The Cable

Team Obama convenes major secret meeting on export controls

Top cabinet officials are meeting right now with top lawmakers behind closed doors on Capitol Hill to begin a push for major export control reform.

Administration attendees for the unannounced meeting include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. The lawmakers invited include the leadership of both parties and then chairmen and ranking Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, House and Senate Armed Services, and Senate Banking committees, according to an invitation forwarded to The Cable.

The secret meeting was organized by the State Department's legislative affairs office and is being hosted by House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, D-CA.

"The Administration requested this briefing so Secretary Gates and other senior officials could inform key House and Senate leaders about progress on the President's export control policy review, which the Administration announced last August," said HFA spokeswoman Lynne Weil, when contacted for comment, "The Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction in the House over export control matters, and Chairman Berman is developing legislation in coordination with the White House to overhaul the U.S. export control system."

Some Senate staffers were upset by the secretive nature of the meeting, because staff was excluded and no details were made available in advance of the pow-wow. Republicans are concerned that the Obama administration may be preparing to loosen export control regulations, which they see as a dangerous concession to parts of the business sector that increases risks of technology and innovation losses to countries such as China.

Inside the meeting, administration officials might also raise their concerns about two important issues that are emerging as differences between the Obama administration and Congressional leadership. The Senate is planning to move Iran sanctions legislation whether the White House thinks it's a good idea or not.

Also, the White House is said to be angry at lawmakers for leaking news of the impending announcement of new arms sales to Taiwan. There are rumors that Jones contacted foreign relations committee leadership offices to yesterday to complain about the leaks, but the members declined to take his calls.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Afghanistan, Haiti, START, Aung San Suu Kyi, Iran hikers

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, who also met with President Obama. Then Clinton left for London to meet with world leaders on Yemen and then join the international conference on Afghanistan. She'll move on to Paris after that.
  • At the Afghanistan conference, in addition to reviewing "milestones and metrics" for progress of the Afghan government, the world leaders will be discussing how to engage elements of the Taliban that could be persuaded to give up the fight. "So we will be looking at how to set up a special fund, to be able to support those who are committed to giving up violence," said Crowley, "And I think that there will be discussions about a reconciliation strategy."
  • Crowley stood by Clinton's statements yesterday saying she "deeply resents" the criticism of the relief effort in Haiti. "You have criticisms coming from Italy, occasionally from France. We've had General Honore in our own country, who has, you know, tried to draw an equivalence between our experience in New Orleans and experience in Haiti, and the fact is, you cannot compare the two."
  • Crowley singled out Al Jazeera's English channel, which compared the U.S. relief effort in Haiti to the Green zone in Baghdad.
  • National Security Advisor Jim Jones, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher just got back from Moscow where they were meeting about the follow on to the START nuclear agreement. Formal negotiations will resume in Geneva on Monday led by Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller. Source tell The Cable that "progress was made" in Moscow and an agreement could be completed soon. "I think we're reasonably optimistic that the finish line is within sight," Crowley said.
  • Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, his principal deputy Craig Kelly, and Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez are in Honduras to attend the inauguration of new president Pepe Lobo.
  • Crowley had cautious praise for the reported pending release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi by the Burmese Junta. "I think the idea that her release will conveniently come after the election is unfortunate, but we will continue to press the Burmese government, you know, for her release," he said.
  • The State Department dispatched four helicopters to aid Peruvian authorities in the evacuation of 400 Americans from the area around Machu Picchu in Peru, which is being plagued by rains and mudslides.
  • Clinton talked to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Tuesday about the power sharing negotiations in Northern Ireland. Will she get personally involved in the issue? "It's always possible," Crowley said.
  • Still no consular access to the American hikers imprisoned in Iran, despite that Belgians just released from the same prison said they were "deeply concerned" about the fate of the hikers.