The Cable

Steinberg leaving State, Burns moves up

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is leaving the Obama administration and Undersecretary of State Bill Burns will be nominated to replace him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told her employees on Wednesday.

"For more than two years, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has helped guide this Department and our nation's foreign policy. He has been an invaluable friend and colleague -- a calm head during crises, a voice of reason and experience during policy debates, and always a consistent advocate for the women and men of the State Department and USAID," Clinton wrote in a Wednesday email to staff.

"So it is with sadness for all of us but excitement for him that I am writing to share the news that Jim has accepted a new job as Dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, one of our nation's finest institutions and a place dear to my own heart."

Steinberg had been rumored to be leaving State for some time. The Cable had reported that he had explored the idea of becoming dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. He had originally told the White House he was interested in staying at State for two years; he leaves his position almost exactly two years after taking office.

In her note, Clinton focused on the fact that Steinberg had been intimately involved in a wide range of policy issues while at State, especially those dealing with the Asia Pacific region. He was a key official in the Obama administration's policy toward China and coined the term "strategic reassurance," though that phrase never really caught on.

He was also a key part of the administration's drive to increase pressure on Iran and became the lead Obama official in dealing with the Balkan countries, an issue he was deeply invested in. He pushed for adherence to principles of non-proliferation when making civilian nuclear agreements with other countries. He was an important voice regarding the administration's policy in Sudan.

Steinberg also represented the State Department at the White House on regular basis in both deputy-level and principle-level meetings. Some speculated that Steinberg was the White House's guy at State, more connected to Obama than to Clinton. But Clinton depended on Steinberg and trusted him to represent her in almost any situation.

"He has been a fixture at the meetings convened by the National Security Council, sharing his wisdom and experience with our colleagues from across the government," Clinton wrote. "For me, Jim has been a friend and invaluable counselor. For two years he played Oscar to [former Deputy Secretary] Jack Lew's Felix, and forged a new and effective partnership with [new] Deputy Secretary Tom Nides. This building really won't be the same without him."

Clinton announced that Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns will be nominated to replace Steinberg. Burns, the highest-ranking career foreign-service officer at State, breaks the mold by taking what is usually a job given to political appointees.

But Burns has been at the center of the State Department's handling of the wave of Arab revolutions. He is also Clinton's trusted partner, and is well respected throughout Foggy Bottom.

"Bill is one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and most talented public servants.  As our most senior Foreign Service Officer, he has served all over the world and all over the Building," wrote Clinton. "If confirmed, he will bring incomparable depth and experience to the job, as well as important continuity during a time of change and upheaval in the world."

Full text of Clinton's letter after the jump:

From: Secretary Clinton
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 10:15 AM
Subject: Jim Steinberg

THE SECRETARY OF STATE

WASHINGTON

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

For more than two years, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has helped guide this Department and our nation's foreign policy.  He has been an invaluable friend and colleague -- a calm head during crises, a voice of reason and experience during policy debates, and always a consistent advocate for the women and men of the State Department and USAID. 

So it is with sadness for all of us but excitement for him that I am writing to share the news that Jim has accepted a new job as Dean of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, one of our nation's finest institutions and a place dear to my own heart.  We will miss Jim -- he really is one of a kind -- but I am pleased that his talents and insights will be dedicated to molding future leaders and thinkers.

I learned to trust Jim's intellect, instincts and his deep understanding of international affairs during the 1990s. So when I became Secretary of State, he was a natural choice for Deputy.  I could not have predicted, however, how indispensable he would be. On every foreign policy challenge, big and small, he has helped formulate our policy and oversee its execution. 

Jim has been particularly instrumental in shaping our renewed engagement in the Asia-Pacific, where much of the history of the 21st century will be written. From managing our expanding relationship with China to reaffirming our historic alliance with Japan to addressing challenges on the Korean Peninsula, Jim has been at the center of shaping of our efforts. 

He has also ably and effectively represented the State Department in the interagency process here in Washington.  He has been a fixture at the meetings convened by the National Security Council, sharing his wisdom and experience with our colleagues from across the government. And he has also been a frequent and forceful voice in public debates -- including on the Hill -- always making the case for a thoughtful and principled foreign policy.

For me, Jim has been a friend and invaluable counselor.  For two years he played Oscar to Jack Lew's Felix, and forged a new and effective partnership with Deputy Secretary Tom Nides. This building really won't be the same without him.

