The Cable

Clinton heads to the U.N. for confrontation on Syria

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will go the United Nations on Tuesday to press the Security Council to take action regarding Syria, in light of what the State Department is calling a "sharp escalation of regime violence."

The Arab-European draft resolution was discussed on Jan. 27 behind closed doors at the U.N. Security Council and will see public debate on Tuesday. It calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy and says additional measures will be taken if he doesn't comply within 15 days. In anticipation of that debate, where Russia is expected to staunchly oppose any resolution calling for Assad's departure, Clinton issued a new statement on the situation inside Syria that many saw as newly aggressive rhetoric from President Barack Obama's administration.

"In the past few days we have seen intensified Syrian security operations all around the country which have killed hundreds of civilians. The government has shelled civilian areas with mortars and tank fire and brought down whole buildings on top of their occupants. The violence has escalated to the point that the Arab League has had to suspend its monitoring mission. The regime has failed to meet its commitments to the Arab League to halt its acts of violence, withdraw its military forces from residential areas, allow journalists and monitors to operate freely and release prisoners arrested because of the current unrest," Clinton said in the statement.

"The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security. The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin," she said. "Tomorrow, I will attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria where the international community should send a clear message of support to the Syrian people: we stand with you. The Arab League is backing a resolution that calls on the international community to support its ongoing efforts, because the status quo is unsustainable. The longer the Assad regime continues its attacks on the Syrian people and stands in the way of a peaceful transition, the greater the concern that instability will escalate and spill over throughout the region."

Clinton's statement comes after weeks of careful planning inside the Obama administration on when and how to confront the escalating violence in Syria. National Security Council Senior Director Steve Simon had been leading a small interagency team to game out U.S. policy options, but now the administration's policy machinery has kicked into full gear, meeting often to discuss a range of diplomatic maneuvers that could increase pressure on the Assad regime.

There's no longer any expectation inside the administration that Moscow will support international action aimed at removing Assad from power, even by non-military means. But the U.N. confrontation is meant to isolate Russia diplomatically and make it clear that the Arab League and its Western friends have exhausted all diplomatic options before moving to directly aid the internal opposition, if that decision is ultimately made.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Clinton, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, and Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman have all been working the phones hard to build support for the U.N. resolution. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been "unavailable" while traveling in Australia, even though Clinton has been trying to reach him all day.

"The message that we are sending, the message that the secretary will send tomorrow when she goes to New York, is that the Security Council now needs to act, because the spiral of violence is dangerous not only for Damascus, not only for Syria and all Syrians, but it's also dangerous in the region, because obviously, you know, we've now got a cycle of violence that is quite worrying," Nuland said.

"You think there is still a path out for the regime?" one reporter asked.

"Well, that's obviously still on the table," Nuland said. "It requires Assad to step aside. "

MARTIAL TREZZINI/AFP/Getty Image

The Cable

Egyptian Embassy: We fired our Washington lobbyists for budgetary reasons

It was the Egyptian government that terminated its lobbyists in Washington, a senior official at the Egyptian embassy in Washington told The Cable Monday, not the other way around, as those lobbyists are claiming.

On Saturday, The Cable reported that the Livingston Group, run by former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), the Moffett Group, run by former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-CT), and the Podesta Group, run by Tony Podesta, had unanimously severed their combined $90,000 per month contract with the Egyptian government. The three firms had formed an entity known as the PLM Group, which had received more than $4 million from the Egyptian government since 2007. The trio came under fire last week for circulating talking points defending Egypt's Dec. 29 raid of several NGOs working to train political parties in Egypt, including three organizations partially funded by the U.S. government -- a dispute that has escalated to include barring NGO workers from leaving Egypt, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's son Sam LaHood, the head of the International Republican Institute's Cairo office.

"We handed the principals of the group the letter of termination. We were surprised by some of the statements made on their behalf," the Egyptian embassy official told The Cable. "We are under instructions from Cairo to try to cut costs, taking into account the economic crisis we are facing in Egypt."

"One of the things that they have instructed us to do is to cut our embassy budget and they specifically instructed us to cut the budget by cancelling the contract with PLM, and we did that in accordance with the contract itself."

Sources at the PLM Group said that they had warned the Egyptians earlier in the month that if the NGO situation wasn't resolved, they would have no choice but to drop Egypt as a client. Late last week, the three principals met with the Egyptian ambassador, who swiftly handed them a letter of termination, the sources said.

"That's not true," the Egyptian embassy official countered. "There was no ultimatum that was given to us by PLM that would terminate their contract with us."

So will the Egyptian government now hire new lobbyists? Not right away.

"This is something for the headquarters to instruct us with, so we're waiting and hopefully we'll get instructions soon whether to go ahead with hiring someone else or not. That also depends on the transition itself... so there will be a new approach, we think, to things like that," the official said, referring to the ongoing political process in Egypt.

The official also confirmed that a high-ranking Egyptian military delegation is coming to Washington later this week to meet with senior U.S. officials and lawmakers. That delegation is in Tampa, Florida, now, meeting with officials at U.S. Central Command, and will arrive in D.C. on Wednesday -- without their lobbyists at their side.

That delegation was pre-scheduled and focused on military-to-military cooperation, the embassy official said. The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion annually from the U.S. government, aid that is now under new scrutiny due to the military's role in the NGO raids.

"They are coming to discuss military issues; this is a periodic delegation that meets with their counterparts to discuss issues of mutual interest," the official said. "It's not related to the NGO issue."