The Cable

Clinton cancels Mid East trip due to illness

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not attend the Dec. 12 meeting of the Friends of Syria in Morocco due to a lingering stomach ailment.

Clinton was expected to make news at the event by formally recognizing the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the new opposition leadership organization put together last month in Doha with the help of the State Department, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. That designation would pave the way for the U.S. to increase its aid to the Syrian opposition.

She was expected to leave Washington Monday, but initially delayed the trip for one day due to the stomach virus. Late Monday evening, her spokesman Philippe Reines said Clinton was cancelling the whole Middle East trip.

"Since she's still under the weather, we'll be staying put this week instead of heading to North Africa and the Middle East as originally planned," Reines said. "In her place, Deputy Secretary [Bill] Burns will travel to Marrakech for the Friends of the Syrian People meeting. We will let you know when she shakes this bug and resumes a public schedule."

Clinton was also slated to go to Tunisia and to the UAE, where she was to attend the opening of a new center of excellence for countering violent extremism. Reines said Burns will take on Clinton's full schedule and make those stops as well.

Burns just got back from Bahrain, where he led the U.S. delegation to the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, which also included your humble Cable guy. At the conference, Burns didn't say that formal recognition of the Syrian council was coming, but several State Department sources told The Cable the decision to recognize the group in Morocco had already been made.

Burns did say that the balance of power on the ground is clearly shifting against the regime and that the Obama administration is considering additional ways the "can help speed the genuine transition of power," ideally through a political transition to new leadership based on the Geneva plan developed last summer.

Mustafa Sabbagh, secretary general of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said in Bahrain that he thinks the U.S. will recognize his council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in Morocco.

"We do expect from the USA a similar recognition," he said, referring to the fact that several other western countries have already recognized the group. "I did not hear that there were any conditions set by the USA for this recognition."


The Cable

McCain to join Foreign Relations Committee just before Sec State hearing

MANAMA - The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue.

McCain, who finishes his six-year term as ranking Republican on the SASC this year, will not challenge Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) for the leadership post on the SFRC, but his presence will be felt, especially during the confirmation hearings, which could be especially contentious this time around if Rice is chosen as the nominee. Those nomination hearings would be chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) -- that is, unless Kerry gets the nod himself.

White House sources insist there's no way to know who President Barack Obama will ultimately choose, but the stakes are rising in the ongoing feud between the White House and the anti-Rice crowd in the Senate, which is led by McCain. Neither side is backing down, and McCain says he wants to expand his inquiry past Rice's Sept. 16 comments about the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

"I have some concerns about what happened in Africa under her watch. All that has not been examined," he said, referring to Rice's role in shaping U.S. policy during the Clinton administration. Her involvement in decisions relating to the Rwandan genocide and her close ties to several African leaders are now being poured over by journalists around the world.

Rice is also facing scrutiny for her investments in TransCanada, a company involved in the Keystone Pipeline project, and her investments with several companies that do business in Iran. Her defender say she has properly disclosed her investment.

  • The White House is convinced the whirlwind of negative coverage is a coordinated effort by the Republican political machine to sink the Rice nomination before it even surfaces.

    "I would commend Republican opposition researchers for the intellectual bandwidth that is required to read a financial disclosure form, because this was all documented in a financial disclosure form, entirely, appropriately, legally and by the books," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Nov. 29. "So what this represents I think in vivid fashion is what I've been talking about for a while now, which is that none of this has anything to do with the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi.  This is about politics.  And that's a shame."

    The fight is getting personal. After McCain called Rice "not very bright," a group of African American congresswomen called McCain "sexist and racist" and House Minority Deputy Whip James Clyburn (D-MD) said McCain was using racial code words.

    Democrats defending Rice also note that McCain made arguments in the past supporting the president's right to have his nominees confirmed.

    "I believe there are significant numbers of the American people who do take into consideration the consequences of a presidential election, and that is the earned right of a president, under anything other than unusual circumstances, to pick his team," McCain said in 2005, during the fight over the nomination of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.

    Bolton stood accused of pressuring State Department analysts and the CIA to alter their intelligence assessments regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities in the run up to the Iraq war. He ultimately was not confirmed and served for one year under a recess appointment.

    It's unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice's potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president's choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.

    "I'll wait and see if she's nominated and we'll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We'll see what happens in the hearings," he said.

    When asked why he wanted to join the Foreign Relations Committee, McCain joked, "Because I want to spend more time with you, Josh."

    UPDATE: McCain spokesman Brian Rogers writes in to say that next year's committee assignements are not yet final and the leadership has the final say.

    "Senator McCain has expressed interest in joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but no final decisions on committee assignments have been made," Rogers said.

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