The Cable

Libyan rebels get first tranche of U.S. aid: 10,000 MREs

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted last month about the decision to start giving non-lethal aid to the Libyan rebel army. Yesterday, the rebels got their first delivery: 10,000 packets of pre-packaged food, what the military calls Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).

"This shipment, authorized under the President's April 26th drawdown, consisted of more than 10,000 halal meals ready to eat, so-called MREs, that were transferred from Department of Defense stocks in support of the [Transitional National Council]'s efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at Tuesday's briefing.

The meals are part of the $25 million in non-lethal aid to the Libyan rebels the White House approved on April 26. That approval came 11 days after the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to spend the funds to help the Libyan rebel army fight off the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.

"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in non-lethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition, is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Clinton said April 21.

But while the State Department's notification said the money would go to things like "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC) as urgently needed -- now the list is much more weighted to humanitarian goods.

Toner said Tuesday that the shipments were meant to be in "support of the TNC's efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under the threat of attack." More items are en route to Benghazi, including medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, and personal protective gear, he said.

"We continue to work with the TNC to determine what additional assistance requirements we might be able to support in the coming weeks," said Toner.

Tomorrow will be a great chance to do that, as TNC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril arrives in Washington.

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Chinese leaders forge ties with Senators

Following the conclusion of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue this morning, senior Chinese leaders met with several congressmen at the Capitol building to expand their relationships with the United States beyond the executive branch.

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dai Binggou met on Wednesday morning with Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The group talked about a range of topics, including the U.S.-China trade imbalance, the North Korean nuclear crisis, Iran, and the outcomes of this week's dialogue, which brought together hundreds of U.S. and Chinese officials for dozens of meetings in Washington.

The meeting was the first official event for the Senate's brand new "U.S.-China Working Group," an informal organization Kirk and Lieberman are setting up to provide a way for senators to interact directly with Chinese officials.

"Across the board, the U.S. and China continue to grow interdependent every day and we need a nuanced policy that reflects this 21st century reality," Kirk said in a statement. "At the same time, we need to create a space for senators to hold open and frank dialogue with Chinese leaders on areas of disagreement, especially Iran."

"From Iran and North Korea to democracy and human rights, the Senate U.S.-China Working Group will provide a valuable forum for meaningful discussions and to build habits of trust and cooperation with our Chinese friends," said Lieberman.

The group already has plans to meet with People's Liberation Army Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde when he visits Washington next week.

Kirk has a long record of working directly with the Chinese government. In fact, he recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the Horn of Africa where he visited a Chinese naval ship conducting anti-piracy operations. His report on that trip is here

In 2005, Kirk, then a representative, started the House's version of the U.S.-China working group with Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA). On Wednesday morning, the House group met with the other Chinese official leading the overall dialogue, Vice Premier Wang Qishan. The House group is now led by Larsen and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA).

"I was most intrigued by Premier Wang's comments that China's export orientation was a thing of the past," Larsen told The Cable. "It seems China's leadership is, in fact, serious about rebalancing its economy to depend less on exports and more on consumer demand."

Dai also met with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) on Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol.