The Cable

Senators to Clinton: Don’t sign Turkish missile defense agreement

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets to Istanbul on Friday, senators and their staffs will be watching closely to see if she moves the ball forward on an agreement to station U.S. missile defense radar there, an agreement many Republicans oppose.

"We write with concern over recent reports that the administration may be nearing completion of a bilateral agreement with the Turkish Government to base a U.S. AN/TPY-2 (X-Band) radar in Turkey," wrote Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in a July 12 letter to Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta obtained by The Cable.

The senators want the radar to be based in either Georgia or Azerbaijan, which they argue are better locations for defending against a missile attack from Iran. But more broadly, they are concerned that Ankara will place a number of onerous restrictions on the radar, such as demanding that no data be shared with Israel. The senators have also accused Turkey of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, which they said calls into question their reliability as a partner in organizing a missile defense system aimed at Tehran.

In a May 12 meeting with Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, a senior Missile Defense Agency representative told the senators that "a forward-deployed X-Band radar in either Georgia or Armenia would have significant advantages for the missile defense of the United States," the senator wrote.

The senators wrote a May 16 letter to Miller asking for a complete analysis of alternative sites, but they said that they have yet to receive any response.

Kyl and Kirk also suggested that they will attempt to thwart any missile defense agreement with Turkey unless the Turks agree to share data with Israel, stop violating Iran sanctions laws, and keep the system under the control of U.S. personnel.

For both the Obama administration and the George W. Bush administration preceding it, international missile defense deployment has always been based on both security and diplomatic considerations. The Bush administration plan to place missile defense infrastructure in Poland and the Czech Republic was a key aspect of strengthening relationships with those two countries, until the Obama administration scuttled it.

A senior GOP Senate aide explained the insider rationale to The Cable.

"Secretary Clinton knows the Congress well and she knows that support for a radar in Turkey will quickly collapse on both sides of the aisle if the Turks get any control over its operational activity or veto rights over sharing data with Israel," the aide said. "Given Turkey's strained relationship with Israel and non-compliance with U.S. sanctions against Iran, there's a strong feeling that if the Turks have any operational control over the radar we can be sure it will be turned off the day we need it most."

The Cable

Will Clinton recognize the TNC in Istanbul?

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Turkey for the latest meeting of the Libyan Contact Group on Friday, she will be asked to address how the Obama administration intends to help the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC), which is running out of money and patience.

But what can she say? What will she say?

Four senators are renewing their push for the administration to recognize the TNC in advance of the Istanbul meeting. In a letter to Clinton last week, which was obtained by The Cable, they argued that the TNC's expanded inclusiveness and its new territorial gains make the case for recognition stronger. What's more, they said that diplomatic recognition was the best way to release the more than $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets that the rebels desperately want.

"We believe that formal recognition is justified, necessary and urgent," wrote Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). "Even more importantly, diplomatic recognition by the United States is now the best available means to ensure the TNC can secure access to the financial resources it desperately needs to meet the needs of the Libya people and sustain its fight against the Qaddafi regime, as legislation in Congress for this purpose has unfortunately become bogged down."

Over the past days, the White House has been considering the issue of extending diplomatic recognition intensively. We're told that there has been both a Deputies Committee meeting and a Principals Committee meeting in recent days to discuss what to do about the TNC. We don't know what the decision was, or if one has officially been made, but Clinton will likely unveil that information in Istanbul on Friday.

What's clear though is that the administration is in a bind, and one of its own making. They haven't recognized the TNC officially, which is the prerequisite for releasing some or all of the frozen Libyan assets to the TNC. The administration has come close, saying that the TNC is "the legitimate and credible interlocutor for the Libyan people." But that doesn't equal an official recognition, and doesn't allow the TNC to get their hands on the funds.

So far, 26 countries have recognized the TNC, including France, Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Canada.

The administration had been depending on Congress to pass legislation that would speed as much as $10 billion to the TNC from the frozen Qaddafi coffers. Unsurprisingly, the relevant legislation is bogged down in the Senate and has very little prospect of surfacing any time soon.

On Capitol Hill, frustration is growing with what many lawmakers and staffers see as a hands-off approach by the administration toward the Libyan rebels. For example, there is only a smattering of U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi, while other countries, such as Britain, have dozens of diplomats and advisors on hand.

The administration has one other option to get the money to the rebels. They could use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), former Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey argued in an article for the Council on Foreign Relations. That law allows the president to take certain steps if he determines that a situation poses an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to national security. But since the White House has said there are no "hostilities" going on in Libya, that's going to be a tough case to make.

Yesterday, Clinton praised European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton for opening an EU office in Benghazi, but didn't say anything about the Obama administration's plans to assist the rebels in the near- or medium-term.

"As momentum continues to build in Libya, the people are not waiting to plan their new post-Qadhafi future. They are laying the foundation, organizing the institutions, and preparing the infrastructure, and the international community will support these efforts," Clinton said.

Whether the United States will be an integral part of those efforts remains to be seen.