The Cable

State Dept: Clinton may not testify on Benghazi next week

The House and Senate foreign relations committees have already announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify on Benghazi next week, but the State Department said today that's not a done deal.

Moreover, the State Department may not even share the report of its own internal review on Benghazi with Congress, a top State Department official said today.

Congress expects Clinton to testify Dec. 20 about the results of the Accountability Review Board, State's internal review on the events leading up to and during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But the State Department said today that the work of the ARB, led by Tom Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, isn't complete yet and so the State Department can't confirm she will testify next week.

"We ask our diplomats and development personnel to operate in some of the most dangerous places on the planet," Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement today announcing the hearing.  "We owe it to them, and we owe it to the memory of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his three fellow Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi to get past the politics and focus on the substance of what happened and what it tells us about diplomatic security going forward."

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also already announced its Dec. 20 hearing featuring Clinton's testimony. The title of the HFAC hearing is "Benghazi Attack, Part II: The Report of the Accountability Review Board"

But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today that the ARB is not complete, might not be complete by Dec. 20, and Clinton has not agreed to testify on Dec. 20.

"The Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished," Nuland said. "That's dependent on all of the work getting done between now and then... The ARB is continuing to do its work, to my knowledge it has not yet completed its work."

Clinton has agreed to brief the House and Senate foreign relations committees on how she interprets the ARB report, whenever it surfaces.

"After the ARB reports to the Secretary, then she will have consultations with Congress in terms of the conclusions that she draws about how we need to go forward from there," Nuland said. "I don't have any dates to announce until we have firm dates on when the ARB is coming forward."

The Cable asked Nuland if the State Department will share the ARB with Congress at all. Nuland responded that they may not decide to give the actual report to Congress.

"The ARB's responsibility is to brief the secretary. The secretary has said she will be transparent to Congress," Nuland said. "What is required, Josh, is that the secretary's response to the ARB's conclusions has to go to Congress within 90 days of her receiving the report."

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The Cable

U.S.-funded democracy NGO pulls out of Russia

A pro-democracy group funded by U.S. taxpayers, the International Republican Institute (IRI), has decided to pull its staff out of Russia due to the harsh conditions created by Russia's new laws restricting the operations of NGOs, The Cable has learned.

The move is just the latest sign of the Kremlin's decreasing tolerance of what it sees as foreign meddling, and comes roughly a year after demonstrators took to the streets of Moscow by the tens of thousands to demonstrate against Vladimir Putin's rule.

"They have to pull out, given the conditions," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of IRI, said in an interview on the sidelines of the IISS Manama Dialogue. "The Russians said that any organization that operates with U.S. funding is subject to all kinds of restrictions."

McCain said that Russian President Putin's behavior in recent months was not rational. Last week, Putin lashed out at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying her claims that Putin wanted to "re-Sovietize" eastern and central Europe was "rubbish."

"I think Putin is behaving in a somewhat erratic fashion in a variety of ways," McCain said. He added that the new law passed by Congress to level sanctions on Russian human rights violators would anger Putin even further and engender some retaliation. The bill was named after Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after allegedly being tortured by Russian officials.

"Believe me, after the president signs the Magnitsky bill, Putin's going to go ballistic. He'll go crazy," McCain said.

IRI President Lorne Craner informed the IRI leadership of the decision to pull out of Russia at a board meeting in Washington Wednesday afternoon. The new NGO laws could allow Russians working with foreign-funded NGOs to be accused of treason, and requires international NGOs to register their employees as "foreign agents."

IRI will now work on civil society in Russia from a new location in Europe, and is discussing settling its Russia operations in Warsaw, Poland.

"With the passage of the new NGO law and Russia's commitment to enforcing them, it makes it completely untenable for IRI to be on the ground," board member Randy Scheunemann told The Cable. "Russia now joins other completely closed dictatorships like Belarus, where democracy training can only be done in third countries."

IRI's sister organization, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which is led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, pulled most of its staff out of Russia and moved them to Lithuania last month. Some local staff were laid off and a few remain in Moscow. Their final home location for Russia operations is also not yet decided.

The moves follow Russia's decision to expel USAID and pull out of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which was meant to secure Russian nuclear materials.