The Cable

Romney national security transition team takes shape

The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.

The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.

But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama's leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.

Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night's debate is moving along at a steady pace.

The Romney campaign doesn't talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort -- "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt -- but the effort is moving along steadily.

The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney's national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.

But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.

Some inside the campaign believe Williamson's new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney's most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign's harshest criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.

Transition team leaders don't necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign's State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.

The Obama campaign's Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.

Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.

Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama's former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.

Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign's foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan's increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama's handling of the Middle East crises.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages

The Cable

Clinton and Davutoglu discuss Turkey-Syria cross-border violence

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Wednesday afternoon with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about the Syrian shelling in Turkey that killed five civilians and provoked Turkey's retaliatory strikes inside Syria.

"The secretary condemned the Syrian attack and expressed the United States' heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a readout of the phone call. "She pledged the United States' strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our Turkish ally and endorsed the statement in the North Atlantic Council this evening, which condemned Syria's aggression and called for Alliance solidarity with Turkey.  She also made clear that the United States would support Turkey in the United Nations Security Council as well."

Before the call took place, Clinton condemned the Syrian attacks and called on the international community to bring more pressure on the Assad regime to stop killing civilians.

"We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border. We are very regretful about the loss of life that has occurred on the Turkish side," Clinton said. "But this also comes down to a regime that is causing untold suffering to its own people, solely driven by their desire to stay in power, aided and abetted by nations like Iran that are standing firmly beside the Assad regime regardless of the damage, the loss of life, the violence that is happening both inside of Syria and now increasingly across Syria's borders with their neighbors. It's a very, very dangerous situation."

Earlier Wednesday at the State Department's daily briefing, Nuland said that Clinton is still pushing the Geneva agreement for a political transition in Syria that all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed to, but she said Russia was still blocking any stronger action in the U.N.

"That's something that the Russians themselves signed up to -- but that we only think it's going to work if it has real consequences, consequences for both sides, if it's not implemented," Nuland said. "So you know, we are prepared to move forward on that basis. It's been the Russian side that has blocked consequences in the Security Council."

The North Atlantic Council, the main deliberative body within NATO, met Wednesday evening within the framework of NATO Article 4 and issued a statement condemning the Syrian regime's actions. Turkey previously invoked Article 4, which calls for consultations among NATO member states when one state's sovereignty is violated, earlier this year when Syrian forces shot down a Turkish F-4 reconnaissance jet.

"In view of the Syrian regime's recent aggressive acts at NATO's southeastern border, which are a flagrant breach of international law and a clear and present danger to the security of one of its Allies, the North Atlantic Council met today, within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, and discussed the continuous shelling of locations in Turkey adjacent to the Turkish-Syrian border by the Syrian regime forces," the NATO statement read. "In the spirit of indivisibility of security and solidarity deriving from the Washington Treaty, the Alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an Ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law."

Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay reported Wednesday that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also spoke with Davutoglu and pleaded with him to work with Syrian authorities to prevent a further escalation of the cross-border violence.

"The secretary general has repeatedly warned that the ongoing militarization of the conflict in Syria is leading to tragic results for the Syrian people," a statement from Ban's office read. "Today's incidents, where firing from Syria struck a Turkish town, again demonstrated how Syria's conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbors."