The Cable

Republican House leaders head to the Gulf

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is leading a mostly Republican congressional delegation to several Gulf countries next week and will focus heavily on coordinating an international response to Iran, his office announced today.

"I look forward to discussing a wide-range of issues, including the very concerning threat posed to the entire world by Iran's continuing support for terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear capability," Cantor said in a statement about his upcoming visit to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and the United Arab Emirates. "By visiting this critical region at a time of such significance, we will be better informed to work together to address our concerns with Iran, the pressing threats of terrorism, regional instability and political transition, and the global economic crisis."

Cantor did not say if he would stand by his 2010 announcement that his caucus supports stripping U.S. aid from any country that doesn't share U.S. interests, except for Israel.

Joining him on the trip will be House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said today she will focus on Iran, Israel, and human rights during talks with Gulf officials.

"I will also use this as an opportunity to press these governments to respect human rights, particularly with respect to women, and end religious intolerance. This past year has witnessed enormous change and uncertainty in the region, and we must work to ensure that basic human rights standards are upheld going forward," she said in her own statement.

"I also remain concerned about the relationships between many countries in the region and our key ally, Israel," she said. "Responsible nations must stand by Israel, support its right to defend itself, and press the Palestinian leadership to meet its obligations so that a true and lasting peace may be achieved. Support for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, outside of negotiations with Israel, is deeply disturbing and threatens regional peace and stability."

Other lawmakers on the trip include Reps. Diane Black (R-TN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Conaway (R-TX), House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Todd Young (R-IN). The exact dates of the visits are being withheld for security reasons.

Many lawmakers are using their winter recess for foreign travel, but only a few are headed to the Middle East. Among those is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who is on a trip that has already included stops in Tunisia, Libya, Israel, and Iraq.

A Lieberman aide told The Cable that the senator was visiting North Africa "in a show of support for the transitional democracies in Libya and Tunisia." He met in Tripoli with newly installed Defense Minister Usama al-Juwali and Interior Minister Fawzi Abdelal, along with Libyan civil society, NGO leaders, and local media. Lieberman's trip was the first congressional delegation to Libya since the end of NATO operations. In Tunisia, he met with new Prime Minister Hammadi Jebeli and President Moncef Marzouki, as well as opposition leaders in the Constituent Assembly.

In Iraq, Lieberman met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, and KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih, among others. Lieberman is the first member of Congress to visit Iraq since the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces in December, and since the outbreak of a new and worsening political crisis there.

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The Cable

State Dept creates super office for “civilian security”

The State Department is continuing to roll out big changes to its bureaucracy,  inaugurating today a new "super office" to focus on protecting individuals by working outside of formal state-to-state channels, called the Office of Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Similar to last month's rollout of the super office of economics, energy, and the environment, this new office combines new and existing bureaus at State to increase coordination and tackle these issues more efficiently. The changes were spelled out last year in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and take effect today. The new structure will be described in State's brief shorthand as the "J" family.

The office's main mission is to improve the ways in which the U.S. government can promote the protection of individuals abroad and increase interactions with foreign civilian organizations.

"As we are seeing the increasing importance of using non-military tools to address transnational threats, it is very important for the State Department to develop its own capacity to address civilian security," said Maria Otero, the leader of the new office, in a Thursday interview with The Cable. Otero was previously the undersecretary of State for democracy and global affairs. In her new position, she will be charged with overseeing over 1,500 people all over the world.

"This piece focuses on protecting individuals. It focuses not just engaging state to state, but taking on the bold foreign policy statement that we need to engage also with players and actors outside of the traditional ones we've engaged in."

State will now be able to better coordinate its engagement with civil society, the private sector, and other non-governmental actors, she said. She referenced Egypt, where State works on security sector reform and human rights, as an example.  Now officials can coordinate to "be able to engage not only with the SCAF but also with the bloggers," Otero said.

Other regions where Otero is looking to focus the attention of her new super office are Burma, Central America, Africa's Great Lakes region, and North Africa. Otero has visited Central America, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Tunisia, and several other countries over the last year.

Otero said the changes will allow State to do more without an increase in financial resources, but will require a light increase in staffing.

She will now be in charge of 5 functional bureaus and three offices. They are the brand new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), to be led by nominated Assistant Secretary Rick Barton; the brand new Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT), to be led by Amb. Daniel Benjamin; the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), which is led by Assistant Secretary Michael Posner; the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), led by Assistant Secretary William Brownfield; and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) led by acting Assistant Secretary David Robinson.

Otero already had jurisdiction over DRL and PRM, but is now taking over INL from the office of Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of political affairs. The SCO and CT bureaus were offices reporting directly to Clinton before.

The J family also now includes the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), led by Ambassador Luis CdeBaca; the Office of Global Criminal Justice (CGJ), formerly the Office of War Crimes Issues (WCI), led by Ambassador-at-Large Stephen Rapp; and the Office of Global Youth Issues, led by future Rhodes scholar, Yale Law graduate, and country-music recording artist Ronan Farrow.

Some in State see the recent bureaucratic changes there as part of Clinton's plan to institutionalize her priorities by turning individual offices that reported directly to her into permanent structures that will remain after her departure, which is widely expected to occur next year. Otero said the changes were a response to the changing diplomatic landscape, which is increasingly influenced by non-state actors.

"This is the implementation of the vision the secretary had," she said. "She's done a strategic review, she's made changes, and now the form is following the substance."

The organizational chart for the new office can be found here.

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