The Cable

House panel votes to defund the OAS

The House Foreign Affairs Committee began its Wednesday markup of the State Department authorization bill by voting to end funding for the Organization of American States (OAS), with Republicans lambasting the organization as an enemy of freedom and democracy.

The one-hour debate over the GOP proposal to cut the entire $48.5 million annual U.S contribution to the OAS is only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill written by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Democrats accused the Republicans of isolationism and retreat for their proposal, while the Republicans accused the OAS of being an ally of anti-U.S. regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. The OAS Charter was signed in 1948 at a conference led by U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall.

"Let's not continue to fund an organization that's bent on destroying democracy in Latin America," said Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), the head of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the sponsor of the amendment. "You will support an organization that is destroying the dreams of the people of Latin America."

Other GOP members piled on, accusing the OAS of supporting Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

"The OAS is an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security," said Rep. David Rivera (R-FL). He compared U.S. support of the OAS to a scene from the movie Animal House, where a fraternity pledge is being paddled on his rear end and humiliatingly asks for more punishment.

"How much longer will we say to the OAS ‘Please sir, may I have another," Rivera said.

Panel Democrats had a hard time holding back their astonishment and frustration with the GOP for forcing a vote that they argued would signal America's retreat from multilateral engagement around the world.

"I might offer an amendment to pull out of the world, to build a moat around the United States and put a dome over the thing," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), sarcastically. "This is getting ridiculous."

"Here we are for a lousy $48 million willing to symbolically turn our backs on our own hemisphere... This is folly. it's more than folly, it's dangerous," Ackerman said. "And you've got the votes to do it, that's the frightening thing. But what we should be looking at are opportunities to reach out to the world."

Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) pointed out that the United States has a treaty obligation to pay its dues to the OAS, and argued that the body has made a positive contribution to progress toward democracy since the 1960s.

"The OAS is an enemy? We are really living in two different worlds," Berman said.

Rep. Gregody Meeks (D-NY) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA) also gave impassioned defenses of the OAS. Meeks praised its help in supporting elections in Haiti, while Connelly made the point that no international organization is going to support U.S. policy at every turn.

But by and large, the two parties couldn't even agree on whether Cuba was a member of the organization. In fact, the organization lifted its ban on Cuban membership in 2009 but stated that the present Cuban government could only join if it adheres to the group's democratic principles.

The defunding amendment passed 22-20 along party lines.

Berman criticized the process Ros-Lehtinen is using to move the bill and said that its provisions restricting foreign aid and the expected amendments would prevent it from gaining traction in the Senate or becoming law.

"Regrettably, I get the sense that what I already consider to be a bad bill is going to get much worse in this markup and on the floor. That will simply ensure that this is a one-house bill," Berman said in his opening statement.

Specifically, Berman criticized the restrictions that Ros-Lehtinen's bill would place on U.S. assistance to Pakistan, notably the $1.5 billion provided by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package.

"On Pakistan, you tie all economic assistance to the certification in Kerry-Lugar that applied to security assistance, toughen the certification, and eliminate the waiver," Berman said. "I agree that we need to get tough with Pakistan on security assistance, but I fundamentally disagree with your approach on economic aid."

Ros-Lehtinen said that her bill would put Islamabad on notice "that it is no longer business as usual" when it comes to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.  She promised that the Pakistani government "will be held to account if they continue to refuse to cooperate with our efforts to eliminate the nuclear black market, destroy the remaining elements of Osama Bin Laden's network, and vigorously pursue our counter-terrorism objectives."

"I think the prospect of a cutoff of assistance will get their attention and that the games being played with our security will finally stop," she said.

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The Cable

Clinton all business in New Delhi

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a huge interagency team in New Delhi on Tuesday that has a strong focus on opening up Indian markets to U.S. companies, especially those in the defense and energy businesses.

"With regard to trade and investment, the ties between our countries are strong and growing stronger. The United States is proud to be one of India's largest trading partners and direct investors, and we welcome India's investment in the United States, which is rapidly on the rise," Clinton said at the start of the 2nd U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue. "This is a good news story -- but we would be remiss if we didn't strive to make it even better."

A State Department official told The Cable that the United States is aiming to reach $100 billion in two-way trade with India within a couple of years. "Our whole focus on this trip was to set some ambitious goals," the official said.

"Priorities include, number one, trying to deepen our economic cooperation, which has been growing substantially year on year, and she'll point out a few ways we think we can take it to the next level," one official told reporters on Clinton's plane.

Clinton was accompanied by a host of high-level U.S. government officials, including  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the President's Advisor for Science and Technology John P. Holdren, Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt, Export-Import Bank Chair Fred P. Hochberg, Overseas Private Investment Corporation Chair Elizabeth L. Littlefield, U.S. Trade and Development Agency Director Lee Zak, White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Acting National Security Staff Senior Director for South Asia Michael Newbill.

From the State Department specifically, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer.

The meetings were not limited to trade, and covered almost every aspect of the bilateral relationship, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Asian strategy, counterterrorism, cyber security, science and technology, education, civil aviation, and climate change.

But economic issues and trade is certainly the primary focus of Clinton's time in India. Tomorrow, she will travel to the Indian city of Chennai, a huge manufacturing and information technology hub. Meanwhile, the administration's economics team will go on to Mumbai, India's financial center.

The Obama administration has been working hard to drum up defense and civilian nuclear business for U.S. companies in India. The United States lost out when India passed over U.S. companies  for a $12 billion contract for new fighter jets. Clinton, however, praised a smaller subsequent deal to purchase $4 billion worth of U.S. transport planes.

"The Indian Air Force went in a different direction with the fighters, but we don't see that as the end of the world," the State Department official said. "We see billions of dollars of other defense deals coming down the pipeline."

Clinton also promised to stand by the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement signed during George W. Bush's administration, despite a change in rules by the Nuclear Supplier Group that restricts the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment. She urged India to sign the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) this year.

"Our strong view is that the NSG decision regarding ENR technologies changes nothing about the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal," the official said.

U.S. defense and nuclear trade with India always riles Pakistan, but the administration is determined to show both sides that the United States will not pick one over the other.

"The era of zero sum calculations with respect to U.S. relations with India and Pakistan should be over," said Karl Inderfurth, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It will be necessary to make it clear to both parties that the U.S. will not exercise a Sophie's Choice in these relations."

The meeting comes only one week after a terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 19 people, and one week before Pakistani and Indian leaders are set to resume talks that broke off following the devastating 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

Tuesday's meetings were also Clinton's first opportunity to explain President Barack Obama's strategy for drawing down U.S. troops in Afghanistan to the Indian leadership. India fears that Pakistan may exploit a power vacuum in Afghanistan, where it has both economic and security interests..

The U.S. government, however, is internally divided between those who want to see more Indian activity in Afghanistan and those who are concerned that increased Indian involvement there endangers U.S.-Pakistan cooperation.

"Half of the U.S. government wants India to play a useful role in Afghanistan," said Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Stephen Cohen. "It's ludicrous because India is a crucial player in Afghanistan... We don't have an integrated policy."

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