The Cable

Rajiv Shah: "I'm not running for president"

In a light-hearted joke during his event today at the National Press Club, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah sought to put to rest previously non-existent rumors that he might seek the nation's highest elected office.

Referring to Shah's meteoric rise to head a major government agency at a relatively young age, event moderator and National Press Club President Alan Bjerga said, "You worked at the Gates Foundation, you worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as its chief scientist, you are the head of USAID, but for some people in this room that is not enough.... Development experts have said the USAID chief position should be elevated to cabinet status or to a seat on the NSC. Do you agree?"

"I thought you were going a different place with that question," Shah responded, "In case anybody wants to know, I really wasn't running for president at all."

The remarks got a laugh from the crowd of assembled development community practitioners and journalists assembled to hear Shah speak. He went on to address Bjerga's actual question by indicating he is satisfied with the seniority and power of his position as USAID chief.

"I know in this administration we have a huge amount of support at all levels. And I've been fortunate to have as much access as I could possibly ask for to help carry out this mission," Shah said. "We have supporters everywhere. What we need to do is execute on our mission."

Shah also expressed confidence in the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to head the overall drive to reform development at State and USAID, in response to a question put forth by The Cable over whether he agreed with what most observers see at Clinton's drive to place USAID under the control of the State Department.

"I proudly work for Secretary Clinton, she's an incredible leader.... She's elevating development to make USAID a more significant, more important, and better resourced organization," he said. "I actually see all of this coming together as really elevating development ... and certainly elevating in a very significant and fundamental way USAID."

In his prepared remarks, Shah touted that USAID has rebuilt its policy-planning staff and is also in the process of making large-scale reforms to budgeting, innovation policies, procurement, and evaluation.

"We will rebuild USAID's budget accountability with a strong focus on getting better results for U.S. taxpayers," he said. "We will pursue a development strategy that is based on focus, scale, and impact.  We will focus in fewer sectors in each country of work.  We will pursue those efforts that can scale to reach a large percentage of people in need.  And we will assess missions based on their achievements -- not the process indicators that often substitute for real results." 

Shah also promised that both of the administration's major reviews on development policy -- the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and the White House's Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) -- will be released to the public.

The PSD-7 will come first, sometime this summer, and the QDDR will be released this fall, Shah said.

The State QDDR team briefed Hill staffers on the QDDR this week. One Congressional aide said that State is now aiming for a release in late September or early October. As The Cable reported before, however, the interim report on the QDDR will not be released at all.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: START, Bishkek, Gaza, Iran, Turkey

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Thursday's briefing by spokesman Mark Toner:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning on START and missile defense, shooting down the Washington Times story on a "secret deal" to limit missile defenses with the Russians. She also spoke with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov "to discuss the current situation in Kyrgyzstan and the issue of refugees in Uzbekistan," Toner said. She also met Thursday with Judy Gross, spouse of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor currently jailed in Cuba, Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus, and Quartet Representative Tony Blair.
  • Assistant Secretaries Robert Blake and Michael Posner will travel to Tashkent Thursday to consult with the Uzbek leadership, and then on to the Ferghana Valley Friday to evaluate the situation of the refugees there, Toner said. Blake will then go to Bishkek on Saturday to meet with the Kyrgyz leadership, who apparently asked for U.S. military assistance but were turned down.
  • The State Department welcomes, Israel's announcement that they are making changes to ease up on the Gaza blockage to allow building supplies and ketchup. "They reflect the type of changes we've been significant with our Israeli friends," Toner said, "As the President has said, the situation in Gaza is unsustainable." Special Envoy George Mitchell is in the region now.
  • State is not concerned about complaints that West Bank settlers are still building in violation of the official freeze on such construction. "The Israeli Government has announced its moratorium and we believe it's enforcing it and that these are individual cases," Toner said.
  • Toner said that Russian statements objecting to unilateral sanctions measures by the U.S. against Iran announced yesterday shouldn't upset the fragile international unity over the Iran nuclear issue. "I think the Russians have consistently expressed concerns that any sanctions not impact the Iranian people," Toner said, "We believe that the steps we've announced as well as the EU has announced earlier today are targeted against entities and individuals and not the Iranian people, but rather entities and individuals that support Iran's nuclear and proliferation activity."
  • Still no good explanation as to why Dan Benjamin suddenly pulled out of a meeting with Turkish officials on counterterrorism. "I don't have a solid answer for you.  I think it was scheduling, but I'll try to find out more," Toner said. I wonder if he'll attend the Wilson Center award ceremony for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu tonight!