The Cable

State Department facing several nomination fights

It's going to be a long summer for the State Department's legislative affairs bureau, which is about to find itself dealing with whole host of nomination battles on Capitol Hill.

GOP senators were not shy last year about using their power to hold up nominees in order to extract concessions from the State Department, and will likely expand that strategy in the coming months. With significant turnover in Foggy Bottom and a contentious campaign season approaching, the Republican caucus in the Senate is planning to hold up several State Department appointments in order to wring concessions from the administration or torpedo certain nominations altogether.

Some of the nomination fights are being previewed out in the open. For example, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), announced last week on the Senate floor that he intends to stall the nomination of National Security Council Senior Director for Russia Mike McFaul as the next ambassador to Moscow unless the administrations answers his questions about missile defense cooperation with Russia.

"The administration owes senators information about what National Security Staff member Michael McFaul ... meant when he briefed the press on May 26 that ‘we got a new signal on missile defense cooperation that as soon as I'm done here I'll be engaging on that with the rest of the U.S. government,'" Kyl said. "I'm concerned that my staff asked the National Security Staff about this over a week ago and we still have heard nothing back. I hope to hear back from the administration soon, especially if the administration expects the Senate to act promptly on Mr. McFaul's nomination."

Kyl and several other senators have concerns not only about the missile defense cooperation McFaul has been working on with Russia, but also about the overall trajectory of the U.S.-Russia reset policy that McFaul has been leading since joining the administration.

GOP Senate opposition to other State Department and USAID nominees is often less public but nonetheless effective at delaying their confirmations.

For example, Senate leadership "hotlined" the nomination of Mara Rudman to become the new USAID assistant administrator for the Middle East over two weeks ago. Hotlining is a Senate procedure by which a nomination is set for quick approval by unanimous consent and the pending approval is sent to all senators to make sure there are no objections.

But Rudman, who most recently served as chief of staff to Special Envoy George Mitchell, was never voted on, meaning that at least one senator objected. We're told by multiple GOP aides that in fact, there are several GOP senators who have issues with the Rudman nomination.

Two Senate GOP staffers told The Cable that in both her time as a State Department and as a Senate staffer before that, Rudman rubbed several people the wrong way with her abrasive style and created ill will that remains to this day. Senators also want to understand her role in the administration's Israel policy, which they are obviously dissatisfied with.

"Senate staff believes her track record shows she's not an effective leader based on her past government service," one senior GOP senate aide said.

Rudman may ultimately be confirmed, but neither the Senate nor the State Department seems to be pressing for quick action. "It's not a high priority for the Senate or the administration right now," the aide said.

On Thursday, two more high-level State Department nominees will become targets for GOP senate holds. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to approve the nominations of Bill Burns as deputy secretary of State and Gary Locke as ambassador to China. Once the committee approves the nominations, any one senator can impose a hold.

Senate staffers are also looking into the history of Wendy Sherman, who hasn't even been nominated for anything, but who The Cable reported is the frontrunner to replace Burns as undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. There's no formal opposition to Sherman yet, but her time as North Korea coordinator during President Bill Clinton's administration will be a focus of her confirmation hearing if and when she is nominated.

Lastly, a potential target for GOP attention is David Adams, the nominee to replace Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma. The legislative affairs team is the office that has been most involved with the Senate GOP when it comes to answering requests for information. Even if Adams gets confirmed, he and the rest of his office are in for a long, hot summer of tough confirmations.

The Cable

Kirk goes to Israel, comes back with new policy approach

As the Obama administration struggles to find common ground with the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership grapples with internal squabbles, one U.S. senator is proposing a host of ways to deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) spent last week on what he calls "an intense fact-finding mission to Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan," where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and many others. In a soon-to-be-released report, obtained in advance by The Cable, he proposes a path forward for increased U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation and lays out his views on how Congress should deal with the thorniest issues of the U.S. approach to the Middle East.

Kirk is proposing an increased role for the Israeli Navy in global anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean in cooperation with India. He wants to vastly expand U.S.-Israeli cooperation on cyber security, beyond the suspected cooperation on the Stuxnet worm that has delayed Iran's uranium enrichment program. Kirk is also calling on the Joint Chiefs to review the possibility of adapting Israel's "Iron Dome" short-range missile defense system for use by the United States and NATO.

"We are stretched quite thin in the Indian Ocean and to have Israeli support will be critical in managing and reducing the pirate threat," Kirk said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable.

Regarding the stalled Middle East peace process, Kirk maintains that the United States should reaffirm President George W. Bush's 2004 letter on borders, which somewhat contradicts Obama's May 17 statement that borders should be based on 1967 lines with agreed swaps. Obama's new language for the first time made it official U.S. policy what had long been the Palestinian goal of using the 1967 lines as a basis for new borders.

Kirk's report also states that U.S. funding should not go to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, nor should the United States give aid to the Palestinian Authority if it seeks a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September or fails to curb anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian schools.

"It just seems extraordinarily difficult in the middle of deficits and debt that we should borrow money from China to fund a Hamas-supported government," Kirk said. "We would still support Palestinian schools and hospitals, but the approximately $200 million in direct support to the PA would be in jeopardy."

Kirk also wants the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to start transferring its management of Palestinian health and education services over to the Palestinian government, and for the State Department to designate the Turkish aid organization IHH, which organized the flotilla of ships that tried to breach Israel's Gaza blockade in May 2010, as a terrorist organization.

On his trip, Kirk also met with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Benjamin Gantz, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo, senior advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister Ron Dermer, Israeli Navy commander in chief Vice Admiral Eliezer Marum, Israeli Ministry of Defense Political-Military Bureau Director Amos Gilead, Deputy Israeli Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon, Israeli Prime Minister's Office spokesman Mark Regev, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh

Human rights in Iran were also a big focus for Kirk on the trip. The senator made a video with Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, in which Sharansky recited a list of dissidents who are currently imprisoned by the Iranian regime.

You can watch that video here: