The Cable

Inside the Biden-Petraeus Dinner

When Vice President Joseph Biden sat down with Gen. David Petraeus in the outgoing CENTCOM commander's Tampa home for dinner Tuesday evening, it was actually the second private encounter between the two men in as many weeks.

Only seven days prior, Biden and Petraeus had what's called a "pull-aside" meeting at the White House. This meeting was held immediately following the senior Afghanistan strategy session in the Situation Room, where the president decided to ask Petraeus to move to Kabul and run the war in Afghanistan following the sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Despite reports that Biden and Petraeus are on opposite sides of the debate over how to prosecute the war, Biden was actually a leading proponent of choosing Petraeus to replace McChrystal, an administration official said. Meeting with Obama in the Oval Office just before the strategy meeting where the decision to fire McChrystal was discussed, Biden gave Obama his strong recommendation to select Petraeus.

After the general accepted the offer, Biden told Petraeus in their pull-aside meeting that he had strongly supported the idea of giving him the command. The two men agreed to meet one more time before Petraeus left for Kabul. Biden happened to be traveling to Pensacola, Florida yesterday to visit areas affected by the Gulf oil spill, so they agreed to meet at Petraeus's Tampa house.

Both at their meeting last week and at Tuesday's dinner, they discussed their mutual support of the president's policy, the official said, trying to put to rest what the administration feels is an overblown discussion of an incident described in a recent book by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter, when Biden reportedly said, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."

"There is not a Biden versus Petraeus dynamic here," the official said. "Both the vice president and the general signed onto the president's policy and both are committed to it." That policy, the official pointed out, included both the surge of 30,000 troops and the July 2011 drawdown date, when the administration says a yet-to-be-determined number of troops will begin to depart.

Inside the policy process last fall, Biden advocated for a more counterterrorism-heavy strategy, rather than a troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy, out of his genuine skepticism that the Afghan government would rise to the occasion.

And the quote, while accurate, doesn't attempt to define what Biden meant by "a whole lot." The surge was always meant to be a temporary measure, so when some of those 30,000 additional troops come home, that could be considered to be a "lot," the official argued

Nevertheless, Republican senators are seizing upon the Biden quote to allege that the two men are either fighting against each other inside the Obama administration, or just not on the same page regarding the president's Afghanistan policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, pressed Petraeus on the quote during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, asking him if Biden was "right."

Petraeus referred to their previous meeting at the White House, saying, "The vice president grabbed me and said, ‘You should know I am 100 percent supportive of this policy.'"

The dinner itself was more of a social affair than a business event, with many other people attending, including Mrs. Holly Petraeus, Lt. Gen. John Allen, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill and his wife, and Biden's national security advisor, Tony Blinken.

Allen was named Wednesday as the new acting head of CENTCOM, succeeding Petraeus. Petraeus was confirmed for his new post Wednesday by a Senate vote of 99-0.

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Russian spies, Eikenberry, Taiwan, Space, North Korea

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

  • The State Department was in contact with Russian officials this week on the issue of the Russian spy ring arrests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not talk with her counterpart about it yet, and State was not directly involved in the investigation, Duguid said. He could not confirm that State assisted the FBI in identifying the second secretary of the Russian mission to the United Nations as part of the investigation, as the court papers allege. "And as to the timing, the Department of Justice conducted a 10- year, as I understand it, investigation and moved forward on that investigation when it felt it was time to move," he said.
  • Duguid said he was "completely unaware" of the allegation by Afghan attorney general Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, who said in a news conference that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry threatened to have him removed if he did not pursue a particular bank fraud case
  • The State Department is celebrating the new trade and tariffs agreement between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). "The United States welcomes the increased dialogue and interaction between the PRC and Taiwan that this new agreement represents. We are encouraged by recent improvements in cross-strait relations and hope those relations will continue to expand and develop," said Duguid.
  • The new administration Space policy is out, and in a big departure from the Bush administration, calls for arms control in Space. It also calls for more international cooperation and a focus on commercialization and privatization. "The United States calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space and to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust, and reaffirms the long-standing posture that all nations have the right to access, explore and use space for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law," Duguid said.
  • Ambassador Wi Sung-lac, Republic of Korea special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, is visiting Washington today for consultations on North Korea. He met with Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth and Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Ambassador Sung Kim. There is no definite schedule for when the U.N. will act on the North Korean sinking of the Cheonan, but the administration did announce that transfer of operational control of military forces in South Korea will now be delayed from 2012 to 2015.