The Cable

DeMint puts hold on Koh, Burk nominations

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) put a hold on the nominations of Harold Koh to become the State Department Legal Advisor and Susan Burk to become Special Representative of the President on Nuclear Non-Proliferation at today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting. Both nominees are in suspension for another week, when the next SFRC business meeting is scheduled.

Meantime, the SFRC voted favorably out of committee the nominations of Johnnie Carson to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ivo Daalder to be U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to NATO, and Luis C. de Baca to be Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking with rank of Ambassador at Large.

The Cable

State briefer: Pakistan's existential threat

State Department spokesman Robert Wood fielded numerous questions on Pakistan at today's briefing, amid mounting U.S. concern about the fragility of the Pakistani government and the security of its nuclear arsenal, and in advance of the arrival of Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan president Hamid Karzai for meetings with U.S. officials in Washington.

QUESTION: And what role could an opposition group or an opposition leader play in the current situation in Pakistan that would be helpful, in the view of the United States?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, what Pakistan is facing, as we’ve said, is an existential threat from these violent extremists. And I’m not sure what opposition leaders can do to help deal with that threat from these violent extremists who are not open to dialogue, who are only interested in death and destruction. What’s important here is, as we’ve said, is that these violent extremists be confronted. And the Pakistani Government and military realize the threat and are taking steps to try to address that threat, and you have to continue, as others have been doing as well, encourage them to continue to step up that fight, because this is an existential threat that the Government of Pakistan faces, and it realizes that. And others in the international community need to provide support and assistance to Pakistan as it tries to deal with this threat. And as I said, we will be doing that.

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QUESTION: With President Zardari coming this week, I know a couple of weeks ago the Secretary testified in the House there was still some obvious frustration on the part of the U.S. that perhaps the Pakistani Government didn’t – hadn’t quite woken up to the depth of the threat. Is there a sense now that that message has registered with the Pakistanis? And in that case, will there be a somewhat different reception for the president, or will there still be a great deal of pressure being brought to bear by the Secretary and others?

MR. WOOD: I think the Pakistan Government and military have received the message; however, that message continues to need to be reinforced because, as I said, these violent extremists pose a very serious threat to not only Pakistan, but countries of the region. And I know that the President and the Secretary look forward to the trilateral discussions that are coming up this week. And we have said that we will support Pakistan and Afghanistan as they confront these violent extremists. And, you know, as far as we’re concerned, the Pakistani Government is taking steps. And I think you’ve – what you’ve seen over the last few days is an indication that they understand the nature of this threat.

But as I said, it’s important that we not rest and that we continue to confront these violent extremists, and we’re going to be encouraging Pakistan to continue to take steps like they’ve taken over the last few days.

QUESTION: And what are the goals for the trilateral talks?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s to coordinate, and that’s the real purpose here, is to coordinate our activities as we try to deal with the fundamental problems that Pakistan and Afghanistan face, not just from terrorism but economic – the economic situation and the impact that the global economic crisis is having on the region, to try to do what we can to better deliver services in government to the peoples of both countries. ...

QUESTION: You say you are confident that the [nuclear] arsenal is safe; but at the same time, you say that the government is very fragile. So how can you reconciliate both?

MR. WOOD: Well, first and foremost, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is dispersed. There, as I said, is a very solid command and control structure in place with regard to that arsenal. What we mean by a fragile government is that a government that doesn’t have the resources to be able to meet some of these challenges, both political, economic, and we in the international community need to do what we can to support Pakistan as it tries to meet these challenges. So, you know, it’s a complex situation in Pakistan.

But as I said, I think all of the leaders of the region and the United States understand what’s at stake here and the need to move forward aggressively on a strategy that deals not only with confronting the violent extremists, but also in dealing with the economic dislocation and crisis in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meantime, U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is scheduled to testify on the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Tuesday at 12:15pm, 2172 Rayburn building. Also testifying: CFR's Daniel Markey, Rand's Christine Fair, and the Heritage Foundation's Lisa Curtis.