ijaz on May 10. On Nov. 8, Mullen's former spokesman Capt. John Kirby told The Cable that Mullen had no recollection of receiving the memo, but a week later, Kirby confirmed that Mullen had searched his records and discovered that he had indeed received the Ijaz memo -- but that he gave it no credibility and never acted on it.
Ijaz said Haqqani's proposal, as detailed in the memo and in a series of Blackberry Messenger conversations between Ijaz and Haqqani, included the establishment of a "new national security team" in which the ambassador would be National Security Advisor of Pakistan. An official with the initials "JK" would be the new foreign minister and an official with the initials "NB" would assume a new civilian post in charge of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies.
Ijaz read out several alleged Blackberry Messenger conversations he alleges he had with Haqqani while planning the scheme and drafting the memo. The Cable was unable to verify the veracity of these conversations; as read out by Ijaz, they paint a picture of him and Haqqani devising a coded language worthy of a spy movie to discuss the memo while under possible surveillance.
For example, when Ijaz asked Haqqani to consider adding access by U.S. investigators to bin Laden's wives to the offer, the wives were referred to as "the three stooges," Ijaz said. Haqqani would use the words "my friend" or "boss" to refer to Zardari. "There was an orchestration to cover our tracks even at that moment because there was always a possibility this could get out," Ijaz said.
Once the memo was final, Ijaz said he approached three U.S. interlocutors, all of whom had served at the highest levels of the U.S. government. One of them was a current serving official, one was a former military official, and one was a former civilian government official, Ijaz said.
"All three of them expressed skepticism about the offers that were being made. Frankly, when you read it, you will see that these offers are sort of a sellout of Pakistan to the United States," Ijaz said.
Ijaz said the text of the memo proves Haqqani's involvement because it is full of detailed Pakistani government information that a mere businessman would never have had access to. Ijaz said, however, that he can't confirm whether Zardari had any direct knowledge of the memo or the promises contained therein. All the assurances that Zardari was involved and approved of the memo came from Haqqani, he said.
"I believe, with what we know today, that the president probably gave him a blanket power of attorney to conduct the stealth operation and never wanted to know the details, which he left to Haqqani happily," Ijaz said.
But why would Haqqani, who has extensive connections throughout the U.S. government, need to pass the memo through Ijaz? Haqqani and Zardari needed plausible deniability, said Ijaz, in case the issue blew up into a scandal.
And it has.
"Haqqani was likely the sole architect of the back-channel intervention and needed a plausibly deniable go-between to make it work. I fit that bill perfectly because he knew the Pakistanis, who have been assassinating my character and diminishing my person for decades, would have at me with glee if things went wrong ... if a leak occurred purposefully or accidentally," Ijaz said.
Why did Ijaz decide to reveal the existence of the memo in the first place, as he did in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, especially if he really is a secret go-between? Ijaz said it was his effort to defend Mullen from attacks in the Pakistani press after Mullen sharply criticized the ISI and its links to the Haqqani network in his harshly worded closing congressional testimony on Sept. 22.
"I felt very strongly about how Adm. Mullen was mistreated by the Pakistani press after he had testified in Congress and shed light on the harsh truth about Pakistan's intelligence service brinkmanship," Ijaz said. "So I felt it was necessary to set the record straight."
The whole story is mired in the web of relationships and dealings both Haqqani and Ijaz have had over the years in their roles as members of the Pakistani elite in Washington. Ijaz had considered Haqqani a friend and Haqqani had even spoken at one of the charity events Ijaz organized.
Ijaz said he respects Haqqani, believes his motives are patriotic, and sees him as a needed presence in the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
"Haqqani has had a reputation since he became ambassador as being more of America's ambassador to Pakistan than Pakistan's Ambassador to America, but that's an unfair charge," Ijaz said. "He is someone who is trying to help people there understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is."
"In that sense, he's done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz said. "I still consider him a friend."
In a long statement given to The Cable over e-mail today, Haqqani flatly denied all of Ijaz's allegations:
I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz's claims and assertions. I did not write or deliver the memo he describes not did I authorize anyone including Mr Ijaz to do so.
I was in London and stayed at the Park Lane Intercontinental on the date in May mentioned in one of the alleged conversations but I was there to meet senior British govt officials, including Sir David Richards Chief Of General Staff and Mr Tobias Ellwood then parliamentary Secretary for Defense. These officials will confirm that threat of a coup was not on my mind at the time, the state of US-Pakistan relations was.