While it is not possible to replace Jim Steinberg, I am delighted to announce that President Obama intends to nominate Under Secretary Bill Burns to follow Jim as our next Deputy.  Bill is one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and most talented public servants.  As our most senior Foreign Service Officer, he has served all over the world and all over the Building. If confirmed, he will bring incomparable depth and experience to the job, as well as important continuity during a time of change and upheaval in the world. 

Please join me in bidding a fond farewell to Jim and wishing him all the best in his future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton

 

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The Cable

State Department sanctions Belarus firm for doing business with Iran; GOP not satisfied

The State Department announced on Tuesday that it has decided to apply the recently passed Iran sanctions legislation to the Belarusian company Belorusneft. But GOP senators monitoring the implementation of the law said the move was marginal and unsatisfactory.

The action prevents Belorusneft, a subsidiary of the government-owned conglomerate Belneftekhim, from seeking any loans or doing any business in U.S. financial markets. The sanction was implemented under the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) of 1996 as amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) of 2010. In a press release, the State Department focused on Belorusneft's 2007 $500 million contract with the NaftIran Intertrade Company (NICO), which is also being punished under U.S. sanctions.

"Since President Barack Obama signed CISADA into law on July 1, 2010, Iran's ability to attract new investment to develop its oil and natural gas resources, and to produce or import refined petroleum products, has been severely limited," the release said. "The State Department's direct engagement with companies and governments to enforce CISADA is raising the pressure on the Government of Iran."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday that, in practical terms, the action prohibits Belorusneft from seeking assistance from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, obtaining U.S. government export licenses, obtaining private U.S. bank loans exceeding $10 million, and securing any procurement contracts with the U.S. government.

Belarusneft, the largest oil company in Belarus, hasn't actually tried to apply for any of those things, but Toner explained that the new announcement "also sends a message to our partners in Europe as well that this is a company that we've decided to sanction. And I'm sure they have access or would seek access into European markets." Toner didn't say if State was pushing the EU to follow suit.

Three senior senators who have been intimately involved in the Iran sanctions law and its implementation immediately shot off a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, obtained by The Cable, criticizing today's announcement as too weak.

"We are writing to express our disappointment with today's announcement that the administration designated only one additional entity for violating U.S. sanctions with regard to Iran," wrote Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). "We do not believe this represents full compliance with the sanctions regime put in place by Congress."

These senators have long been calling for the administration to penalize companies that hail from other countries, especially China.

"It appears that Chinese firms in the energy and banking sectors have conducted significant activity in violation of U.S. law," ten senators wrote to Clinton on March 10. "We cannot afford to create the impression that China will be given free rein to conduct economic activity in Iran when more responsible nations have chosen to follow the course we have asked of them. We are sure you agree."

The State Department's Bob Einhorn briefed senators on Capitol Hill on this very issue on March 11, but a senior GOP senate aide told The Cable that the meeting was disappointing.  

The GOP senate offices in question see today's designation as marginal, especially as the parent company, Belneftekhim, was already sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2007 through Executive Order 13405, which targeted firms connected to President Alexander Lukashenko for human rights violations, and three other subsidiaries were sanctioned in 2008.

"It's a complete disappointment," one senior GOP aide told The Cable. "You would have thought they had already found a way to only designate the lowest hanging fruit when they sanctioned NICO. Alas, they found a lower hanging fruit."

A different senior GOP aide said the move sends the signal that the Obama administration only has the willingness to punish Iranian companies such as NICO and companies from other states that doesn't have close or critical relations with, such as Belarus.

"While the administration is patting itself on the back for its empty action today with Belarus, we can hear the sighs of relief coming from Tehran, Beijing, Ankara and Geneva where bankers, gasoline traders, and oil and natural gas financiers just realized that the Obama administration isn't serious about stopping Iran's nuclear weapons program," the aide said.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director and head of the Iran Energy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told The Cable  that today's announcement "is a step in the right direction for both human rights and national security, but it's only a small and incremental one."

"The administration should be praised for moving against the energy lifeblood of both Belarus and Iran, two regimes which savagely repress their own people," he said. "But this was only a borderline meaningful designation since Belneftekhim and three other subsidiaries are already subject to designations. While a designation against this fourth subsidiary is helpful, the time for incrementalism is long past as Iran drives towards a nuclear weapon."