The Cable

A tale of two Libyan embassies in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional panel on Thursday morning that the State Department is "suspending our relationship with the existing Libyan embassy" in Washington. Her announcement is only the latest episode in the saga of what is now, essentially, two competing Libyan diplomatic posts in Washington.

On one side of town is Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali's residence, nestled in the luxurious Kalorama neighborhood where dozens of foreign envoys retire when they go home from a day's work. There was a big celebration at the residence on Feb. 25, when Aujali  denounced Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and with the help of some embassy staff replaced Libya's green Qaddafi-era flag with the red, green, and black pre-Qaddafi flag, which the Libyan opposition has adopted as its standard.

On the other side of town, behind a non-descript door marked "Libyan Liaison Office" inside the Watergate office complex, is the actual Libyan embassy -- a relic of the pre-2006 era when the United States and Libya did not have formal diplomatic relations.

Aujali claimed that the embassy was "under my control" in an interview with Foreign Policy last week. But his assistant, Katie White, told The Cable at that point that Aujali was "working from home" that week and hadn't been to the actual embassy office in a while. White said that the embassy's second in command was running the embassy office, a man named Mr. Fatih, who doesn't speak English. (The spelling of his name cannot be confirmed.)

But Fatih hasn't renounced Qaddafi, so is the embassy office still loyal to the regime? White wouldn't say. So your humble Cable guy went there today to find out.

The Libyan embassy office, which is guarded by uniformed secret service guards and armed private security, shows no indications that there has been any change in Libya whatsoever. A large picture of Qaddafi hangs on the wall in between the green regime flag and the flag of the United States. A stack of copies of Qaddafi's manifesto, known as The Green Book, sits on the table. Embassy officers file in and out, as if going about their regular business.

Eventually, an embassy staffer came past. Gracious but uncomfortable, she said that Fatih was out of the office for a few days on "personal business." Asked who was in charge of the embassy, Aujali or Fatih, she responded, "It's very confusing, even to us."

"It's like a classroom, if the professor is away the assistant is in charge," she continued, trying to explain that both Ali and Fatih were still involved in the embassy's management. But didn't the fact that one of them had rejected Qaddafi and one had not affect how the post functions? So who was in charge of the Libyan embassy and its staff?

"Honestly, I don't want to know," she said.

The State Department has only added to the confusion over who represents Libya in Washington. After Aujali denounced Qaddafi, the State Department initially transferred recognition to whoever was left at the Qaddafi-loyal embassy office.

On March 1, the same day protesters unsuccessfully struggled to physically tear down the Qaddafi flag from the embassy office, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Aujali "no longer represents Libya's interests in the United States."

Two days later, The Cable reported that the State Department had changed its mind and now considered Aujali as Libya's "chief of mission" in Washington and, as such, would deal with him directly. Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa had sent the State Department a fax telling them not to deal with Aujali, but State decided to ignore the communiqué because they were not able "verify its authenticity," a State Department official told The Cable.

That explanation was viewed by the State Department press corps as being too clever by half. Couldn't State just call Musa and confirm the fax? Was there really a suspicion that the fax could have been a fake? State was able to avoid that question: Musa stopped returning their calls.

But on March 7, Crowley confirmed that Kusa had called Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman on March 4 to talk about the situation in Libya. As for the status of the Libyan embassy in Washington, it never came up.

"Musa Kusa called to say hello, and he did not bring up the status of the ambassador. Neither did the Assistant Secretary Feltman. So our review is ongoing," Crowley said.

The "review" is an illustration of the balancing act the State Department has been playing as it tries to reach out to the Libyan opposition -- while still maintaining its relationship with the Qaddafi government.

Particularly following France's decision today to recognize the anti-Qaddafi movement as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people," the Obama administration is under pressure to engage the opposition. Clinton will meet with Libyan opposition leaders when she travels to Egypt and Tunisia later this month.

But if the Libyan embassy in Washington is no longer able to talk to the State Department, what should they do? "We expect them to end operating as the embassy of Libya," Clinton said this morning.

What that means for Ali, Fatih, White, and all the other embassy staff caught up in this mess is just as unclear as the future of Libya itself.

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The Cable

Kyl warns about the war on American sovereignty

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) warned an audience of foreign policy hands on Tuesday evening about the threat of "lawfare" on U.S. sovereignty, lashing out at the State Department, American law schools, the European Union, and the "so-called international community."

"First of all, it is important to recognize that the campaign against national sovereignty... is not going to go away anytime soon," Kyl said, as he accepted the distinguished service award at the annual gala event of the Center for the National Interest, which as of Tuesday is the new name of the Nixon Center.

The lavish event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel featured short and almost universally upbeat speeches by notable foreign policy figures, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, retired Gen. Chuck Boyd, center President Dimitri Simes, and fellow award recipient Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

But Kyl's acceptance speech turned into a 25-minute diatribe about the risk of the United States slipping unwittingly into an undemocratic system of international laws that would result in the loss of U.S. legal sovereignty. A large portion of the speech was directed at the State Department's top lawyer Harold Koh and the administration's announcement on Monday that it would honor two additional protocols to the Geneva Convention.

"Some Americans, including many leading academics and some high-level government officials, view sovereignty as an outmoded notion," Kyl said. "They want the United States to accept the authority of so-called transnational legal norms."

"In certain American intellectual circles, sovereignty is viewed not as a principle to be upheld, but a problem to be remedied. That view, with roots that reach back decades, is particularly strong among some faculty members at our prestigious law schools."

Kyl said that Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School, was a strong advocate of adopting certain elements of international law. Kyl said that Koh's philosophy was "not consistent with how laws are supposed to be made in our constitutional democracy."

The State Department announced on Monday that it would work to ratify Additional Protocol II of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which mandates stricter enforcement measures to guarantee the humane treatment of prisoners, and that the United States would voluntarily adhere to the norms established under Article 75 of Protocol I in international armed conflicts, which also prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners.

"The Additional Protocol would permit terrorist groups to receive POW privileges even if they hide among civilian populations and do not reveal themselves until just before an attack. This would give terrorists advantages over conventional forces," Kyl said. "If the United States adopted it, Protocol 1 would hamper American combat operations, increasing risks for U.S. soldiers, as well as for civilians in combat zones."

Kyl then went on to criticize the joining of sovereign legal systems in the European Union and said that the changes in Europe ran counter to democratic principles.

"Many of our friends in Europe believe that national sovereignty itself, including the sovereignty of democratic states, is problematic. They view international agreements as a means to advance progressive ‘norms' that have little support among democratic publics. And, some view it as a way to constrain U.S. power," Kyl said.

"In Europe there never was a sustained, serious, popular debate about the loss of sovereignty and democratic accountability. It just happened."

Several European ambassadors were present at the event. One of them, a critic of the EU, said to The Cable of Kyl's speech, "That was a lot of Europe bashing, even for me."

McCain's speech, by contrast, was light and self-deprecating.

"I must again ask for your sympathy for the families in the state of Arizona, because Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for president of the United States, Mo Udall of Arizona ran for president of the United States, Bruce Babbitt of Arizona ran for president of the United States, I from Arizona ran for president of the United States," McCain said.

"Arizona might be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children they can grow up to be president."

Other notables in attendance included freshman Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), former Congresswoman Jane Harman, former AIT Chairman Hank Greenberg, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, the center's executive director Paul Saunders, emcee Steve Clemons, and of course, your humble Cable guy.

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