I fail to understand why Mr Ijaz claims on the one hand to have helped the civilian government by delivering his memo and on the other insists on trying to destroy democracy by driving a wedge between elected civilians and the military in Pakistan with his persistent claims. It is bizarre to say the least.
Mr Ijaz, whom I have known and communicated with off and on for ten years, once said to me he was richer and smarter than me so I should pay attention to him. Clearly he does not think about the consequences of his actions.
He may be the only so-called secret emissary in the world who likes so much publicity. He has yet to explain why, if all he says is correct, he wrote his Oct 10 oped and himself deliberately blew the cover off his own secret memo and mission.
Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is returning to "Mubarak-era tactics of repression," and the U.S. government should condition military funding to Egypt on such repression ending, a bipartisan group of Egypt experts said today.
"Nearly ten months since the start of the Egyptian revolution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has yet to take basic steps towards establishing a human rights-respecting, democratic, civilian government," reads a Nov. 17 statement by the Working Group on Egypt, given exclusively to The Cable. "On the contrary, in many areas Egypt is witnessing a continuation or return of Mubarak-era tactics of repression, as well as increasingly obvious efforts by SCAF to extend and even increase its own power in the government well beyond the scheduled parliamentary elections."
The Egypt Working Group, made up of prominent former officials and think tankers from both sides of the aisle, was one of the key voices in the Washington foreign policy community in the lead up to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. The group has long advocated pressing Egypt to quicken progress toward democratic reform and respect for human rights.
Members of the working group include former NSC Middle East official Elliott Abrams, the Carnegie Endowment's Michele Dunne, Human Rights Watch's Washington director Tom Malinowski, the Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis, Brookings' Robert Kagan, Foreign Policy Initiative's Ellen Bork, the Project on Middle East Democracy's Steve McInerney, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Robert Satloff, and others.
The group wrote that -- in addition to repressive policies used against protesters, journalists, and Egyptian minority groups -- the SCAF is also resisting calls to schedule a presidential election and is attempting to retain executive power throughout the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution.
"These policies risk placing Egypt's rulers in conflict with its people once again -- an outcome that would be terrible for Egypt and for the United States. The U.S. should make clear its support for a genuine democratic transition that will require an end to military rule in Egypt, and use all the leverage it has to encourage this goal, including the placing of conditions on future aid to the Egyptian military," the group wrote.
Their view is at odds with that of the head the State Department's new office on Middle East Transitions, William Taylor, who said Nov. 3 that he became convinced on a recent trip to Egypt that the SCAF is eager to get out of the governing business and hand over executive power as soon as possible.
"[The SCAF] wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn't like the governing business," Taylor said. "I do believe that they are uncomfortable governing. Some would say they're not doing a great job of it. "
Read the working group's full statement after the jump:
Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has become embroiled in a political scandal in Islamabad and offered his resignation today to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, as Adm. Michael Mullen exclusively confirmed to The Cable the existence of a secret memo that the former Joint Chiefs chairman had earlier not recollected receiving.
Haqqani, who has long been a key link between the civilian government in Pakistan and the Obama administration, has also been battling for years with the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's chief spy agency -- two organizations whose influence in Washington he has fought to weaken. That battle came to the fore of Pakistani politics this month due to the growing scandal known in Pakistan as "memo-gate," which relates to a secret backchannel memo that was allegedly conveyed from Zardari to Mullen, through Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.
Ijaz alleged in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times that on May 10, in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad, Zardari had offered to replace Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups. Ijaz said he was directed to craft the memo by a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari. Ijaz has implied -- and the Pakistani press has speculated -- that this official was Haqqani.
Last week, The Cable published an exclusive report on Mullen's comments about the memo. "Adm. Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him," Mullen's spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Nov. 8."I cannot say definitively that correspondence did not come from him -- the admiral received many missives as chairman from many people every day, some official, some not. But he does not recall one from this individual."
Ijaz shot back in an article in Pakistan's The News, in which he published extensive Blackberry Messenger conversations with the Zardari-linked Pakistani official, allegedly Haqqani. He insisted that the memo did, in fact, exist, and that it was delivered from Ijaz to Mullen through another secret go-between, this one a senior U.S. government official.
"There can be no doubt a memorandum was drafted and transmitted to Admiral Mullen with the approval of the highest political level in Pakistan, and that the admiral received it with certainty from a source whom he trusted and who also trusted me," Ijaz wrote.
Kirby told The Cable today that Mullen now acknowledges that the Ijaz memo does exist, that he did receive it -- but that he never paid any attention to it and took no follow up action.
