The Cable

Confirmation logjam breaks?

A blanket hold placed late last week by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) on all State Department nominees appears to have been lifted on Saturday, administration sources tell The Cable. Kyl's only remaining hold, The Cable was told, is on Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), President Obama's nominee to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

Kyl's office confirmed his remaining hold on Tauscher's nomination. "He honestly has made no guise of his hold on her nomination," spokesman Ryan Patmintra told The Cable Monday. "He expressed privately to the administration his concerns. He has chosen not to discuss them publicly."

A congressional source told The Cable last week that Kyl objects to the administration pursuing strategic arms reductions talks with Moscow before its Nuclear Posture Review is complete. The U.S.-Russia START treaty is set to expire in December, so the administration feels it has little choice but to proceed with the treaty negotiations.

Currently there are about 15 people in the foreign-policy arena who are waiting for their nominations to proceed to a vote. With Congress set to break for July 4 recess Thursday night, the administration is pushing for as many to come up for a vote this week.

The White House earlier Monday expressed particular concern that Kurt Campbell, its top State Department Asia hand, was not yet confirmed, given North Korea's latest threats to conduct further nuclear and missile tests.

"At a time of rising tensions with North Korea, we think it is important that the Senate have an opportunity to vote to put in place our chief diplomat for Asia," an administration official told The Cable.

Republican Senators -- as well as some Democrats -- have indicated that placing holds on nominees is one of the only ways they have found to get the administration, overwhelmed with multiple challenges, to respond to various gripes and concerns.

Currently Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), for instance, has a hold on the nomination of Jeffrey Feltman to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Unlike other nominees, Feltman, currently serving as the acting NEA assistant secretary, is able to conduct much of his work while he awaits formal confirmation. But he is unable to hire staff. Sources tell The Cable Levin met with a State Department official last week to work out an arrangement to lift the Feltman hold. Levin wants the State Department to make an Italian-born constituent eligible for Libyan relief funds for victims of allegedly Libyan-backed terrorism acts, including a bombing at Rome's airport. Feltman, who has recused himself from the case, declined to comment.

Administration sources said it wasn't clear if Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) had placed a hold on Campbell, and Brownback's office did not immediately respond to a query. Brownback, sources say, wants North Korea put back on the terrorism list.

Under the basic process for nominations that reach the Senate floor, the majority leader sends a notice to all offices asking if there are any objections to confirming the nominations under the executive calendar for a given date. On Friday morning, a congressional source explained, "this hotline request was issued, and the entire cluster of State Department nominations reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the past Tuesday was on the executive calendar, in addition to [State Department legal advisor nominee Harold] Koh and Feltman as the two holdovers.  Later that morning, a bunch of people were confirmed .... But Tauscher, Campbell, Koh, and Feltman remain on the executive calendar today, presumably because one or more senators indicated an objection to moving their nominations by unanimous consent."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff sources said they couldn't comment on anonymous holds. They sought last week to downplay any blanket hold, noting that the Senate had last week confirmed four State Department nominees, including Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration Eric Schwartz, Global HIV/AIDS coordinator Eric Goosby, and Amb. and U.S. Represenative for Threat Reductions Programs Bonnie Jenkins.

Republicans may also be feeling emboldened by poll numbers that show mounting concern about proposed administration spending, including on healthcare, sources close to the administration said, as well as polls that show gaps between Obama's personal popularity and that of some specific policies.

Meantime, late Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a cloture motion to force a vote on the nomination of Koh to be the State Department legal advisor. Congressional sources said that the vote will not occur until Tuesday at the earliest.

The Cable

Iran news

Britain is reportedly evacuating the families of diplomatic staff in Iran, NPR reports Monday.

Iranian sources and unconfirmed news reports say that Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was briefly arrested Sunday. Hashemi and four family members were later reported released. Rafsanjani, chair of two important clerical bodies, has been reported to have been in Qom trying to lobby clerics against the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decision to endorse the Iranian elections results.  

The young woman captured on video being killed near a Tehran demonstration Saturday was identified as Neda Agha Soltan, born in 1982, a scholar writes a Gulf list. "The man with grey hair beside her in the clip is her philosophy professor. She stayed behind the bulk of the demonstrators while speaking on her mobile phone and was shot in the chest by a bassiji on motorcycle. She was burried in Behesht Zahra earlier today. Her memorial service was scheudled for Sunday from 5:00 to 6:30pm in the Niloofar mosque in Abbas Abad but cancelled due to orders from the authorities."

Another list member in Iran adds Monday, "The reported fact that Neda (my heart goes out to her family and friends) was on the mobile phone may be related to other reports I have heard that people taking pictures, film or somehow communicating during the demonstrations are being targetted. Some report seeing sharp shooters on roofs. Yesterday military helicopters were in the air. Up till now it was police helicopters."

"'Neda' is already being hailed as a martyr, a second important concept in Shiism," Robin Wright writes in Time. "With the reported deaths of 19 people Saturday, martyrdom also provides a potent force that could further deepen public anger at Iran's regime."

Opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi's Facebook page says they are planning for a general strike. "We are(Independently) working on a gerneral Strike Plan. Please help us with your ideas if you have expertise on this issue, send plans to our email adress and write ideas as comments below."  (unconfirmed).

In a statement yesterday, Mousavi called on his supporters to continue with a campaign of nonviolent protest: 

These days and nights a turning point is being forged in the history of our nation. People are asking each other and also me, when amongst them, what should be done and in which direction we should go. ... Let us hope that we will not forget our historical mission and will not shirk from the burden of duty put on our shoulders by the destiny of generations and ages. ...

As I look at the scene, I see that it has been set to achieve more than just forcing an unwanted government on the nation, it is set to achieve a new type of political life in the country. ... I stand by my firm belief of this election being null and void, and insist on reclaiming people's rights, and in spite of the little power I possess, I believe that your motivation and creativity can still result in following up your legitimate rights in new and civil guises. Be confident that I will stand by your side at all times. What this brother of yours advises for finding these new solutions, especially to the beloved youth, is: Don't let the liars and fraudsters steal the flag of defending the Islamic regime from you; Don't let "the delinquents and the strangers" ... confiscate from you the precious heritage of the Islamic Revolution, which is built from the blood of your honest fathers. With trust in God and hope for the future and relying on your capabilities, continue your social movements based on freedoms explicitly stated in the constitution and stay away from violence, as you have been doing. In this road, we are not up against the Basij members; Basiji's are our brothers. ... We are up against the deviations and deceptions and we want to reform them; a reformation that returns us to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution. ...

 

Veteran Iran analyst Gary Sick calls Mousavi's statement a "manifesto," and says Mousavi and his movement have evolved enormously in the past week. "The candidate started as a mild-mannered reformer," Sick writes. "After the searing events of the past several days, he has dared to preach a counter sermon to Khamene'i's lecture on Islamic government. ... This open opposition to the Leader by a political figure is unprecedented. Mousavi has in fact issued a manifesto for a new vision of the Islamic Republic. The repression and disdain of the government has brought the opposition to a place they probably never dreamed of going. And no one knows where any of the parties are likely to go next."

ABC: Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki "rules out" election fraud. Speaker of the parliament and former Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani voiced mild disagreement with the election results and Khamenei's siding with a specific presidential candidate.

The BBC's resident Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne has been told to depart Iran within 24 hours.  

Iran on Sunday reportedly detained Newsweek reporter Mazier Bahari, a Canadian citizen. Bahari reported earlier this month that an internal Iranian pre-elections poll showed that Mousavi was projected to win.   

The National Iranian American Council calls for new elections in Iran.

(Updated Monday 10:45am.)