The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Mexico, Moscow, Hezbollah, Palestinian papers, Gbagbo

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

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Mexico Monday, where she met with Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in Guanajuato and with President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City, where she pledged new action on border security and praised Calderon's struggling efforts to battle organized crime.
  • Clinton joined President Obama in strongly condemning Monday's bomb attack at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. "We stand with the people of Russia in this moment of sorrow and we offer our deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of those injured and killed. The United States condemns terrorism and all forms of violence against the innocent, wherever it occurs," she said. No American citizens killed or injured so far.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeff Feltman was in Tunisia Monday, where he met with the foreign minister, political party leaders and civil society advocates. The United States seeks to be supportive in helping with Tunisia's democratic transition while recognizing that this is a Tunisian-initiated and Tunisian-led process," said Crowley. So does the U.S. support the old regime or not? "Well, we support the transition that is under way. And we hope that this transition will be peaceful."
  • Assistant Secretary for Eastern Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was in Hawaii Monday leading an interagency delegation at a series of meetings on Pacific Island issues, including an annual bilateral coordination meeting with the Asian Development Bank and a trilateral security dialogue with Australia and Japan. We will also hold trilateral consultations with Australia and New Zealand. "The purpose of these meetings is to confirm our shared commitment to work together with Pacific Island countries to enhance security and prosperity in the region," said Crowley. "They'll also pledge their support for steps that will hasten the restoration of democratic institutions and the rule of law in Fiji."
  • State is staying mum on what a Hezbollah backed prime minister in Beirut would mean for the U.S.-Lebanon relationship. "Ultimately, the makeup of the future government of Lebanon is a Lebanese decision," Crowley said. "We'll see what the final makeup of the Lebanese government is, and then we'll evaluate what that means in our terms of our relationship... The larger the role played by Hezbollah in this government, the more problematic our relationship will be."
  • Crowley acknowledged that the release of Palestinian negotiating documents by Al Jazeera could complicate the Middle East peace process and the upcoming Quartet meeting Feb. 5 in Munich. "We don't deny that this release will at least for a time make the situation more difficult than it already was. But, again, we are clear-eyed about this. We always recognize that this would be a great challenge, but it doesn't change our overall objective," he said.
  • The U.S. has a new plan to get Ivory Coast ruler Laurent Gbagbo to step down as president, a ban on cocoa products. "It is part of our strategy to deny Laurent Gbagbo the resources so that he can continue to buy support from the military and political actors," Crowley said. "And we hope that this will help convince him to step aside.

The Cable

Berman stands up for foreign aid funding

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) is supporting calls from the Obama administration to keep State and foreign aid funding out of the hands of GOP budget slashers in Congress.

Berman's latest remarks come on the heels of a Jan. 20 call for drastic defunding of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by the 165-member Republican Study Group. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah warned Congress of the national security risks of defunding USAID in an exclusive interview with The Cable on Jan. 21.

"I rise in opposition to the rule, which provides for consideration of a resolution to reduce what is being called "non-security" spending to 2008 levels," Berman said in remarks today, which were submitted into the Congressional record and which he excerpted on the House floor.

The budget resolution, which is being brought by Republican leadership in advance of Tuesday's State of the Union speech, would mandate that all "non-security" accounts be cut to fiscal 2008 levels when the current stopgap funding measure expires on March 4.

The GOP defines "non-security" to mean all spending besides funds devoted to defense, homeland security, military construction, and veterans. The administration and some in Congress want to add diplomacy and development to that list.

The budget resolution "sends a very damaging message that the Congress will not stand up to protect those programs that are absolutely essential to jobs and the economy," Berman said. "It also rejects a key principle that military leaders and presidents of both parties have clearly recognized: Foreign assistance and diplomacy are essential to United States national security."

Berman made a case for the role of U.S. economic and diplomatic capabilities in winning the war on terror. He also noted that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus have all come out in favor of increasing funding for foreign operations.

"The message from our military leadership, this Congress, and even former President Bush is clear: U.S. civilian agencies must be fully resourced to prosecute the fight against terror effectively," Berman said. "A cut to the budget harms U.S. national security and puts American lives at risk."

Berman failed to move forward his legislation on reforming foreign aid when he was chairman -- but funding did go up for fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010. Now, with the State Department taking on new responsibilities in Iraq and USAID playing a large role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he is arguing that gains in those countries, as well as U.S. standing in the world, hangs in the balance.

"We all remember the period when the United States tried to go it alone, unwilling to cooperate with other countries and demonstrate global leadership," Berman said. "We've finally begun to turn that all around.  Let's not go back to the bad old days when the U.S. turned away from the rest of the world, and lost so much of its influence and respect."