The Cable

Aid chief: Global warming is causing natural disasters

An international who's who of development and political leaders are meeting today at the U.N. to raise funds for Pakistani flood relief. At the panel's opening session, American and Pakistani officials argued that global climate change is increasing the risk of humanitarian disasters and probably contributed to the scale of the current crisis.

"We should expect to have more large-scale weather events as we see more systematic warming of our planet," said Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, pointing to what he described as a clear trend of increasing natural calamities tied to climate change. USAID has already responded to 64 natural disasters this year.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the unprecedented size of the flood was due at least in part to warming factors, such as the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas. He said the catastrophe was a perfect storm due to the combination of "exceptionally high rainfall in the north, converging with the monsoons and the glacier melt."

Only after the floodwaters recede will the true extent of the damage become known. Qureshi said. He also defended the Pakistani government's widely criticized relief efforts.

"People have complained that the response hasn't been quick enough, nationally and internationally. Frankly, nobody was expecting to have something like this, at this scale," he said. "Initially there was shock and paralysis. But we are out of it now; we are getting our act together."

"We do need international assistance and we need international assistance now," Qureshi added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to announce an increase in U.S. aid for the flood from $90 million to $150 million today. As of yesterday, the U.N. had received less than half of the $450 million needed for immediate relief.

Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America, cautioned that vigilance is needed to ensure that countries follow through on the funding that will be promised at today's conference. The Asian Development Bank pledged Thursday morning to grant a $2 billion loan for long term reconstruction.

"It's one thing to pledge the money; it's another thing to deliver it. We've got to keep the pressure on," he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged that the international community is competing with militant organizations in the relief effort and that the flood crisis does have strategic implications for the region and for the United States. But that's not what's important right now, he said.

"Obviously we are aware of this. But we are focused solely on helping people in this extreme situation. We will sort out all of the other implications later."

Holbrooke encouraged the audience at the event to text "SWAT" to 50555, which will automatically send $10 to the U.N.'s refugee agency. Donation information for other groups working on the relief effort can be found here.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Israel, Karzai, Kerry, Gration, Burma

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Wednesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Still no breakthrough on the move to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite that State Department officials were optimistic the Quartet would issue a statement this week, there are still disputes unresolved and so no move to direct talks can be announced. "We think we're close. We can't say whether today we're closer than we were yesterday. We believe we're close, and we're working aggressively to move them into direct negotiations," Crowley said. Special Envoy George Mitchell's team and the NSC are working the phones. "This is in full- court press."
  • There were clues in Crowley's cryptic comments about the ongoing negotiations. For example, he indicated that the U.S. does not support preconditions for direct talks that the Palestinian side is widely reported to be demanding, such as statements on borders or settlements. "We believe that leverage is obtained inside these negotiations, not outside these negotiations," Crowley said. Also, there is now no assurance a Quartet statement is coming. "If a Quartet statement can be helpful, one will be issued," he said. "There have been discussions with the parties as to the content of the Quartet statement and what that would suggest in terms of the conduct of the negotiations. That is an area that we are still working with the parties."
  • State is still trying to figure out the meaning of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decree that all security contractors have to shut down operations within four months time. "We are still trying to fully understand what the Afghan government's concerns are, trying to address those concerns," Crowley said. There is an exemption for guards protecting the embassy, which is good, and State is looking at what exceptions to the rule might exist. If the contractors leave, the U.S. military troops might have to stop fighting to do their jobs, which nobody wants to see, Crowley added. Karzai didn't give the U.S. a heads up before making his announcement.
  • Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, is in Afghanistan this week, traveling with Dan Feldman from Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's office. Crowley didn't deny but didn't confirm reports that Kerry was delivering a list of benchmarks regarding how Karzai could reassure Washington that he is taking steps to combat corruption. "He was carrying his own message as part of his travel," Crowley said. "So he's not carrying a special message from the administration?" a reporter pressed? "We coordinated with him before he went," Crowley admitted.
  • Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Khartoum, Sudan. "He is on a trip to push the National Congress Party in the North and Sudan's People Liberation Movement -- the SPLM -- in the South to live up to all of the criteria under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and continue to move forward in preparation for the referendum next January," Crowley said. Gration also visited the Kalma camp in South Darfur and received assurances from the Sudanese government that full and equal access by aid organizations has been restored to the Kalma camp and the surrounding areas. No comment on the fact that Sudan continues to deport aid workers.
  • No real comment on the decision by the Colombian court ruling blocking a defense pact with the U.S. that would give American troops more access to Colombian bases. "This is part of a legal process within Colombia. We expect it will be resolved in interaction between among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Colombia," Crowley said.
  • Four Americans died in a tragic bus crash in the Philippines, apparently due to faulty brakes.
  • Crowley declined to confirm reports that the U.S. has decided to back a U.N. commission of inquiry into war crimes in Burma.