The Cable

Feltman: U.S. could play role in military training in Libya

The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.

Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.

"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."

Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.

Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.

"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."

"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."

What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.

"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."

A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.

At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:

The Cable

Cornyn won’t hold up Deputy Defense Secretary Carter

Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter's path to confirmation looks clear following the endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who had previously threatened to stall his nomination.

The Cable reported last month that Cornyn was demanding assurances from Carter that he would fully support the F-35 jet fighter program before he could support his nomination. "As the Senate prepares to consider your nomination, I write to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success of the largest DOD major acquisition program in our nation's history, the F-35 Lightning II," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Carter.

Following Carter's nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, The Cable caught up with Cornyn in the halls of the Capitol building. The Texas senator told us he met with Carter, received written answers to all his questions, and could now confidently support his confirmation.

"Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program," Cornyn told The Cable.

The Cable has also obtained Carter's written response to Cornyn, which included assurances that the Defense Department was committed to the F-35, would not take more money from the production budget to purchase older model fighters, would not significantly reduce production rates, and would not take money from the F-35 program to pay for other struggling accounts within the Pentagon.

 "The Department's support for the F-35 program is strong," Carter wrote. "We are committed to ensuring that decisions concerning the F-35 are made for the correct reasons and with a commitment toward overall F-35 program success."

"Thanks to Dr. Carter, it's on a good pathway," Cornyn said, explaining that one assurance Carter had given him was that future cost overruns would be borne by the contractor alone.

"The problem is, as Dr. Carter said, there is no alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter and it's essential to national security," Cornyn noted, adding that he expects Carter's nomination to pass easily.

We also asked Cornyn for an update on his plan to try to pressure the Obama administration into selling 66 new F-16 C/D jet fighters to Taiwan. Cornyn introduced a bill this week that seeks to require the administration to make the sale, which, if successful, would be the first time ever that Congress has authorized a foreign military sale not sent to them by the executive branch.

Cornyn said that he would try to attach the bill, which he cosponsored with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), to a piece of legislation "that's likely to get signed" -- presumably the defense authorization bill or the coming continuing resolution stopgap funding measure that Congress will have to pass this month to keep the government running.

The administration has promised Cornyn it will announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny Taipei's request for new planes and offer instead upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models.

"Sen. Menendez and I felt it was important to indicate that the issue isn't going to go away," Cornyn said. "The president could veto it if it passes, we'll see what happens. I would hope that the president would make this moot by approving the sale and not kow-towing to China."

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