The Cable

Senators: The buck stops with Obama, not Clinton, on Benghazi

Even though U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she bears responsibility for the security failures in Benghazi, three GOP senators said late Monday that they still believe that President Barack Obama, not Clinton, should be held to account.

On Monday in Lima, Peru, Clinton said that the buck stops with her when it comes to diplomatic security decisions abroad. She was backing up Vice President Joe Biden, who said at last week's debate that "we" weren't aware of requests for more security in Libya prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The White House later clarified that when Biden says "we" he only speaks for him and the president.

"I take responsibility," Clinton said. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision."

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) have been criticizing the administration for its statements on the Benghazi attack, especially U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who said on Sept. 16 that based on the best information available at that time, the attack appeared to be a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam YouTube video.

Clinton's attempt to claim responsibility was "laudable" but doesn't absolve Obama and the White House of their responsibilities, the senators said, both for the security failures surrounding the attack and for the statements made by White House officials afterward.

"We must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador," they said.

"If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there."

The Cable

North Korea rebuffs U.S. at secret meeting in China

Two North Korean government officials told a top U.S. official dealing with North Korea that the hermitic Stalinist state would not continue on its path to denuclearization, as promised in 2005, until the United States ends what it sees as America's hostile policy to the DPRK.

Clifford Hart, the Obama administration's special envoy to the now-defunct Six Party Talks, met with Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, and Choe Son Hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau in the DPRK foreign ministry, late last month in China, two government officials briefed on the meeting told The Cable. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which was held this year on Sept. 27 and 28 in the Chinese city of Dalian.

In the meeting, the DPRK officials reiterated their previously stated position that they would consider a review of their nuclear program only after the United States first ended what they allege is its hostile policy toward the DPRK, according to the officials. No progress was made on toward resuming negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program, both officials said.

This was the first bilateral meeting between U.S. and DPRK officials since the July meeting between Han and Hart in New York, and no future meetings are scheduled. In August, Han and Choe met with six American experts in a Track 2 dialogue in Singapore that included the participation of Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, and Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the international program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Obama administration sources say that U.S.-DPRK interactions have been extremely scarce in the wake of three events: the death of Kim Jong Il, the collapse of the Feb. 29 "Leap Day" agreement that would have seen resumed inspections inside North Korea and a parallel food aid program, and an April unsuccessful launch of an Unha-3 rocket with a "satellite" attached to it by North Korea. There is real concern that Kim Jong Un does not intend to stand by the 2005 agreement, which codified North Korea's promise to eventually denuclearize, and the United States has asked to Chinese to weigh in with the North Koreans to get more clarity on their position, these sources said.

The U.S.-DPRK talks were only one small part of the larger dialogue, which included representation by Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea -- the other members of the Six Party Talks process. The dialogue has been meeting annually since 1993 and is organized by the University of California at San Diego's Susan Shirk.

"This ‘Track 1.5' structure had more officials than academics, but they come in their private capacity, not representing their governments," Shirk said in an interview. "Track 2" discussions generally involve only outside experts. "Track 1.5" meetings include a mix of officials and experts.

Over two days of meetings, seminars, and working groups, the participants discussed the details of security, economic, and energy issues, she said. This year the dialogue also included a separate two-day group working on maritime safety and security in Northeast Asia, which included civilian, Navy, and Foreign Ministry representatives from China for first time.

The focus was not on solving the overarching political disputes, but rather on how to have a safer maritime environment and how to prevent disputes from creating accidents that could escalate, Shirk said.

"The good news is we aired the difficult issues. We had the participation of very knowledgeable people from in and out of government from all six countries," she said. "We're not about to come up with a brilliant breakthrough that will solve a problem, but there is a lot better understanding of the positions of the countries and hopefully that will translate into the future resolution of issues at the official levels."

There were seven DPRK officials in attendance in Dalian. In addition to Han and Choe were Kwon Jong Gun, a director in North Korea's foreign ministry, desk officers Sim Il Gwang, Jo Jong Chol, and Hwang Myong Sim, and Rim Chol Hun, first secretary at the DPRK embassy in Beijing.

On the American side, in addition Hart and Shirk, there was State Department China desk officer Aubrey Carlson, State Department foreign affairs analyst Allison Hooker, Brett Blackshaw from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Sean Stein and Jeff Foree from the Consul General in Shenyang, CSIS's Bonnie Glaser, Rear Adm. Mike McDevitt (ret.), and others.

In the days following the meetings, there was public evidence that the DPRK is still not ready to engage constructively with the international community. For example, North Korea announced Oct. 9 in a statement that it now has missiles that can reach the United States. Many analysts discounted the claim, but State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called that an unhelpful move by the DPRK.

"Certainly rather than bragging about its missile capability, they ought to be feeding their own people, would be our first comment," she said. "The DPRK needs to understand that it will achieve nothing by threats or provocations. That's only going to undermine their efforts to get back into conversation with the international community."