The Cable

Exclusive: Mullen confirms existence of secret memo; Pakistani ambassador offers to resign

Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has become embroiled in a political scandal in Islamabad and offered his resignation today to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, as Adm. Michael Mullen exclusively confirmed to The Cable the existence of a secret memo that the former Joint Chiefs chairman had earlier not recollected receiving.

Haqqani, who has long been a key link between the civilian government in Pakistan and the Obama administration, has also been battling for years with the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's chief spy agency -- two organizations whose influence in Washington he has fought to weaken. That battle came to the fore of Pakistani politics this month due to the growing scandal known in Pakistan as "memo-gate," which relates to a secret backchannel memo that was allegedly conveyed from Zardari to Mullen, through Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.

Ijaz alleged in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times that on May 10, in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad, Zardari had offered to replace Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups. Ijaz said he was directed to craft the memo by a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari. Ijaz has implied -- and the Pakistani press has speculated -- that this official was Haqqani.

Last week, The Cable published an exclusive report on Mullen's comments about the memo. "Adm. Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him," Mullen's spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Nov. 8."I cannot say definitively that correspondence did not come from him -- the admiral received many missives as chairman from many people every day, some official, some not. But he does not recall one from this individual."

Ijaz shot back in an article in Pakistan's The News, in which he published extensive Blackberry Messenger conversations with the Zardari-linked Pakistani official, allegedly Haqqani. He insisted that the memo did, in fact, exist, and that it was delivered from Ijaz to Mullen through another secret go-between, this one a senior U.S. government official.

"There can be no doubt a memorandum was drafted and transmitted to Admiral Mullen with the approval of the highest political level in Pakistan, and that the admiral received it with certainty from a source whom he trusted and who also trusted me," Ijaz wrote.

Kirby told The Cable today that Mullen now acknowledges that the Ijaz memo does exist, that he did receive it -- but that he never paid any attention to it and took no follow up action.

"Adm. Mullen had no recollection of the memo and no relationship with Mr. Ijaz. After the original article appeared on Foreign Policy's website, he felt it incumbent upon himself to check his memory. He reached out to others who he believed might have had knowledge of such a memo, and one of them was able to produce a copy of it," Kirby said. "That said, neither the contents of the memo nor the proof of its existence altered or affected in any way the manner in which Adm. Mullen conducted himself in his relationship with Gen. Kayani and the Pakistani government. He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later. Therefore, he addressed it with no one."

Zardari's civilian political enemies, such as opposition leader Imran Kahn, have seized upon the controversy. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military, led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has been pressuring Zardari to start an inquiry into the memo.

Zardari, Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met for the second time in two days on the matter late on Wednesday. Zardari also had a late night meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter on Tuesday night.

Earlier Wednesday, on the floor of Pakistan's National Assembly, Gilani publicly confirmed that Haqqani had been summoned to Islamabad to explain his position on the memo.

"Whether he's ambassador or not, he has to come to Islamabad to explain his position," Gilani said.

In an interview late on Wednesday afternoon, Washington time, Haqqani confirmed to The Cable that he will travel to Islamabad and has sent a letter to Zardari offering his resignation.

"At no point was I asked by you or anyone in the Pakistani government to draft a memo and at no point did I draft or deliver such a memo," Haqqani said that he had written in his letter to Zardari.

"I've been consistently vilified as being against the Pakistani military even though I have only opposed military intervention in political affairs," Haqqani said that he wrote. "It's not easy to operate under the shadow of innuendo and I have not been named by anyone so far, but I am offering to resign in the national interest and leave that to the will of the president."

Haqqani declined to comment to The Cable whether or not he played any role in the controversy surrounding the memo -- for example, discussing it with Ijaz before or after the fact, as the scandal deepened. It's widely rumored that Haqqani and Ijaz have known each other for many years.

It's remains unclear whether Zardari had any knowledge of the memo at the time. In Islamabad, some speculate that Zardari may be trying to put an end to the memo-gate controversy by sacrificing Haqqani, but no decision has yet been made on whether or not Haqqani will step down. If he leaves, he will return to private life having played a key role in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship during its most tumultuous period -- a role that is mired in the secrecy and intrigue of Pakistani politics and diplomacy.

Haqqani told The Cable that he is the target of a media campaign backed by the supporters of the military's role in politics because he has focused on building ties between the U.S. and Pakistani civilian governments, rather than with the Pakistani military.

"Eighty percent of Pakistanis don't want a good relationship with the U.S., and anyone who stands up for the United States can expect to be vilified," he said.

Getty Images

The Cable

Conservatives rally to McFaul’s defense

Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approval of Mike McFaul's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to Russia was delayed on Tuesday by GOP senators, but today several Republicans are coming to McFaul's aid.

A group of former GOP national security officials wrote to SFRC leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) today to express their support for the McFaul nomination, which is now facing objections from one SFRC member now and with multiple other GOP senators ready to follow suit, who will make their concerns known if and when McFaul is voted out of committee. In fact, the entire SFRC business meeting was cancelled on Tuesday amid the confusion. It was rescheduled for Nov. 29, when McFaul's nomination will finally be put before the panel.

"We have known and worked closely with Mike for many years and have the highest regard for his professionalism and his dedication to American interests and ideals.  He is one of America's leading experts on democracy and has been a tireless promoter of democracy in Russia and elsewhere around the world," wrote former Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman, former Assistant Secretaries of State David Merkel and Stephen Rademaker, former NSC Director Jamie Fly, Freedom House President David Kramer, former Rumsfeld and McCain advisor Randy Scheunemann, and the Brookings Institution fellow Robert Kagan.

McFaul, who is a key architect of the Obama "reset" policy with Russia that many conservatives dislike, also has a long track record of advocating for democracy and human rights and is well positioned to press those issues in Moscow, the former officials wrote.

"His nomination has been enthusiastically supported by leading figures in the Russian political opposition. His presence there will provide a strong voice for democracy and freedom in that country and provide an open door and sympathetic ear to all elements of Russian society."

As we reported on Tuesday, the only official objection to McFaul's nomination so far is from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully funded for fiscal year 2012.

"Senator Corker is working to ensure that the U.S. funds the necessary modernization of our nuclear weapons and complex as outlined by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent," Corker's communications director Laura Herzog told The Cable today.

Several GOP Senate offices have told The Cable that other senators want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage over the administration on a host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of Russian cooperation on key international issues such as confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.

For a great example of those concerns, take a look at this extensive list of questions submitted to McFaul by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), obtained by The Cable.

"The administration cannot merely wish these problems away. However, it is also in the nation's interest to get Mr. McFaul to Moscow as quickly as possible," the former officials wrote to Kerry and Lugar. "We hope the Senate and the administration will disentangle these issues so that the full Senate can approve his nomination expeditiously."

Some GOP offices are seeking more administration support for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which is named after the anti-corruption lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison exactly two years ago today. Republicans want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status. The administration is avoiding linking Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool on that idea.

Today, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement criticizing Russia for not moving faster to bringing Magnitsky's killers to justice.

"Despite widely-publicized credible evidence of criminal conduct in Magnitsky's case, Russian authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible," Toner said. "While we welcome charges against two prison officials, we will continue to call for full accountability for those responsible for Magnitsky's unjust imprisonment and wrongful death. We will continue to fully support the efforts of those in Russia who seek to bring these individuals to justice."

Getty Images