The Cable

Thursday, Bloody Thursday: Bono calls out senator over aid cuts

Add artist and activist Bono to the list of development leaders protesting the proposed cuts in foreign aid funding put forth by Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad. The U2 frontman pleaded for Washington to resist Conrad's cuts during an impassioned speech Wednesday night in Washington.

A host of senior officials and lawmakers have come out against the budget resolution Conrad's committee approved last Thursday, which would cut $4 billion from the $58.5 billion President Obama is requesting for the State Department and the foreign assistance budget next year. That $4 billion is almost all of the increase Obama wants for foreign aid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the entire development community have protested the cuts, saying that the foreign aid community needs more money to defend the weakest world citizens and protect U.S. national security.

"Development gets even less if Senator Conrad gets his way," Bono told a crowd of generals, politicians, and other Washington glitterati at the Ritz Carlton, where the Atlantic Council was holding its annual awards dinner and gala. "So you peaceniks in fatigues have a job to do over the next few weeks."

Bono was receiving one of the top awards at the dinner and praised everyone else in the U.S. policy establishment for acknowledging the importance of development work.

Referring to "that peacenik Robert Gates" and "that other well known hippie Jim Jones," Bono pointed out that some of the greatest advocates for increased development assistance were military men, highlighting the interdependence of military and development efforts in the third world.

"What I think General Jones, Secretaries Gates and Clinton, Senator McCain and others are getting at is that somehow these worlds -- defense and development -- are inextricably linked. They're not the same thing; they're very different, in fact; but they're linked, and we need to see them as part of the same picture. They're both essential if we really want to build a world that's more secure, more prosperous, and more just."

"I'm not suggesting we do each other's jobs. Far from it. I'm not suggesting that soldiers start wearing flowers in their hair, or carrying stethoscopes and fertilizers in their packs. Neither am I saying that peaceniks like me should put on combat helmets. No. There's a bright line that separates what we do from what many of you do. But our ultimate goals are the same goals, so let's not work at cross purposes."

Bono is well known and highly regarded in aid circles for being able to delink partisan politics from the debate over development and poverty. He founded and leads the anti-poverty advocacy group the ONE Campaign, which has worked hand in hand with the administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and his message to the largely military crowd at the Atlantic Council event was finely tuned.

Clinton followed Bono's speech and spoke about his own work to fight poverty in Africa. Clinton's speech was long and somewhat rambling, and our sources think they know why: They saw him taking shots backstage during Bono's talk with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Other speakers at the event included Sen. John McCain, retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones, who poked fun at himself by alluding to a Jewish joke he made last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, for which he later apologized.

"Tempting as it might be, I think I've used up my quota of jokes for the week, so I'll pass," said Jones.


The Cable

Iran sanctions conference highlights growing impatience on Capitol Hill

Some lawmakers are standing firm against the State Department's request for broad waiver authority to exempt "cooperating countries" from the new Iran sanctions currently moving through Congress.

The House and Senate held their first public conference in a very long time Wednesday to start merging together different versions of the Iran sanctions legislation, one led by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, and the other spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, D-CA.

This was only the first of what could be many meetings of the conference, which has a stated but non-binding goal of finishing its work by May 28. That just happens to be the final day of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations in New York.

Most members just chose to make speeches warning of the dire threat posed by Iran's nuclear program or criticizing the U.N. Security Council for failing to move fast enough on its own parallel effort to impose new sanctions on the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is apparently being granted a visa to come to New York for the NPT meeting.

But some lawmakers aimed their fire at the administration, specifically the State Department, for not enforcing the many Iran sanctions previously enacted. They also promised to fight against the main change that State wants the conference to make to the legislation, to have the bill waive corporate sanctions for countries that are deemed to be "cooperating" with the new sanctions regime.

According to Deputy Secretary James Steinberg (pdf), the waiver is needed to avoid upsetting countries the U.S. needs to bring along on its push for multilateral action. Critics fear it will be used to exempt some of Iran's biggest trading partners, Russia and China, in exchange for their support for a new U.N. resolution.

"The Department of State, under successive administrations, has failed to implement the sanctions laws already on the books, law aimed at compelling the regime to change course," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL, the ranking Republican on Berman's committee.

She said that the 1996 law that imposed previous sanctions "included a national-interest waiver to address the very same arguments we are now hearing from the State Department and White House." But then, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used the language to implement a sweeping waiver, "turning the act from a powerful tool into a paper tiger."

Congressman Brad Sherman, D-CA, chairman of Berman's subcommittee on terrorism, non-proliferation, and trade, went even further.

"If the bill that we pass is going to be anything more than a mockery, we are going not only to have to require reports," he said, "but we're going to need congressional oversight and investigations and limits on appropriations."

Regarding State's request for more waiver authority, he said the department was asking Congress to "reward the fact that they have illegally ignored the law by writing provisions that allow them to do it legally."

"The idea of country by country waivers is absurd," Sherman said. "They will waive virtually every country unless they decide to simply ignore the law."

The message from everyone else at the table was largely the same. Congress isn't waiting for the administration to come up with a new resolution at the U.N. Security Council.

"Iran and its spinning centrifuges do not wait. ... We can no longer wait for a Security Council resolution that has been going on for months," said Berman.

"We will try to take concerns into account when we can, but time is running short," said Dodd.

"I am told that the U.N. Security Council negotiations are making progress, but everybody understands there's not going to be a breakthrough overnight," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA.

"Hitler moved quickly, and they waited, and waited, and waited," said David Scott, D-GA.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, offered up the most sobering comment of the day on the congressional drive to halt Iran's nuclear advancement.

"Even crushing sanctions might not do the job," said Royce, "but we ought to try."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Ahmadinejad will probably be granted a visa to come to New York next week for the nonproliferation conference, where he'll be sure to make a splash.

"Well, we have certain responsibilities as the host of the U.N. ... any foreign official who is coming to the U.N. for official business is normally granted a visa," he said.