The Cable

Senior official: 'This has been a bad week for American diplomacy'

The State Department is settling in for a rough period, putting forth a longer-term strategy for dealing with the damage done by the ongoing WikiLeaks disclosures and starting the repair work on hundreds of relationships. The timing of the diplomatic embarrassment comes just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling around the globe.

"This has been a bad week for American diplomacy," a senior administration official lamented on a Wednesday evening conference call about the WikiLeaks crisis. In response to what the official called "significant damage" to American diplomatic effort abroad, the State Department has reached out to 186 countries on the issue, "basically every country that takes our calls," the official said.

The official emphasized that if there's any American leader with the skills to handle such a crisis, it's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her stints as first lady and senator, her personal reputation, and her close relationships have given her the experience and skills needed to do what's necessary to start putting the pieces back together, the official said.

Meanwhile, Clinton was in Kazakhstan Wednesday for the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In remarks alongside Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, Clinton commented on her damage-control activities.

"I anticipate that there will be a lot of questions that people have every right and reason to ask, and we stand ready to discuss them at any time with our counterparts around the world," she said.

Clinton's biggest damage-control effort is coming Friday, when she travels to Bahrain to deliver the opening address at the Manama Security Dialogue, put on by the Institute for International and Strategic Studies. There she could come face to face with leaders of several countries portrayed harshly in the cables, including Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and many more.  Your humble Cable guy will be in Manama covering the event. (More on that later).

Back in Washington, the senior administration official said that the State Department had severed its computers from the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) in the wake of the disclosures as part of an overall government review of information-security procedures. SIPRNet is the interagency network for sharing classified information between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

In what some might see as intramural sniping, this senior official argued that the State Department's policies had actually been "vindicated" by the WikiLeaks crisis because department personnel have always been prevented from downloading secret materials from the State Department's classified networks, except in specific and very limited circumstances.

The 250,000 stolen diplomatic cables given to WikiLeaks are widely thought to have come from Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst with the 10th Mountain Division who allegedly downloaded the documents from a SIPRNet terminal in Iraq. People familiar with the U.S. government's response tell us that at least in some circumstances, the State Department's systems were disconnected from the Defense Department systems even before the WikiLeaks cables starting seeping out Nov. 28. For example, the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan moved to separate themselves from the rest of the secret government network about a week prior, two senior level sources confirms.

Foreign leaders have downplayed the revelations in the cables, but the senior official admitted that the WikiLeaks crisis has caused "significant damage" to American diplomatic efforts abroad and that the damage-control effort will play out over a long period of time.

"We're going to have to do a lot of work to rebuild people's trust," the official said.

The Cable

Did the price of New START just go up by $700 billion?

The GOP leader on the New START treaty with Russia, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), linked the administration's drive to ratify the treaty this month to the extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy today. The connection between these two issues threatens to pit the White House's domestic political priorities against its foreign policy agenda.

"If the taxes all can't be resolved and voted on and completed and spending for the government for the next 10 months completed by, like, next Monday, I don't know how there's enough time to complete START," Kyl said, according to The Hill.

Kyl's statement could be taken two ways. On the one hand, he's now admitting there could be time to debate and vote on the treaty during the lame duck session, which would represent a change from his previous position. On the other hand, he's clearly saying that without a deal on the tax cuts that the GOP can live with, there will be no agreement to bring up New START.

But Kyl's remarks could also simply be taken at face value. If the fight over the tax cuts drags on, there just might not be enough days in the calendar to fully vet the treaty before the Christmas break. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised today that the vote on New START would happen by then.

Administration officials seem confused by Kyl's oscillations. In private, they feel the negotiations are going well and are scrambling to answer every outstanding question posed by him and other Republican senators. But public statements such as this -- and letters like the one he wrote to Obama on Monday -are perceived by the administration as  shots across their bow.

The administration has already put together a package worth over $85 billion over ten years to respond to Kyl's demands for increases in funding for nuclear modernization. Extending all the Bush tax cuts over that period, even after subtracting the tax cuts for lower- and middle-class Americans that Democrats also want to extend, is estimated to add $700 billion to the debt.

The question is: How badly does the White House want to fulfill its pledge to meet the Christmas deadline to pass New START, and will the White House's full court press on the issue be enough to get the GOP to strike a deal?

President Barack Obama invited former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the White House today, and both men spoke to the press about the need to ratify New START as a matter of national security.

"I fully support this treaty and I fully hope the Senate will give its advice and consent to this treaty as soon as possible," said Powell.

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