"Adm. Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Mr. Ijaz. After the original article appeared on Foreign Policy's website, he felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory. He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it," Kirby said. "That said, neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm. Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani government. He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later. Therefore, he addressed it with no one."
Zardari's civilian political enemies, such as opposition leader Imran Kahn, have seized upon the controversy. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military, led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been pressuring Zardari to start an inquiry into the memo.
Zardari, Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met for the second time in two days on the matter late on Wednesday. Zardari also had a late night meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter on Tuesday night.
Earlier Wednesday, on the floor of Pakistan's National Assembly, Gilani publicly confirmed that Haqqani had been summoned to Islamabad to explain his position on the memo.
"Whether he's ambassador or not, he has to come to Islamabad to explain his position," Gilani said.
In an interview late on Wednesday afternoon, Washington time, Haqqani confirmed to The Cable that he will travel to Islamabad and has sent a letter to Zardari offering his resignation.
"At no point was I asked by you or anyone in the Pakistani government to draft a memo and at no point did I draft or deliver such a memo," Haqqani said that he had written in his letter to Zardari.
"I've been consistently vilified as being against the Pakistani military even though I have only opposed military intervention in political affairs," Haqqani said that he wrote. "It's not easy to operate under the shadow of innuendo and I have not been named by anyone so far, but I am offering to resign in the national interest and leave that to the will of the president."
Haqqani declined to comment to The Cable whether or not he played any role in the controversy surrounding the memo -- for example, discussing it with Ijaz before or after the fact, as the scandal deepened. It's widely rumored that Haqqani and Ijaz have known each other for many years.
It's remains unclear whether Zardari had any knowledge of the memo at the time. In Islamabad, some speculate that Zardari may be trying to put an end to the memo-gate controversy by sacrificing Haqqani, but no decision has yet been made on whether or not Haqqani will step down. If he leaves, he will return to private life having played a key role in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship during its most tumultuous period -- a role that is mired in the secrecy and intrigue of Pakistani politics and diplomacy.
Haqqani told The Cable that he is the target of a media campaign backed by the supporters of the military's role in politics because he has focused on building ties between the U.S. and Pakistani civilian governments, rather than with the Pakistani military.
"Eighty percent of Pakistanis don't want a good relationship with the U.S., and anyone who stands up for the United States can expect to be vilified," he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approval of Mike McFaul's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to Russia was delayed on Tuesday by GOP senators, but today several Republicans are coming to McFaul's aid.
A group of former GOP national security officials wrote to SFRC leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to express their support for the McFaul nomination, which is now facing objections from one SFRC member now and with multiple other GOP senators ready to follow suit, who will make their concerns known if and when McFaul is voted out of committee. In fact, the entire SFRC business meeting was cancelled on Tuesday amid the confusion. It was rescheduled for Nov. 29, when McFaul's nomination will finally be put before the panel.
"We have known and worked closely with Mike for many years and have the highest regard for his professionalism and his dedication to American interests and ideals. He is one of America's leading experts on democracy and has been a tireless promoter of democracy in Russia and elsewhere around the world," wrote former Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, former Assistant Secretaries of State David Merkel and Stephen Rademaker, former NSC Director Jamie Fly, Freedom House President David Kramer, former Rumsfeld and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann, and the Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan.
McFaul, who is a key architect of the Obama "reset" policy with Russia that many conservatives dislike, also has a long track record of advocating for democracy and human rights and is well positioned to press those issues in Moscow, the former officials wrote.
"His nomination has been enthusiastically supported by leading figures in the Russian political opposition. His presence there will provide a strong voice for democracy and freedom in that country and provide an open door and sympathetic ear to all elements of Russian society."
As we reported on Tuesday, the only official objection to McFaul's nomination so far is from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012.
"Senator Corker is working to ensure that the U.S. funds the necessary modernization of our nuclear weapons and complex as outlined by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent," Corker's communications director Laura Herzog told The Cable today.
Several GOP Senate offices have told The Cable that other senators want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage over the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
For a great example of those concerns, take a look at this extensive list of questions submitted to McFaul by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), obtained by The Cable.
"The administration cannot merely wish these problems away. However, it is also in the nation's interest to get Mr. McFaul to Moscow as quickly as possible," the former officials wrote to Kerry and Lugar. "We hope the Senate and the administration will disentangle these issues so that the full Senate can approve his nomination expeditiously."
Some GOP offices are seeking more administration support for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison exactly two years ago today. Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement criticizing Russia for not moving faster to bringing Magnitsky's killers to justice.
"Despite widely-publicized credible evidence of criminal conduct in Magnitsky's case, Russian authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible," Toner said. "While we welcome charges against two prison officials, we will continue to call for full accountability for those responsible for Magnitsky's unjust imprisonment and wrongful death. We will continue to fully support the efforts of those in Russia who seek to bring these individuals to justice."
The Senate was all set to consider next year's funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations today, but ended up punting on the bill due to a dispute over Cuba policy and a failure to agree on procedure.
Congress has been rushing to complete work on all the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, which started almost two months ago, on Oct. 1. The Senate Democratic leadership's strategy was to move the bills in chunks of three at a time, smaller versions of omnibus bills affectionately known as "minibuses." The State Department and foreign ops appropriations bill was part of a minibus that was supposed to be debated beginning today on the Senate floor. But now that minibus has crashed, and Senate consideration of State Department funding has been postponed indefinitely.
Here's what happened. As The Cable reported on Monday, two senators were refusing to give unanimous consent to debate the State Department minibus, which also included the energy and water appropriations and financial services appropriations bills, because of provisions in the financial services bill that would loosen restrictions on U.S. banks doing business in Cuba.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) don't want any restrictions loosened on doing business with Cuba. They both spoke on the floor today against the Cuba provisions, along with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). But Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) spoke in favor of the Cuba provisions, which he had authored, because his state would benefit from the agricultural trade that loosening restrictions would bring.
So even though none of these senators objected to any aspect in the State Department budget, it was caught in the crossfire because it was tied up as part of the "minibus." With Rubio, Menendez, and Nelson objecting to bringing up the minibus with the Cuba language and Moran and Vitter objecting to bringing it up without the language, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) realized he couldn't get unanimous consent for either version of the bill and pulled it from the floor.
Of course, Reid could just call for a cloture vote on whichever version of the bill he prefers, but that would require time Reid doesn't have. With time running out on the continuing resolution (CR) that is temporarily funding the government until Nov. 18, Reid can't afford to spend floor time on individual bills, amendments, or debate.
Requesting a cloture vote would also have opened up the bill to other amendments, unless there was an agreement to limit amendments, which there wasn't. That is actually how the Senate is supposed to work -- but hasn't, for quite a long time.
"This is a result of a dysfunctional appropriations process," one senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable late on Tuesday. "If you are considering appropriations bills in regular order there wouldn't be a problem, but regular order broke down long ago in the Senate and what we saw today was a direct result of utter disregard for regular order and sheer incompetence in running the Senate."
The Senate did actually use the regular procedure to pass the military construction and veteran appropriations bill earlier this year, so there is precedent.
What happens now? Well, the Senate definitely needs to pass a new short-term CR by Friday, which will probably be combined with a different minibus that has already passed the House, the Senate, and has emerged from a House-Senate conference. That minibus is made up of the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD appropriations bill.
After that, the Senate will move to the defense authorization bill, a policy bill that recommends -- but does not set -- funding levels. The process for that bill is also a mess, because the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) had to rewrite it at the last minute to cut about $20 billion to match the figure reached by Senate defense appropriators. SASC also had to change language on detainee policies to assuage the administration.
"I gave my word that we're going to do the defense authorization bill," Reid said on the floor late on Tuesday. "It hasn't been worked out to satisfaction of everyone, but there comes a time when we have to stop negotiating and move to the legislation, and we're going to do that following our finishing the next minibus we have."
But the failure to pass a bill tonight could mean that State Department funding will be put off for months. The debate over the defense authorization bill could take one or two full weeks of floor time, at which point the Senate will probably have to pass another CR to fund the government past the New Year. That CR could also result in a nasty fight. Also, Congress will have to grapple with the supercommittee's actions around that time, for instance working on legislation to undo the "trigger" that would cut $600 billion from defense if the supercommittee fails to strike a deal.
All of this means that there won't be floor time for things like the State Department funding bill until next January, at the earliest.
"If Senate Dem leaders do want to make defense authorization a priority, that's going to take up most of December, and then we have to deal with the supercommittee, sequestration, another CR ... and we're looking at the very serious possibility of another CR fight around Christmas. That is the most likely scenario," the GOP Senate aide said. "But then again it is the Senate, so everything could change again tomorrow."
Certain GOP presidential candidates, such as Herman Cain, need to "step up their game" and prove that they know enough about foreign policy to be president, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable.
