Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell's last-minute cancelation of a stopover in Japan
prompted many in the Japanese press to
speculate that he was trying to exert pressure on Tokyo over fate of a
controversial U.S. air base on Okinawa.
Not so, a State Department official close to the issue tells
The Cable. Campbell, who was rounding
up a regional tour that included nine countries in eight days, simply ran out
of time when his duties in the other stops took longer than expected, the
The real reason the trip was adjusted was because extra time
was needed to prepare for President Obama's
trip to Indonesia next week. Campbell will be traveling with Obama on the trip.
"The visit is complicating on several levels," the official
said. "We have a series of relatively modest deliverables, but every point has
Campbell has been leading the negotiations over the details
of a new comprehensive partnership agreement between the United States and
Indonesia. Part of that agreement will include language on climate-change
cooperation and the promise of U.S. resources to help Indonesia to make
Campbell, who has traveled to Tokyo more than half a dozen
times since taking up his post last year, canceled another stop in Thailand as
well. That trip had been scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, but protesters outraged
over recent conviction of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were busy pouring
blood on the gates of the prime minister's home and office.
Campbell's visit to Japan would have been cut down to only a
couple of hours, so the State Department thought it better to wait for the next
Besides, the official pointed out, the U.S. side is simply
waiting for the Japanese government to decide how it wants to deal with the movement
of the Futenma
air base, so there wasn't much substance to discuss at this stage.
"He's in Tokyo every month and he'll be back there in a few
weeks," the official said.
Multiple congressional aides tell The Cable that pressure is mounting for
Congress to move forward with its conference to iron out differences between
the House and Senate versions of the Iran sanctions legislation, after the
French Foreign Minister said that a U.N. Security Council resolution might
not surface until June.
The original idea was to finalize the U.S. sanctions
legislation only after the U.N. has its say, but the continued delays in New York have put that
plan into question. While lawmakers want to give the administration space to line
up the necessary support at the Security Council, their patience is wearing
Last Friday, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Jon Kyl, R-AZ,
a letter, first obtained by Turtle Bay, to President Obama asking him to abandon attempts to try to get
exemptions for countries and support the Iran sanctions legislation as is. The
senators said they don't want to wait until the UN acts, due to continued
"We believe that attempts at diplomacy will continue to be
rebuffed by the government of Iran and that our window for implementing
meaningful, ‘crippling' sanctions against Iran is getting narrower by the day,"
"If the U.N. track stalls to the point that we're in
the middle of the year, it is unlikely that the Congress is going to wait that
long," said one senior congressional aide close to the issue, noting that the
Obama administration has been pushing back the deadline for U.N. action again
The Senate appointed
conferees earlier this month and the House is expected to follow suit
shortly. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, did not respond to a request for comment on the
Senate staffers wonder if House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, is
trying to avoid opening up the process to a House vote on the details of the
bill. Berman may be worried that Iran-minded members could force a vote that
might upset negotiations with the State Department over issues like an
exemption for cooperating countries, a senior Senate aide said. "The
million-dollar question is when is the House going to conference."
When the bill does come to conference, there will be attempts to add
provisions to the bill that go further than what the administration is
proposing and what the current bill includes. The most likely addition will be
language by Sens. Joseph Lieberman,
I-CT, and John McCain, R-AZ, that
would require the president to sanction Iranian officials who have committed
human rights abuses or acts of violence against civilians engaging in peaceful
Those listed would be subject to visa bans, freezes on their assets in the
United States or within U.S. jurisdiction, and other restrictions on their
financial activities. "McCain's amendment would identify Iranian human
rights abusers and make them feel some serious pain," said a senior Senate
to add the language in January when the Senate passed
the bill, but was persuaded to stand down so that Reid could move the
legislation quickly. Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, promised to support the language in
The second main addition to the bill could be
language to tighten restrictions on U.S. government funds going to companies
that do business with the Iranian regime. A March 7 New York Timesarticle
reported that $107 billion worth of U.S. taxpayer money has gone to companies
doing business in Iran, $15 billion going to firms that directly violating
existing U.S. sanctions by aiding Iran's oil industry.
The House version of the bill already has a
provision to stop U.S. government funds from going to companies involved in
Iran's oil sector, written by Rep. Ron
Klein, D-FL, who said the issue is enforcement.
"You need to make a choice: either you want to sell
equipment or services to the energy section in Iran, or you want to be eligible
for business in the United States," he told The
Cable. "Right now we're not enforcing that but this will make it tight, it
will give it teeth and there will be consequences if you do it."
The Senate bill has a similar provision that covers
technology exports to Iran, but not oil industry involvement. Inside the
conference, several lawmakers are expected to push for language that covers
both sectors and perhaps more.
Finally, the administration's ongoing insistence on being
able to exempt countries from the U.S. sanctions regime is still not resolved
as far as lawmakers are concerned. The administration wants to be able to waive
the sanctions for any country it chooses, which could include China and Russia,
but lawmakers want limits on that power.
"The formula that a cooperating country
is a country that president determines is cooperating is probably not going to
go anywhere," one senior congressional aide said, "The criteria has to be
genuinely meaningful and strict."
The Senate conferees are Chris Dodd, D-CT, John Kerry,
D-MA, Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Richard Shelby, R-AL, Robert Bennett, R-UT, and Richard Lugar, R-IN.