The Cable

Obama official: No NATO planning underway for Syria

There is no formal planning going on inside NATO to prepare for defending Turkey from the violence spilling over from Syria, even though Turkey is considering whether to formally invoke NATO's chapters on collective defense, a top Obama administration official said Monday.

"Our Supreme Allied Commander [Adm. James Stavridis] can do a certain amount of planning... but there has been no formal tasking and there has been no formal request by the Turks for consultations in an Article 4 or Article 5 scenario," said Liz Sherwood-Randall, the National Security Council's senior director for Europe, in remarks Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu briefed his foreign minister and defense minister counterparts on Syria at a high level meeting in Brussels this month, and reports said that Davotoglu discussed at length a cross border attack by Syrian forces on a refugee camp inside Turkey that killed two. Davotoglu is also reported to have said the Syrian regime has "abused a chance offered by the Annan plan."

The Obama administration also believes that the Annan plan "is failing," is currently searching for a "plan B" in Syria, and is preparing military related options in case diplomacy breaks down. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that NATO might have to get involved earlier this month, during a ministerial meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group in Paris.

"Turkey already has discussed with NATO, during our ministerial meetings over the last two days, the burden of Syrian refugees on Turkey, the outrageous shelling across the border from Syria into Turkey a week ago, and that Turkey is considering formally invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty," Clinton said.

Sherwood-Randall was speaking to preview the upcoming May NATO Summit in Chicago, which she said would focus on three dimensions: NATO's mission in Afghanistan, NATO's defensive capabilities, and NATO's efforts to "increase and incentivize the contributions of NATO's partners."

On Afghanistan, she said NATO "will shape the next phase of the transition" to Afghan control ahead of the full handover to the Afghan government in 2014.

"Setting forth the next phase of the transition in Chicago is an important step that will ensure we complete our work on time," she said. "In order to ensure a responsible transition of security, we need to development milestones along the way, and it's our intention to do that in Chicago."

She did not say whether those milestones would be the same milestones that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced accidentally by reading internal talking points to reporters on the plane to Brussels in February, which amount to the goal of handing over the lead combat control to Afghan forces in 2013 while maintaining combat participation by allied forces.

Sherwood-Randall said that there will be no NATO-Russia Council meeting in Chicago as there was in Lisbon in 2010 and she said that was because of the timing of the event, which comes only days after Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency.

She also said that the United States would have to shoulder the burden of defense spending in NATO for a long time to come and that European countries were not expected to increase their spending on defense until their economic troubles subside.

"We can anticipate growth in European defense spending when Europe has recovered from its economic crisis and obviously there is a lot of work to be done on that front," she said. "We are so interdependent economically that it effects our growth as well. That said, we have got to find a way to maintain our alliance capabilities in this time of fiscal constraint and that's what we intend to do."

The Cable

Obama on Chen Guangcheng: No comment

President Barack Obama declined to confirm or deny Monday that blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is hiding in the U.S. embassy following a daring escape from house arrest, but he did call on China to improve its behavior on human rights.

"Obviously I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China, but I'm not going to make a statement on the issue," Obama said Monday during a press conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. "What I would like to emphasize is that every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up. It is our belief that not only is that the right thing to do because it comports with our principles and our belief in freedom and human rights, but also because we actually think China will be stronger as it opens up and liberalizes its own system."

"We want China to be strong and we want it to be prosperous, and we're very pleased with all the areas of cooperation that we've been able to engage in," Obama said. "But we also believe that that relationship will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country."

The State Department declined to confirm that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was dispatched earlier than scheduled to Beijing to deal with the issue, although Campbell was photographed Sunday night arriving at his hotel in Beijing.

"It is not uncommon for Assistant Secretary Campbell or other assistant secretaries to travel in advance of the secretary's trips. So he is involved in preparing the trip," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Monday's press briefing.

Nuland repeated her mantra from Friday's briefing to decline to say anything substantive on the Chen case, such as where he is, whether the U.S. would offer him asylum, or whether the U.S. and Chinese governments are discussing the matter.

"Again, I have nothing for you on anything having to do with that matter," Nuland said.

The State Department again postponed a briefing to preview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Beijing to attend the May 3 and 4 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) and Nuland refused to say if the Chen incident would impact those talks.

"Well, as you know, the secretary is looking forward to her trip to Beijing. We've leaving this evening. This is the fourth round of the S&ED. And further than that, I don't have anything for you," she said. "The plan is that it will go forward."

Reporters at the briefing pressed Nuland to at least repeat past statements in support of Chen and his family or to acknowledge that Chen's family has been subjected to additional abuses since Clinton last publicly spoke out about the case last November.

Nuland wouldn't even mention Chen's name out loud and eventually got fed up with the repeated questioning and shut down the discussion.

"I have nothing further for you on this subject," she said. "I think that was the eighth time I've said that. I want to learn how to say it in Chinese, but I couldn't get a good, clear translation."

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages