The Cable

Clinton holds out hope Syria’s government will reform

The difference between the situations in Syria and Libya is that the Syrian government might still come around and pursue a reform agenda, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

In an interview with Lucia Annunziata of  Italy's "In Mezz'Ora" in Rome, Clinton was asked whether the United States was applying a double standard when dealing with Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and other Arab dictators who are killing their citizens, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Clinton explained that she still held out hope that the Syrian government would institute reforms that could satisfy the demands of protesters and end the government-sponsored violence against civilians. There was no hope for that outcome in Libya, she said.

"There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms," she said. "What I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed Qaddafi would do that. People do believe there is a possible path forward with Syria. So we're going to continue joining with all of our allies to keep pressing very hard on that."

Clinton argued that the United States and its international partners have acted aggressively in the case of Syria, but admitted that acting against the Assad regime is more complicated, in many ways, than organizing action against the Libya regime.

Clinton was also asked how long she thought the war in Libya would last.

"Well, I think everyone, including, of course, the United States, is working urgently to try to bring about a political solution," she responded. "The obstacle is Col. Qaddafi."

Clinton insisted Qaddafi's death was not part of NATO's mission in Libya, although she noted he might be killed if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"The objective is to protect civilians. But there are legitimate targets, like the command-and-control bunkers and facilities that we know he and his family control," Clinton said. "This is a conflict and he could become a victim of the very violence that he initiated."

The Cable

Newly released docs show over a decade of U.S. frustration with Pakistan over bin Laden

U.S. officials had been frustrated by Pakistan's refusal to cooperate in the mission to apprehend Osama bin Laden for over 10 years, according to government documents released Thursday by the National Security Archive.

"As the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, raises fresh questions about U.S.-Pakistan relations, newly released documents show that as early as 1998 U.S. officials concluded the Government of Pakistan ‘is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Usama bin Ladin,'" stated the release on the website of the National Security Archives, which is housed at the George Washington University.

"According to previously secret U.S. documents, Pakistani officials repeatedly refused to act on the Bin Laden problem, despite mounting pressure from American authorities. Instead, in the words of a U.S. Embassy cable, Pakistani sources ‘all took the line that the issue of bin Ladin is a problem the U.S. has with the Taliban, not with Pakistan.'"

The archives posted six new documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, as part of its Osama bin Laden File. The documents date from 1998 to 2000 and therefore do not represent the policies of the current Pakistani government led by President Asif ali Zardari, nor Pakistan's policies following the 9/11 attacks. But they do show a history of deep distrust between the United States and Pakistan in the early years of the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, despite efforts by former President Bill Clinton's administration to convince Pakistan to help bring bin Laden to justice.

According to an Aug. 21, 1998 internal memo written by then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Affairs Karl F. Inderfurth, the Pakistani government tried to distance itself from U.S. strikes on an al Qaeda target in Afghanistan that year, which were a response to the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.  "The most sincere reaction of the government of Pakistan to the Bin Laden strikes is exasperation at the unneeded difficulties this event has created for them in dealing with their domestic political situation, and in particular, in keeping the religious parties happy and relatively off the street," he wrote.

According to internal State Department talking points from November 1998, continued efforts to exert pressure on the Taliban to expel bin Laden, including efforts to convince Pakistan to put pressure the Taliban, were unsuccessful. "Time for a diplomatic solution may be running out," the memo stated.

After Clinton met with then Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif in Washington on Dec. 2, 1998, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad sent a diplomatic cable Dec. 18 that communicated their impression that the Pakistani government "is not disposed to be especially helpful on the matter of terrorist Usama bin Ladin." The cable also quoted a news article it claimed was sourced to the Pakistani government, which warned of a U.S. military or clandestine strike to get bin Laden. The article said that the Pakistani government does "not want to have anything to do with Washington's anti Osama crusade."

U.S. officials continued to press Pakistan on bin Laden throughout 1999, but got little positive response. A May 1999 diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad expressed continued frustration with Pakistan's handling of the bin Laden issue. Top Pakistani officials told their U.S. interlocutors that they were taking the bin Laden issue seriously, but they did not know where he was and did not believe he was planning to attack the United States. One Pakistani official was quoted as admitting that Pakistan was preoccupied with "the recent increase in Indo-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir."

By November 2000, following the attack on the USS Cole and less than a year before the 9/11 attacks, the level of frustration had increased such that Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering opened a meeting with Pakistani officials "by expressing disappointment that Pakistan, whom he called a good friend of the U.S., was not taking steps to help with Usama bin Ladin," according to a diplomatic cable.

Foreshadowing the unilateral raid on May 1 inside Pakistan that ended with bin Laden's death, Pickering warned the Pakistanis that the United States "would always act to protect U.S. interests at a time and place of its own choice."

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