The Cable

Names: Mike Hammer gets settled at State, Vietor moves up

The National Security Staff's former top spokesman Mike Hammer began his new job in Foggy Bottom on Monday, becoming the top deputy to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley.

"Starting [Monday], Mike Hammer is transitioning back to the State Department as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs," Crowley told The Cable. "We are delighted that Mike is bringing his White House and NSS experience back to State."

Hammer, a long time Foreign Service officer who came back from a stint in Bolivia to join the NSS, will be the "chief operating officer" of the State Department's public affairs organization, running the office and dealing with the media, especially the Spanish-speaking press. He will work with the White House on strategic planning related to key foreign policy matters.

Crowley said the State Department public affairs operation is now fully staffed, with Mark Toner as the acting deputy spokesman and Heidi Fulton having responsibility over the press office.

"Mike has been, as he has been to you all, a tremendous resource for all of us here," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "We will miss him but he's leaving the White House to be greatly promoted.  So I think that's a wonderful thing."

White House assistant press secretary Tommy Vietor will be promoted to replace Hammer as the lead spokesperson for the NSS. Vietor has been with Obama since his 2004 Senate campaign and worked as press secretary in his Senate press office before moving over to the White House after the election.

When Gibbs first announced Vietor's promotion on Jan. 14, one member of the press corps joked, "The little boy is all grown up."

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.