The Cable

GOP senator holds up key Obama nuke envoy

The Obama administration's choice as envoy to an upcoming conference on disarmament can't get confirmed as her nomination gets tied up with other nonproliferation issues, an administration official tells The Cable.

The Senate cleared almost 30 nominations on Feb. 11 after Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, backed off his "blanket hold" due to public pressure, but Laura Kennedy, whom Obama wants to make an ambassador-level U.S. envoy to the April conference, was not among them. Her nomination is being held up by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ, who is using the issue to bargain for items related to the START follow-on treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, according to the official.

"Kennedy's position has nothing to do with those items," the official complained.

Intensive negotiations conducted by Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma have failed to yield an agreement. Kyl is asking for unfettered access to the executive branch's negotiating record on CTBT, which no administration has ever provided, as well as access to more information on the ongoing START negotiations, according to the official.

"He will have every chance to scrutinize START when it is submitted for ratification.  His pleas for info now are a transparent effort to kill the negotiations," the official said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, alluded to the reasons behind Kennedy's stalled nomination in a floor speech Feb. 9.

"It is too bad the United States of America, a nuclear power in the world, does not have a representative of ambassadorial rank to represent the United States at disarmament conferences," Reid said. "Why it is being held up has nothing to do with her qualifications or background. It is some other reason."

"For the past several months, Senator Kyl has made requests with the State Department to provide information relating to START and the Iran Sanctions Act," a Kyl aide said. "For some reason they've been reluctant to respond.  Consequently, Senator Kyl is reluctant to consider their nominees."

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Brasilia, Iran, Falklands, Chavez, Syria

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

Under Secretary of State William Burns will travel to Brasilia, Brazil Friday and meet with a bunch of officials there. "I wouldn't argue that Iran will be among the major issues we discuss with Brazil," Crowley said, "I would expect climate change to be on that list as well." The sanctions being sought will target the regime and protect the people of Iran, Crowley added.

But do sanctions really work? Crowley pointed to UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which seeks to limits arms transfers by North Korea. "Hardly a week goes by now where there's not some announcement of an intercepted airplane here, shipment there, that we think is having an impact on the leadership in North Korea," Crowley said. What about the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons. "The sanctions themselves are not going to turn North Korea into a Jeffersonian democracy. I don't think we've ever made that claim," Crowley said. "Why don't you just say Libya and be done with it?" said one press corps member, trying to help Crowley out.

Former spokesperson Ian Kelly was reported out favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now faces only one more hurdle before becoming the next U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Congrats, Ian!

The State Department is neutral on the dispute between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands (AKA the Malvinas). "To the extent that there is a dispute between Britain and Argentina over the status of the islands - whatever you want to call them - we believe that that should be handled through dialogue," Crowley said.

Crowley pushed back at accusations by one press corps member that the administration is being hypocritical by engaging with North Korea ad Iran, but not with Venezuela. "If President Chavez is seeking to have engagement on a higher level, I think we are open to that in theory, but it has to be grounded in a willingness of both countries to play a constructive role in the region," he said. Clinton Chavez could run into each other in Uruguay.

State Department is encouraged by the recent successes in capturing high level Taliban officials, but nobody is declaring victory just yet. "This still is an adversary of the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that adapts as we do as well," Crowley warned.

There's disappointment in the remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who mocked U.S. policy in the region Thursday. "We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region, and one step would be to make clear what Iran needs to do differently," Crowley said, "Unfortunately, there was no evidence of that today,"