"There are individual candidates that need to step up their game," Graham said on Tuesday, when asked about Cain's cringe-worthy interview on Monday with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Libya.
"Each candidate has to demonstrate for the public that they're ready for the job. And no one expects a person who hasn't been commander-in-chief before to know everything about every topic, but Libya? I think it's fair to ask our candidates to articulate a position," Graham said. "Cain has got to convince people that he's got the depth of knowledge [to be president]."
Graham compared Cain's mission to that of candidate Barack Obama in 2007, when people doubted Obama's foreign policy bona fides. In that case, Obama managed to convince the electorate that he had enough foreign-policy knowledge to handle the issues.
Graham, who just wrote a big National Review article on Obama's foreign policy, also said that felt good about the Nov. 12 CBS/National Journal GOP debate on foreign policy, because all of the leading contenders unified around a basically hawkish agenda and didn't succumb to the wing of the GOP that is advocating for more isolationist policies.
"Six months ago, I was worried about this unpopularity of Iraq and Afghanistan changing the party's historical position of shaping the world," Graham said. "After Saturday's debate I feel more reassured that we're going back to the party of Reagan."
"[Jon] Huntsman and Ron Paul have a legitimate view, but it's not the mainstream view of the Republican Party," Graham said. "The national security debate was well received by many [in the GOP]. It was a hawkish debate."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed consideration of Michael McFaul to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia due to objections by U.S. senators that aren't related to his personal qualifications for the position.
Two Senate sources confirmed to The Cable that the committee decided Monday not to consider the nomination of McFaul, the current National Security Council senior director for Russia, at today's committee business meeting as had been planned. In fact, early Tuesday afternoon the entire meeting was cancelled due to the McFaul objection as well as separate objections on the nominations of Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador. A planned resolution giving the sense of the Senate on Libya also faced criticism, our two Senate sources said.
"Today's business meeting has been postponed due to last-minute requests to holdover several of the agenda items," SFRC spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin told The Cable.
For McFaul, two staffers have confirmed that the objection is coming from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012. Corker also wants assurances over funding for nuclear warhead life-extension programs, which were part of the deal the administration struck with Congress during the debate over the New START nuclear reductions agreement with Russia.
Other GOP senators want to use the McFaul nomination to press the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues, such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Objections have been raised by enough Republicans to warrant holding [McFaul] over until the next business meeting. Likely, strong concerns over administration negotiations with Moscow over missile defense play a large role in taking him off the business meeting agenda," one Senate Republican committee staffer said. "It may be the case Mr. McFaul is not confirmed, given the weight of these concerns."
Another staffer for a committee member said today that further objections to McFaul's nomination would probably come during floor consideration, because they would be raised by Republicans not on the committee. The objections have little to do with McFaul himself, who is generally liked and well-respected by the GOP, in part due to his decades of activism on democracy and human rights.
"He's about as good of a nominee as Republicans can expect from this administration, but there is a huge gap between the administration and the GOP about how the ‘reset' with Russia is going," said this staffer. "Republicans will use his nomination to air their concerns about a range of issues. That's just how it is."
The committee will likely have only one more business meeting this year, and it is unclear whether the administration will get McFaul a hearing on the next agenda.
Meanwhile, the State Department, aware of the potential problems with the McFaul nomination, sent around a fact sheet yesterday to Senate offices, which was obtained by The Cable, seeking to assuage senators' concerns about U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation discussions. One GOP Senate aide reacted to the fact sheet by telling The Cable, "If the administration thinks this is what constitutes giving Congress access to information about the negotiations, they are sorely mistaken."
Some GOP offices also wanted Kerry to add a bill to penalize Russia for its treatment of human rights lawyers and activists to today's business meeting agenda. The legislation, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which currently prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. Without PNTR, U.S. businesses will be disadvantaged when Russia joins the WTO later this year. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.
Meanwhile, we've confirmed that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is objecting to the Jacobson nomination, and we're told that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is holding up the Aponte nomination.
For years, Iraq hearings on Capitol Hill were marked by the often disruptive presence of the anti-war group Code Pink; now their presence at hearings has been replaced by an Iranian dissident group.
About 50 supporters of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) took over the first three rows of the audience at Tuesday morning's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Senate Hart Office Building. The hearing was to examine President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, and featured testimony by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Unlike the Code Pink representatives, who were famous for disrupting Senate hearings, the MEK supporters at the Hart building today sat politely in their bright yellow sweatshirts and ponchos, which had slogans printed on them calling for the State Department to take the MEK off of their list of foreign terrorist organizations -- a move that is supposedly under consideration.
