The Cable

In surprise appearance, Obama delivers tough love message to visiting Pakistani officials

Dozens of U.S. and Pakistani officials are meeting this week at the State Department in 13 different working groups spanning all elements of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, but the real action is in a few, select side meetings, where participants tell The Cable that the Obama team is taking a markedly tougher tone with the Pakistanis than before.

One key meeting Wednesday afternoon was between National Security Advisor in-waiting Tom Donilon and what's known as the "core" group of Pakistani officials: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and Ambassador Husain Haqqani.

President Barack Obama dropped in on that meeting and stayed for 50 minutes, according to an official who was there, and personally delivered the tough love message that other top administration officials have been communicating since the Pakistani delegation arrived. Obama also expressed support for Pakistan's democracy and announced he would invite Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the White House in the near future.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped in unannounced on another meeting between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Kayani. She delivered the message that Washington's patience is wearing thin with Pakistan's ongoing reluctance to take a more aggressive stance against militant groups operating from Pakistan over the Afghan border. A similar message was delivered to Kayani in another high-level side meeting Wednesday morning at the Pentagon, hosted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, two senior government sources said.

The message being delivered to Pakistan throughout the week by the Obama team is that its effort to convince Pakistan to more aggressively combat groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba will now consist of both carrots and sticks. But this means that the U.S. administration must find a way incentivize both the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, which have differing agendas and capabilities.

"The Obama side is calculating that Pakistan's military can deliver on subjects important to the U.S. but doesn't want to, while the civilian leadership in Pakistan wants to, but isn't able," said one high-level participant who spoke with The Cable in between sessions.

The carrots are clear. A State Department official confirmed to The Cable that the two sides will formally announce on Friday a new $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, focusing mostly on items that can be used for counterterrorism. Unspecified amounts of new funding for the reconstruction effort related to the Pakistani flood disaster are also on the table. In exchange, the United States not only wants increased Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan and Baluchistan, but also increased operational flexibility for U.S. special forces operating inside Pakistan's borders.

The sticks are less clear. Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad argued in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday that the Obama administration should threaten to take down terrorist havens in Pakistan, without Islamabad's consent if necessary. The Carnegie Endowment's Ashley Tellis wrote that the United States should condition aid to Pakistan on increased cooperation and even consider throwing more support toward India's role in Afghanistan, an idea the Pakistanis despise.

The timing of these op-eds and the change in the Obama administration's tone is not being seen by many as a coincidence.

The Pakistanis believe that their extensive efforts to expand military operations in South Waziristan don't get enough recognition in Washington. They also say privately that whatever incentives the United States is offering are not enough to compensate for the huge political and security risks that would come with a full-on assault on insurgent groups they have tacitly supported for decades.

Hanging over the whole discussion are reports that the United States is supporting and even providing escorts for the reconciliation talks in Kabul between the Afghan government, led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and senior Taliban officials. The New York Times reported Wednesday that these talks were going on without the approval or involvement of the Pakistani government, ostensibly to prevent elements of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from moving to thwart them.

"Pakistan is still resisting [moving on groups in North Waziristan] because it still hasn't fully finished with its ongoing operations [in South Waziristan] and also because it doesn't know what will happen with the talks with the Taliban and would much rather not antagonize the Haqqani network at this juncture," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Nawaz noted that the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan has now reached the third set of meetings, and that there is more pressure to show concrete results to validate the need for such a high-level format. "I hope there will be some clarity on what the objectives are on both sides and also some clarity on red lines so we don't have to relive this movie again and again," he said.

Nawaz also predicted that another point of contention will permeate the chatter in the hallways between Pakistani and American interlocutors -- Pakistan's desire to have Obama visit sometime soon.

"The big underlying issue that won't be on the agenda but will probably be discussed is President Obama's upcoming visit to India and that he won't be coming to Pakistan," he said. "It will point to the imbalance in the relationship."

In a read out, the White House said that Obama has committed to visit Pakistan some time in 2011.

Qureshi, Holbrooke, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will talk about all these issues at a joint Brookings/ Asia Society event Wednesday evening.

The Cable

Former Russian PM: Obama’s 'reset' with Moscow is good for Putin, bad for human rights

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government's gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country's  democracy, according to Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

"We have no democracy at all. We don't have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the authorities," Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. "The power has replaced all institutions ... like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That's already obvious for everyone."

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the "reset" policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

"We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia... we would like these friends just to open their mouths," Kasyanov said, explaining that he will meet with academics and experts at the German Marshall Fund, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, and other places. He neither sought nor was granted any meetings with U.S. government officials.

Kasyanov said that he supports the substantive aspects of President Obama's reset policy, such as cooperation on non-proliferation, but that a parallel track should be established to simultaneously exert pressure on Russian leadership to adhere to basic standards when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression.

"I would wish the reset process would become a little bit more principled, rather than closing its eyes to everything that's going on Russia in the sphere of public life and in the sphere of civil society," he said. "You shouldn't just change your principles, the values your government is standing on."

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties.

"They just don't criticize anything, they don't produce any reports on any unacceptable developments... It's not principled, now it looks like the administration closes it eyes on anything that's going on in Russia," he said.

Right now, independent organizations are not allowed to participate in elections and virtually no new political group has been allowed to register itself as a recognized entity since 2004, according to Kasyanov. There is undue pressure on Russian non-governmental groups, such the arrest and trial of organizers who displayed a controversial art exhibit at the Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Community Center, a case that is now being referred to the European Court of Human Rights.

France and Germany are meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on such issues, but they are operating under the illusion that there could be some significant break between him and Putin on such issues, according to Kasyanov.

"What we need is just general support from the West... We need moral support," he said. "Right now, [Russian citizens] feel that Americans have just given up on Russia, that they are not interested at all."

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC's Mike McFaul and the Kremlin's Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration's approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, "We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership."

"This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that's imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It's absolutely the wrong thing to do," Kasyanov said.

As for his take on the relationship between Medvedev and Putin, who some see as increasingly divergent on key issues, he explained, "Their relations are very simple, boss and senior assistant who temporarily occupies the position of president of the country."

When asked if he thinks Putin will run for President in 2012, he said, "I wouldn't say ‘run,' just step in."

UPDATE: A State Department officials confirms that Kasyanov was offered a meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Russel, but that the meeting didn't happen due to scheduling issues.

VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images