The Cable

Kerry to Netanyahu: Let’s drop the whole settlements thing

The Senate's top foreign relations Democrat joined the calls of many Republicans Tuesday by coming out in favor of tabling the U.S.-Israeli dispute over Jerusalem housing construction.

John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was slated to join a host of lawmakers meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's in town for AIPAC's annual conference. The Cable caught up to Kerry just before his meeting, and the senior senator from Massachusetts said that he will tell Netanyahu that both the United States and Israel should set the settlements issue aside for now.

"I think what's important now is not to get stuck on the issue of the settlement freeze," Kerry told The Cable. "I think what's important is to get to the table and discuss the final-status talks as rapidly as possible."

Kerry noted that calling for a full settlement freeze has been official U.S. policy for years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. But he said that was just not the most important thing on the table at this point.

"I think the focus ought to be on the talks themselves," he said. "The clock is ticking and that ticking clock works against Israel's security and it works against our interests in the region."

Kerry's position might look practical considering that Netanyahu continues to reject the reported demands of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israel reverse its decision to build 1,600 new settlements in disputed East Jerusalem, despite their meeting for 75 minutes on Monday afternoon.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-VA, issued a statement after his bipartisan meeting with Netanyahu saying that "building in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem is not an impediment to the peace process."

There are signs that the administration is getting the message. For example, Clinton only mentioned settlements once during her AIPAC speech, and other administration officials have refrained from focusing on the issue in their public statements.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said at today's press conference that the future of Jerusalem is "a final-status issue," and he too emphasized the need to shelve the settlements dispute in favor of getting to the negotiating table.

"The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims, on the future of Jerusalem, is to get to direct negotiations," he said.

That led some in the press corps to ask Crowley if Clinton had "lost" in her showdown with Netanyahu, but Crowley wouldn't concede that.

Kerry also pushed back against the calls to move Iran sanctions legislation in Congress before the administration is finished pursuing a new U.N. Security Council resolution. That puts him directly in conflict with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, among others.

"I think for Congress to get out ahead at this moment would be complicated. I think we should proceed in concert with the administration," said Kerry. "We can both send a message and we can do it together in a powerful way. The point is to be effective, not first."

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images

The Cable

50 military "good ole boys" support shifting money to the State Department

As if the endorsement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates weren't enough, the development community has rounded up 50 senior retired military officers to support its drive to shift money and authorities from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom.

"While our military power can provide the logistics and organizational support to help those in need in times of humanitarian crisis, as demonstrated by our current efforts in Haiti, it can only help create the conditions necessary to allow the other tools of statecraft - our diplomatic, development and humanitarian programs - to effectively address these issues," reads a letter to Congress organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a network of more than 400 businesses and non-governmental organizations.

The group is trying to protect the president's $58.5 billion fiscal 2011 budget request as it winds its way through the legislative process. That's the biggest request ever for foreign operations and international assistance, but in this time of fiscal peril, lawmakers are expected to try to use that part of the budget request to fund other priorities.

Among the letter's signatories is retired Gen. Michael Hagee, who was commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006, and retired Adm. James Loy, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002. Hagee and Loy sat down Tuesday morning to explain their activism on behalf of the diplomatic and development community to The Cable.

Hagee said the letter is remarkable because it represents the opinions of "50 retired three-and-four-star good-old boys," who have seen first-hand the military's encroachment upon traditional development issues, which was unavoidable but now needs to be addressed.

Many have expressed doubt that the State Department has the capacity to take on these missions, such as managing foreign military training or supervising crisis money disbursement.

"But you can't get the capability and the capacity unless you get the resources," Hagee explained.

Loy said the military officials represent a broader swath of senior officers that agree with Gates's pledge to rebalance the tools of American statecraft because using the military to do development is just not the right way to do business.

"Our collective experience from lots of time in uniform and in very significant positions around the world in military jobs have convinced us that the notion of American influence has to be dealt with in multiple ways," he said.

We're hearing that Congress is planning to take up the fiscal 2011 State Department and foreign operations budget bill in May.