We overheard one staffer at the hearing quip, "When your critics allege you are a cult, you probably shouldn't dress like one."
The MEK, whose ideology fuses Islam and Marxism, was formed in Iran in 1965. It allied itself with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and fought against the Shah and his Western backers during the Iranian Revolution. After falling out of favor with Khomeini, the group was given shelter in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, who used them to conduct brutal cross-border raids during the Iraq-Iran war.
After the fall of Saddam, the United States helped broker an agreement whereby 3,400 MEK members were confined to a complex in northeast Iraq called Camp Ashraf, protected by the U.S. military. The camp was handed over to the Iraqi government in 2009. In an interview this summer with The Cable, Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaida'ie said that the MEK was dangerous and "nothing more than a cult."
Since 2009, the MEK has conducted a multi-million advocacy and lobbying campaign in Washington, with the help of dozens of senior U.S. officials and lawmakers, many of whom have been paid for their involvement. The list includes Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano, former National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, Gen. Wesley Clark, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, former CIA Director Porter Goss, senior advisor to the Romney campaign Mitchell Reiss, Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Sen. Evan Bayh, and many others.
In an August rally outside the State Department, Kennedy declared, "One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President [John F.] Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,'" Kennedy exclaimed. "Today, I'm honored to repeat my uncle's words, by saying [translated from Farsi] ‘I am an Iranian, I am an Ashrafi.'"
Kennedy admitted he was paid $25,000 to emcee the rally.
Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-MI) called on the administration to protect the MEK from Iraqi government violence in his opening statement at the hearing.
"The status of the residents at Camp Ashraf from the Iranian dissident group MEK remains unresolved," Levin said. "As the December 2011 deadline approaches, the administration needs to remain vigilant that the Government of Iraq lives up to its commitments to provide for the safety of the Camp Ashraf residents until a resolution of their status can be reached."
"We need to make it clear to the Government of Iraq that there cannot be a repeat of the deadly confrontation begun last April by Iraqi security forces against Camp Ashraf residents," Levin said.
Josh Rogin / Foreign Policy
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a full-throated defense Tuesday of the Obama administration's decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq by year's end, claiming Iraq is ready to defend itself.
"I believe Iraq is ready to handle security without a significant U.S. military footprint," Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable.
Panetta emphasized that the Obama administration was committed to fulfilling the terms of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush's administration, and he said that low levels of violence in Iraq showed Iraq's readiness to maintain its own security without a significant U.S. presence.
"As the Iraqis have assumed security control, the level of violence has decreased significantly and stayed at historic lows," Panetta testified. "To be sure, Iraq faces a host of remaining challenges, but I believe Iraq is equipped to deal with them.
Panetta did acknowledge that Iraq will still have to contend with periodic attacks by al Qaeda, internal political divisions, challenges in securing its own borders, and the threat of Iranian meddling. But he downplayed Iran's ability to influence Iraq's future.
"And while we have only strengthened our regional security relationships in recent years, Iran's destabilizing activities have only further isolated the regime," Panetta said. "So as we mark a new phase in our enduring partnership with Iraq, Iran is more likely than ever to be marginalized in the region and in its ability to influence the Iraqi political process."
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified that the United States and Iraq will have a "normal" military-to-military relationship following the exit of U.S. troops, which will be managed by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Office of Security Cooperation.
"This departure does not mark the end of our military-to-military relationship with Iraq, but rather the transition toward a normal one," Dempsey said, according to prepared remarks. "It will make our diplomats the face of the United States in Iraq. It will clearly signal the full assumption of security responsibilities by the forces, the leaders, and the people of Iraq. It creates an opportunity that is theirs to seize."
Several senators on the panel have been critical of the Obama administration's decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). They are sure to press Panetta and Dempsey to provide details about the negotiations conducted over the summer to extend the U.S. troops presence in Iraq and why they didn't succeed.
The White House has maintained that withdrawing all troops from Iraq was a "core principle" of its policy, and that the administration never advocated for a troop extension but rather was open to an Iraqi request for one, which never materialized.
But Panetta seemed to support a troop extension several times in public statements. In July, Panetta urged Iraqi leaders to, "Dammit, make a decision" about the U.S. troop extension. In August, he told reporters that, "My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes.'" On Oct. 17, he was still pushing for the extension and said, "At the present time I'm not discouraged because we're still in negotiations with the Iraqis."
