The Cable

Finnish Embassy awarded for going green

A lot of countries give lip service to the idea of "green government," but there is one diplomatic mission in Washington that's putting its money where its mouth is: Finland.

The Finnish Embassy in D.C. just became the first embassy in town to be awarded the LEED Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. To get that award, the Finns had to retrofit their 15-year-old mission home, which is now carbon-neutral, and fundamentally change the way they approached energy use in the building.

Occupancy sensors were installed in offices, recycling became a major priority, and all procurement became subject to environmental considerations. Used furniture and other durable goods were donated to local schools and organizations. All cleaning supplies were replaced with environmentally sound products, and low-impact chemicals were introduced in site maintenance such as gardening. A stringent non-smoking policy was implemented, and garage space was redesignated to encourage staff to cycle to work or use hybrid vehicles.

Perhaps most impressively, all of this was accomplished during a time of great activity for the Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society of Washington, that semi-exclusive group of politicos that meets in the basement sauna of the embassy to eat salmon, drink Budweiser, and talk about matters of global intrigue. (FULL DISCLOSURE: Your Cable guy is a founding member of the society.)

"We are extremely proud to be the first embassy in the U.S. to achieve this recognition", said Finnish Ambassador Pekka Lintu. "Retrofitting our embassy building demonstrates that we Finns strive to be active but energy efficient members of our neighborhood and the greater D.C. community. ... We hope that our adaptation of green principles and our commitment to the well-being of people and the environment will inspire other foreign missions to view their opportunities in this field."

The Cable

Why did State list AQAP as a terrorist organization this week?

So why didn't the administration list al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as a terrorist group until this week? Well, it's kind of a long process to get a group listed and the U.S. wanted to coordinate with the international community.

That's what the State Department's top counterterrorism official Dan Benjamin said Wednesday morning about the announcement that AQAP would now be officially considered a terrorist organization and its leaders would be treated as terrorists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to list AQAP December 14, less than two weeks before underwear bomber Umar Faourk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner but nearly a year after AQAP took shape, but it's just now become official.

"AQAP announced only announced itself as a group in late 2008 or early 2009, so the wheels began turning then," Benjamin said, "This is a long and deliberative process... you have to build quite a base of information so it can withstand litigation."

Politico reported that Clinton made the decision last month, but Benjamin explained that making the call and making it official by notifying Congress are two separate things. He said that notification was timed to coincide with a similar action by the UN, which was announced Tuesday.

"We could have done it in mid-December, we wanted to make sure we had international support. It was done concurrently with UN, where it is now designated under the 1267 regime," said Benjamin, "That's been another emphasis that we've brought to this work, we want to build international solidarity and make it clear that this is not just America's counterterrorism effort, it's really a global one."

Benjamin joined Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning about Yemen. He said he plans to travel to Yemen "very soon."

Feltman testified that Yemen has been a top foreign policy issue for the Obama administration since day one. Even though AQAP only emerged recently, they are just one instance the Islamic extremist activity that has been building in Yemen for years. He also had some sober assessments of the Yemeni government.

"We are not naïve about our Yemeni partner," said Feltman, "The government's ability to provide services and exert authority is inconsistent," he added, noting that the Yemeni government's actions on human rights also are a cause of concern.

Today kicks off a torrent of Congressional involvement in the Yemen issue. In addition to the SFR hearing, House Armed Services will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on AQAP and the Senate Homeland Security committee will hold its first of two hearings looking into the Christmas Day attack.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakar al-Qirbi was reportedly on the Hill Tuesday meeting with leaders of both parties and he also met with National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

Asked whether the State Department's designation of AQAP as a terrorist group paved the way for the first joint strikes in Yemen only a few days later, Benjamin said there was no correlation.

"I wish we had that kind of heft in the State Department," he joked.

UPDATE: Senate Foreign Relations chairman John Kerry, D-MA, will also meet with al-Qirbi Wednesday, his office just announced.