The Cable

Rumor mill: Kerry to Tehran?

The Cable is picking up some chatter today around town that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry is offering to travel to Tehran to try to broker a last-ditch agreement with the Iranian regime regarding its nuclear program.

It's an interesting idea considering Kerry's role in representing the administration after the recent Afghan presidential election. But Iran isn't Afghanistan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no Hamid Karzai

And after all, he does seem to be the administration's point man on negotiations over new Iran sanctions.

One Middle East insider told The Cable that Kerry pitched the idea to the White House and the White House was thinking it over.

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer couldn't confirm or deny the story and Senate Foreign Relations staff declined to comment.

Kerry is in Copenhagen today. Let's see what happens...

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The Cable

Source: Turf warrior Murtha moved to defund national security reform group

In the defense bill going through the Senate right now, Congress completely defunded the Project on National Security Reform, an organization working to reform America's dysfunctional national security infrastructure, according to its president.

The organization, which has ties to National Security Advisor Jim Jones, got $4 million dollars in the defense bill last year and had $2 million in the Senate's version of the bill this year. But when the doors opened after the behind-the-scenes House-Senate conference on the issue, PNSR ended up with zero.

President and CEO Jim Locher informed his staff of the tragic situation PNSR now finds itself in by email Thursday.

"I regret to inform you that despite our best efforts, the Senate was unable to overcome opposition in the House, and Congress has not funded PNSR in the FY2010 Defense Appropriations Bill," Locher wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Cable.

Locher said he would support staffers who now could be forced to find new jobs and he said PNSR will keep the lights on to work on near-term projects.

"This will make PNSR's task more difficult over the next several months, but as I've mentioned before, PNSR will carry on," Locher said. "National security reform must happen."

In an interview earlier this month, Locher told The Cable PNSR was already cutting back as it waited for the defense bill funds to come through, and he spoke about efforts to seek funding directly from agencies like the State Department and Defense Department. He also said PNSR was looking for support from think tanks, corporations, foundations, academic institutions -- you name it.

So what was Locher talking about when he said the House opposed funding PNSR? The Cable asked Matthew Mazonkey, spokesman for House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman John Murtha, D-PA.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss programs included in the classified annex," Mazonkey said. OK, so the fact that the money was in the "black" part of the budget means that Murtha's office "can't" explain what happened?

Luckily, a source close to the issue wrote in to let us know what went down. This is one person's take, impossible to confirm because the committee won't comment. But if true, it shines a light into how national security funding decisions get made. And guess what? It has a lot more to do with personalities and politics than a consideration of national security needs.

The source tells the story of a senior Democratic lawmaker protecting his turf, who may have helped a GOP staffer zero out the account for the program. According to the source, Murtha, who is in charge of writing the bill, feared that PNSR might make recommendations that would alter his ultra-powerful subcommittee's jurisdiction.

Importantly, Murtha took the PNSR portfolio away from his staffer Chris White, who was said to have been a huge champion of PNSR funding in years past, the source said. Murtha allegedly told White that PNSR's recommendation to create "select committees on national security" had better not impinge on the power of his defense approps panel (PNSR never thought it would). White was also told not to be involved with PNSR funding in any way after being taken off the case, according to the source.

But the real opposition came from committee minority staffer Jennifer Miller, the source said. Miller and White banged heads on a number of issues and some believe that the relatively small amount of PNSR funding got caught up in their personal disputes. White had warned PNSR that the House funding was risky and told the group to focus on the Senate, which they did. But after he was taken off the case, House opposition strengthened.

"Whoever the new majority staffer was didn't know PNSR, wasn't terribly interested in it and was no match for Ms. Miller, who was vicious on this issue," the source said. 

Both Murtha and Miller refused to meet with Locher, the source said, although Locher did get a meeting in the office of Bill Young, the ranking Republican on Murtha's committee. At that meeting, Locher was allegedly told he would get $1.6 million, or 80 percent of the Senate's number. That didn't happen.

In the conference, Senate Intelligence Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond was hugely supportive, the source said. Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein were also helpful, but ultimately unsuccessful.

"[Kentucky Republican Congressman] Geoff Davis, a big PNSR supporter, did what he could to rally support on the House side," the source said. "But I guess in the end no one was willing or able to fall on their sword for PNSR."

You can read PNSR's latest and perhaps last report on the dysfunction state of the U.S. national security bureaucracy here.

Reached by The Cable, Locher was stoic. "Our mission is of the utmost value to the American people, and we vow to carry on," he said.

(And by the way, Congress has been having a lot of trouble passing the defense bill, which is caught up in health-care politics, despite this rather pointed letter from Gates imploring Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to do so today.)

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