The second panel to appear before the committee will include Brett McGurk, the man who negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement in 2008 and who was brought back by the Obama administration to negotiate the possible extension this year.
The senators will press McGurk to give details about whether the administration actually proposed an Iraq troop extension. They will also seek to have McGurk admit that in 2008, there was an expectation that U.S. troops would be extended to stay in Iraq past 2011, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Cable earlier this month.
McCain and Graham are also likely to press Panetta and Dempsey on the negative effects that would befall the military if the super committee fails to strike a deal by Nov. 23, triggering a "sequestration" mechanism that would automatically cut $600 billion from the defense budget over the next ten years.
Panetta wrote to McCain and Graham on Monday to warn them that, if the defense trigger is pulled, the military would have to furlough workers, delay major weapons programs, and cut training. "The severe disruption in the base budget would have adverse effect on our ability to support the Afghan war," Panetta said, adding that such a move would "undermine our ability to meet our national security objectives and require a significant revision to our defense strategy. "
The Senate is almost set to consider a three-bill spending package that includes all the funding for the State Department and foreign operations, but two senators are refusing to go along because of language related to Cuba.
The Senate was stalled on Monday evening as senators started debate on the energy and water appropriations bill, which Senate Democratic leaders want to combine with the State and foreign ops and financial services appropriations bills into a miniature omnibus measure that's affectionately known on the Hill as a "minibus." By packaging three bills together, the Senate hopes to be able to get more work done faster. However, two senators won't let that happen until their concerns about language allowing U.S. banks to do business in Cuba are addressed.
"There is concern among a group of senators on both sides of the aisle with longstanding concerns for human rights and democracy in Cuba with regard to the loosening of restrictions on Cuba in the financial services bill," a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable Monday afternoon. "If that language was taken out, those senators would drop their objection to bringing up foreign ops for consideration."
Procedurally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has already brought up the energy and water appropriations bill and wants to add the other two bills (state/foreign ops and financial services) as an amendment. But Reid needs unanimous consent in order to do that without a lengthy cloture process, and we're told by Senate sources that Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are objecting.
"Senator Rubio is objecting to a provision in the bill that would allow Cuba to become the only country on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list with a general exception for access to U.S.-based financial institutions," Rubio's spokesman Alex Conant told The Cable. "Under Cuban law, the Castro regime has a monopoly on all banking, commerce and trade, so this amendment would allow Cuba's totalitarian regime to directly open corresponding accounts in U.S.-based financial institutions, and vice versa."
The senators don't have any problem with the State and foreign ops section of the minibus, but Reid's attempt at adding both bills as one amendment has embroiled them in the dispute.
We're told by Senate sources that Reid plans to bring up the amendment containing both the State and foreign ops and financial services bills anyway and call for a unanimous consent vote, forcing any senators who object to show their cards. When the objections are made, Reid will be ready with a new amendment that doesn't contain the disputed Cuba provisions, which is likely to achieve unanimous consent.
After all this plays out, the real debate over the State and foreign ops appropriations bill can begin. When that happens, which will probably be late Monday evening or early Tuesday, senators will begin offering a host of amendments to the State and foreign ops bill.
Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced an amendment that would reinstate a ban on U.S. funding for foreign organizations that even discuss abortion. The amendment'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. It's been a partisan ping-pong issue ever since: 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 since been trying to restore the policy under the Obama administration.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced an amendment that would bar any funding for the administration to negotiate a United Nations arms trade treaty if it "restricts the Second Amendment rights of United States citizens."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is expected to introduce an amendment to mandate sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran in response to the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, and in light of a new International Atomic Energy Agency report, which states that Iran has made significant progress toward constructing a nuclear weapon.
And Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) introduced an amendment late on Monday that would prevent the president from trying to get around a law barring U.S. funding for UNESCO. The United States automatically cut off contributions to UNESCO this month when the organization overwhelmingly voted to admit Palestine as a member.
"Despite our legal obligation to suspend funding ... there have been some discussions, some speculation, that it may be possible to find alternative ways to financially support U.N. agencies like UNESCO that have taken this step of admitting the Palestinians as a member," Coats said on the Senate floor late Monday.
"That would be a total mistake and I want to reiterate the fact that it would be a violation of the law. And so, therefore, I come to the floor today to introduce a bill that serves as an emphatic statement, restatement of that."
