The Cable

National Geographic Society goes Japanese for Clinton-Noda dinner

The National Geographic Society building was transformed into a gala dinner venue Monday evening as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an intimate event for Japanese Prime Yoshihiko Noda and a couple hundred others, including your humble Cable guy.

Chef Bryan Voltagio, the proprietor of the Frederick, MD restaurant VOLT and a finalist on the 2009 season of Top Chef, was brought in to cater the event and he went with a menu of hybrid courses that mixed Japanese themes with locally sourced American ingredients. The appetizer of Peekytoe crab was served wrapped sushi-style in an avocado encasing, and the entrée of Wagyu beef came with a melée of English peas, maroon carrots, and vadouvan granola with smoked golden raisins. The "Tomodachi" (friendship) chocolate dessert featured dark chocolate ganache with a side of caramelized milk chocolate sorbet.

State Department officials in attendance included Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Assistant Secretary Tom Countryman, and Assistant Secretary Mike Hammer.

Senior Asia hands at the dinner included former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, former NSC Senior Director Jeff Bader, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Gen. Chip Gregson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer, now with Sen. John Kerry's staff, Brookings Institution scholar Richard Bush, AEI's Michael Auslin, CNAS's Patrick Cronin, and many more.

Before the dinner, guests toured National Geographic's Samurai art and artifact exhibit while eating finger sandwiches and sipping white wine. After dinner, the mononymous violin virtuoso Midori serenaded the crowd, after which Clinton hurried off to catch her plan to Beijing, which left late Monday evening.

The event was elegant, although unusual, in that diplomatic dinners are rarely held in what by day is the employee cafeteria for the National Geographic staff. The idea was the brainchild of Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who ironically was not there because he had sped to Beijing early to deal with the crisis over the fate of blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

"We are here tonight to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Japan. This is a bond between us that promotes security, stability, and prosperity not only in the Asia Pacific but around the world. Our countries are standing side by side to meet the most important challenges of our time," Clinton said in her remarks.

She touted America's gift of 3,000 dogwood trees, which will be planted all over Tokyo to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Japan's giving Washington the cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin.

"Japan remains an essential world leader, even in the face of the unspeakable tragedies that it suffered.  Americans are inspired by the bravery and resilience of the Japanese people," Clinton said. "In addition to the partnership between our two governments, what is most important about our relationship are the ties between our two peoples. Many of you here tonight have played an important role in strengthening the bonds that our countries share. But we want to be sure that it is not just a relationship of the present and the past, but also one of the future."


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."