The Cable

Robert Ford attacked by thugs in Syria -- again

U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford got into his most serious scrape yet today when an embassy delegation was attacked by a violent mob in Damascus.

"A crowd of demonstrators tried to assault Ambassador Ford and embassy colleagues today as they went about doing the normal work of any embassy. In this instance, they went to a meeting with a well-known Syrian political figure," a State Department official confirmed to The Cable.

"The mob was violent; it tried, unsuccessfully, to attack embassy personnel while they were inside several embassy vehicles, and, while unsuccessful, it did seriously damage the vehicles."

The official said that Syrian security officers finally provided assistance by securing a path for the U.S. delegation back to the embassy. Ford and embassy staff are now safely back at the U.S. embassy.

BBC News reported that Ford was visiting veteran politician Hassan Abdul Azim. The AP reported that the mob of over 100 thugs pelted Ford with eggs and tomatoes upon his arrival at Azim's office, and that Ford and the staff were trapped inside for over three hours before Syrian security forces finally escorted them to safety.

We're told that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have a statement on the incident later today.

This is Ford's third run-in with violence in recent weeks. The Cable first reported that Ford was assaulted while standing outside a sit-in by lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association on Aug. 23, when a man tried to wrap a giant poster of President Bashar al-Assad around him. Then on Sept. 11, Syrian forces attacked a funeral of activist Giyath Matar shortly after Ford and seven other ambassadors had left.

Ford's determined effort to publicly show support for protesters is clearly angering the Assad regime, but it is also convincing his detractors in Washington that he should be confirmed as the permanent ambassador in Syria. Until now, he has been serving under a recess appointment.

"When an ambassador makes a statement in a country that's critical of that country's government, when that government visits an opposition or a site where a protest is taking place, the statement is much more powerful -- and the impact and the attention it gets is much more powerful if it's an ambassador rather than a low-level diplomat," Ford told The Cable in an interview last week.


The Cable

Obama team plays good cop / bad cop with Pakistan

Top Obama administration officials have divided up responsibilities for applying pressure and offering an outstretched hand to the Pakistani government, in a new diplomatic strategy that some officials have dubbed "coercive diplomacy."

"The Obama administration is totally fed up and have decided to up the ante," said one official familiar with the new approach, explaining that inside the administration, "pressing for Pakistani behavior change is the new mantra."

Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 27 times since 2008, clearly assumed the role of "bad cop" when he testified on Sept. 22 that the U.S. government believes the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, with the help of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for the recent bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Mullen upped the ante further, saying the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI, a charge anonymous U.S. officials walked back on Tuesday.

Also heading up the "bad cop" team is new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who seemed to threaten increased U.S. military incursions into Pakistan on Sept. 16. An official familiar with the strategy said that even more threatening statements by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who declared on Sept. 25 that there would be broad bipartisan support for U.S. military attack on Pakistan, were coordinated with the administration as part of their new campaign to apply pressure on Pakistan. The State Department is also considering whether to add the entire Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, but no decision has yet been made.

The administration may also be using the media as part of its new campaign to exert new pressure on Pakistan. On Monday, a story appeared in the New York Times with an excruciatingly detailed account of a 2007 ambush of American officials by Pakistani militants.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a parallel "good cop" effort with the Pakistani government. She has sought ways out of the current diplomatic crisis by increasing her personal engagement with her Pakistani counterparts, as evidenced by her three-and-a-half hour meeting with new Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Sept. 18 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

According to one official inside the meeting, Clinton told Khar, "We want this relationship to work. Give us something to work with."

"The secretary's message was that, given the efforts of the Haqqani Network on the 13th of September [the day of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul], that this was an issue that we had to deal with and that this is a threat to both Pakistan and the United States," a senior State Department official said about the meeting. "That part of the conversation concluded that joint efforts need to be made to end this threat from the Haqqanis, and that Pakistan and the United States ought to be working together on this and not separately."

Other U.S. officials inside that meeting included Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and his deputy Dan Feldman. Afghan reconciliation was also a main topic of the meeting.

In her meeting with Khar, Clinton tried to find specific ways to address the threat of Pakistan-based extremists operating with impunity in Afghanistan.

"It is possible for the United States and Pakistan to work together to identify those interests that we have in common and then figure out how to act on them together," the State Department official said. "And I'd say that that if that could be the overriding philosophy or kind of headline that came out of this meeting, that'd be a very good thing for both sides."

After initially making some harsh statements against the U.S. Khar has now settled on a message that mixes her desire to defend Pakistani pride with the need to project the Pakistani civilian government's willingness to find a way out of the crisis.

Khar said this morning on NPR that the U.S. and Pakistan "need each other" and "are fighting against the same people" but "Pakistan's dignity must not be compromised."

Clinton's strategy is also reflective of the feeling of some inside the administration that the late Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's drive to transform the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from a "transactional" one to a "strategic" relationship is now a lost cause.

"The strategic relationship is over, we're back to transactional with Pakistan," one U.S. official recently told The Cable. "We can call it ‘long-term transactional' if we want, but that's the way it is now."

Amid all the tough talk, on-the-ground intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan continues. CIA Director David Petraeus and ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha met in Washington on Sept. 20 and put into force a new intelligence sharing agreement, an official briefed on the agreement said. Pasha also reportedly met with top White House officials at the residence of Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani.

Inside Pakistan, there is speculation that the United States may be bluffing about its threat to increase military strikes inside Pakistan.  The Pakistani government is also grappling with a fervent anti-U.S. media and a realization that its control over the ISI, much less the Haqqani network, is ultimately limited. But U.S. aid to Pakistan will never be effective leverage in convincing Pakistani to change its basic approach to dealing with groups like the Haqqani network, the official said.

"Pakistan is unwilling to align its strategic vision with America's worldview," the official said. "Meanwhile, the mood toward Pakistan in Washington is the worst it's ever been."

AFP/Getty Images