Several more amendments are expected on Tuesday in what should be a lively debate over foreign affairs funding, if and when the Senate gets around to it. Of course, the Senate action is just a precursor to the House-Senate conference over the bill, where all the final decisions are made behind closed doors.
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:
Congressional Democrats on the budget-cutting "supercommittee" want to count $1 trillion that the United States will not spend fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years as "savings," even though there was never a plan to extend the wars that long in the first place.
House Assistant Democratic leader and supercommittee member James Clyburn (D-SC) mentioned this plan on Fox News Sunday, describing it as part of the supercommittee's efforts to agree on $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over 10 years before its Nov. 23 deadline. Republicans have supported this idea in the past but as of yet, not within the context of the supercommittee's deliberations.
"We believe and the CBO believes that there is around $917 billion to be saved over the next 10 years from the overseas contingency account. And we ought to count that," Clyburn said.
The problem with Clyburn's idea is that the money he is referring to -- emergency spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was never budgeted to remain at current levels over the next ten years. The money can only be counted as "savings" when compared to CBO projections from last March, which were based on a mathematical formula -- not the actual future costs of the wars.
However, it never has been anybody's plan to maintain current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years, so the "savings" are completely illusory.
The White House used this gimmick in September, when it released its $4.4 trillion plan to cut the deficit. The gimmick was also used by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in the plan he released last July to avert a debt-ceiling crisis. Paul Ryan's budget last April also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans.
Clyburn also said the supercommittee Democrats are interested in spending the war "savings."
"We ought to use that savings to plow it back in to fix Social Security, that will allow it to be sovereign for another 75 years, to plow it into job creation programs that would get people back to work, and paying taxes, and off of food stamps and off of unemployment," he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which have cost more than $1 trillion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service -- were completely funded by off-budget borrowing and classified as "emergency spending," meaning that eliminating those costs does not actually return any money to the Treasury.
"Isn't that a classic Washington budget gimmick, to count savings on money that wasn't going to be spent anyway?" asked Fox host Chris Wallace.
Clyburn responded that these savings were more realistic than counting future economic growth as revenue, which is part of the Republican approach inside the supercommittee.
"It sounds to me like you guys have a lot of work to do in 10 days," Wallace said.
Two top Senate GOP defense hawks laid out for The Cable how they plan to save the defense budget -- if the congressional "supercommittee" fails to reach an agreement, triggering $600 billion in defense cuts over ten years.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are part of a larger effort to protect the defense budget from the "sequestration" mechanism, which would automatically be activated if the supercommittee fails to agree by Thanksgiving on $1.2 trillion of discretionary spending cuts over 10 years. They sent a letter last week to the Pentagon asking for a detailed analysis of the consequences for the military if the trigger is pulled.
"The secretary of defense and all the service chiefs say that it would do irreparable damage to our national security, so obviously we need to do something about it," McCain told The Cable on Tuesday. "My intent is that sequestration on national defense will not take place."
McCain said he would introduce and support a law to undo the Budget Control Act of 2011, which codified the deal to raise the debt ceiling.
"We'll do everything we can to prevent [the trigger] being implemented," McCain said. "You can't bind future Congresses."
The threat of large defense cuts, along with a parallel trigger that would cut entitlements, was intended to be so objectionable that the supercommittee would have an incentive to make a deal. When asked, McCain rejected the idea that by undermining the trigger, he and Graham are taking pressure off the supercommittee to make the required bipartisan cuts.
"There is sufficient pressure on the supercommittee, they will not be swayed either way by our concern about sequestration of national defense," McCain said.
Graham went into more detail about what hawks will seek as a replacement for the defense trigger.
"I hope the supercommittee can do its job, but we can't just live on hope around here. So if they fail, what do we do?" Graham said. "If the committee fails, I am not going to allow the triggers to be pulled that would shoot the Defense Department in the head."
Graham said he would put forth a substitute to the triggers, "something where the whole country shares in the failure of the supercommittee, not just the Defense Department and Medicare providers."
A scrum of reporters cornered supercommittee member Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) coming out of the Tuesday Democratic caucus lunch, and your humble Cable guy elbowed his way to the front of the pack. We decided to first ask several questions about the IAEA report on Iran, to the chagrin of the other reporters desperate for supercommittee quotes.
When Kerry did turn to answering questions about the supercommittee, he said, "We've got some distance to travel and we're working very hard to do that."
Kerry said he was not "optimistic," but he was "hopeful," the super ommittee would succeed.
"Everybody's working in ... uh ... good faith," he said, with a wry grin on his face.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.