The Cable

Brownback's save-Sudan plan: a traveling basketball team

Seems like everyone has their own idea about how to solve the crisis in South Sudan and get more international attention for the people suffering there. What's Kansas Senator Sam Brownback's plan? Have them send a basketball team to the United States.

Seriously.

In today's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Brownback lamented that representatives of South Sudan's government can't get attention or publicity in the United States, let alone a meeting with President Obama.

"I even urged them, I've said, ‘Why don't you get a basketball team together and start traveling America with the southern Sudanese?' It's Dinka tribe-dominated -- and they're very tall," Brownback explained.

"They've got 10 guys over 7 feet tall playing basketball in southern Sudan. So I'm saying just show up. You may get beat by 40 points, but everybody is going to say, ‘Where did these guys come from?'"

Clinton responded to Brownback with a non-committal "Mm-hmm," and confirmed that yes, the Dinka tribesman of southern Sudan are in fact "very tall."

PICTURED: retired NBA center Manute Bol, the son of a Dinka chief and a very tall man

The Cable

Clinton: "Iran is at the top of my agenda"

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a Senate panel on her new budget request Wednesday morning, but the bulk of the discussion focused on the administration's efforts to thwart the nuclear threat from Iran.

"I'm on my way to Latin America next week. And Iran is at the top of my agenda," Clinton told the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT. "We stand ready to do both unilateral and multilateral sanctions on top of whatever comes out of the Security Council." (The Cable brought you the latest on the negotiations inside the U.N. on a new Iran resolution today.)

Clinton said she supports the Iran sanctions bills that have been passed in both the House and the Senate, but added, "What we're hoping for is that whatever sanctions emerge from the conference committee have some flexibility that will support our ongoing efforts."

She was referring to State's contention that the final bill should provide exemptions for countries that are cooperating with U.S. sanctions efforts.

On China's likelihood of supporting sanctions, Clinton said that since China is so dependent on Iranian resources, the administration's argument to China is a warning that a nuclear Iran would set off a regional arms race that would destabilize numerous countries the world depends on for energy. "So even countries that are still not sure they want to sign up to sanctions, they're not sure they want to oppose them -- they now understand why the United States views Iran's behavior as a threat," Clinton added.

Leahy also pressed Clinton to respond to The Cable's exclusive report (reprinted in the Washington Post) on how the National Security Council became involved in discussions with the Broadcasting Board of Governors over whether and how to join a statement with international broadcasting organizations condemning Iran's jamming of international satellites.

"Is there disagreement in the administration of the need to strongly protest internationally this violation of international agreements by Iran?" Leahy asked.

"Mr. Chairman, there is no disagreement," Clinton responded. "As I said in my Internet freedom speech, the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression and virtual assembly, because I think it's rooted in both, needs to be protected and advanced. And we need these new tools, particularly in Iran but not only in Iran."

The subcommittee's top Republican, Judd Gregg, R-NH, pressed Clinton on other Middle East regional issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Jordan, and Syria. Clinton said there was an opening with Syria in the wake of the appointment of Robert Ford to be the first U.S. ambassador there since 2005, but big problems remain.

"We have laid out for the Syrians the need for greater cooperation with respect to Iraq, the end to interference in Lebanon and the transport or provision of weapons to Hezbollah, a resumption of the Israeli/Syrian track on the peace process which had been proceeding through the offices of the Turks last years, and generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States," she said.

Clinton also criticized the Senate for failing to confirm a host of nominees, leaving scores of top positions vacant at both State and USAID. She said it diminishes the credibility of the U.S. diplomatic efforts in foreign countries.

"People don't understand the way our system operates; they just don't get it," she said. "And their view is, it does color whether the United States is in a position -- not just this president, but our country -- is in a position going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world."

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images