The Cable

Clinton edges toward recognition of Libyan rebels

It may only be a tiny grammatical shift, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest statement could have huge consequences for the U.S. relationship with the Libyan rebel government based in Benghazi.

"The United States views the Transitional National Council as the legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people during this interim period," Clinton said during a June 9 speech at a meeting of the Libya Contact Group in the United Arab Emirates (emphasis added).

The Obama administration has supported the Libyan rebels in their revolt against the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi, but has so far refused to extend official diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council (TNC). National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon described the TNC as "a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people" during a meeting with TNC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril on May 13, according to the White House's readout of the conversation.

U.S. officials have justified their reluctance to recognize the TNC by pointing to legal difficulties associated with the shift.  Following a visit of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Benghazi in May, the TNC announced that it would soon open an office in Washington to better liaise with the U.S. government.

A number of countries, including France, Italy, and Qatar, have already extended official diplomatic recognition to the Transitional National Council.

Clinton's use of the definite article was not the only gift that Libya's rebels received during today's meeting of the Libya Contact Group, which is composed of Western and Arab supporters of the Libyan rebels. The delegations present set up a mechanism to channel aid to the TNC, and pledged a total of at least $1 billion in assistance.

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The Cable

Obama nominates new ambassador to Mexico

President Barack Obama has nominated Earl Anthony Wayne to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico. But it's a position fraught with more than a few pitfalls.

If confirmed, Wayne will replace Carlos Pascual, who was forced to step down after WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables in which he was harshly critical of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's war on drugs. It probably also didn't help that Pascual was dating the daughter of a senior member of the country's main opposition party.

Wayne is a career Foreign Service officer and the current deputy U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. From 2006 to 2009, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Argentina. Prior to that posting, he was assistant secretary for economic and business affairs at the State Department.

Wayne's previous posting may be a source of friction with Mexico's government. Soon after Pascual was appointed ambassador, some U.S. officials highlighted his work on failed states as a reason that he was a good fit for the post -- an implication that Latin America experts said Mexican officials found insulting.

"Knowing the Mexicans, they probably won't like the fact that the U.S. is sending them their man in Afghanistan," said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former vice president of Costa Rica. If they didn't like [Pascual's expertise in failed states], I can't see them liking the fact that Wayne comes straight from Kabul."

With presidential elections scheduled in both Mexico and the United States in 2012, the next U.S. ambassador is also going to have his hands full trying to achieve progress in the war on drugs during campaign season. "The United States is likely to put more pressure on reform of the police, reform of the judiciary system -- that's going to be very difficult to do, especially in the context of an election year," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

The likelihood that hot-button issues such as immigration, border crime, and drugs will be raised in the U.S. elections could also pose a challenge for Wayne, if he is confirmed. "The next U.S. ambassador is going to have a huge task in just explaining to authorities what's going on in the United States, and trying to minimize any potential damages to the relations from the passions that should be expected, especially given our economic situation," Shifter said.