The Cable

Inside the Clinton-Karzai dinner

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an intimate working dinner Thursday night for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with several top administration officials in tow.

The dinner took place in the Monroe Room on the 8th floor of the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, which is saved for special occasions. The Monroe Room allows for a more personal atmosphere than the larger Benjamin Franklin Room, where most official meals for visiting dignitaries take place.

Clinton sat at the center of the U.S. side of the table, flanked by defense Secretary Leon Panetta and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham. Also on the U.S. side were acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan David Pearce, acting CIA Director Mike Morell, Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, and Deputy SRAP James Warlick, who leads the U.S. side of negotiations over a U.S.-Afghan bilateral security agreement.

Karzai was at the center of the Afghan side of the table, flanked by Defense Minister Bismellah Mohammadin and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. The other officials on the Afghan side were Karzai's senior advisor Dr. Ashraf Ghani, National Security Advisor Rangin Spanta, head of the High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani, and Afghanistan's ambassador to Washington Eklil Hakimi, who is the Afghan lead on the BSA negotiations.

As the guests settled into their seats, Clinton and Karzai were discussing Panetta's plans to leave his post. Clinton said that Panetta, "after all his years of public service, is at heart a walnut farmer," which brought laughter from both sides of the table, one administration official who was in the room told The Cable. Olive-crusted black cod was the main course.

Clinton also attended Karzai's Friday meeting with President Barack Obama, but didn't stay for the Karzai-Obama press conference afterwards.

On Wednesday night, Karzai had an unannounced dinner with several former officials at Blair House, where he has been staying. The guest list at that dinner included recently retired Sen. Joe Lieberman, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, former ISAF Commander Lt. Gen. Dave Barno (ret.), and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Karzai also met with four senators Wednesday in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In addition to McConnell, at the meeting were Senate Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) and freshman Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE). (The light attendance was due to so many senators being out of town in their home districts or on congressional delegations abroad.)

"This was an opportunity for a bipartisan group of senators to hear first-hand about regional threats and conditions within Afghanistan. The meeting focused on topics related to the Bilateral Security Agreement," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart told The Cable.

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The Cable

New progressive foreign policy alliance backs Hagel

Two major left-leaning foreign policy organizations have merged and they are both throwing their weight behind the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.

The Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning national security group that focuses on leadership development and grassroots political messaging, has joined forces with the Center for National Policy, a more traditionally styled national security think tank, both organizations announced Wednesday.

"This partnership is going to combine values based national security policy and politics into a single organization will the tools of both and we hope that organization will help define what leadership means in a changing world," said Michael Breen, who will be the executive director of the new combined organization. "We're creating what we believe will be a preeminent national security organization that combines political power, community building and the leadership strengths of the Truman Project with the policy heft and the heritage that the Center for National Policy brings."

Truman and CNP will retain their names and keep separate boards of directors, but they will merge their staffs, which total about 30 people, and their budgets, which total about $5 million. Rachel Kleinfeld remains president of the Truman Project and Scott Bates remains president of the Center for National Policy; both serve as senior advisors to the other partner organization.

On a conference call Wednesday, the leaders all endorsed the Hagel nomination, noting that the former Nebraska's senator's national security vision and policies, especially as espoused in his 2004 essay in Foreign Affairs named "A Republican Foreign Policy," match the longstanding views of both organizations.

"Hagel certainly shares with us that all of the tools of national power and statecraft are required to address our challenges. Military power is essential but also are a host of other tools," said Breen.

"Chuck Hagel put his life on the line for his country. The president has asked him to serve. I think it's the president's prerogative to get the people that he wants if they are qualified and he seems well qualified," Bates said.

Although it clearly leans to the left, the Truman National Security Project does not self-identify with either political party. The group's mantra is "Training a new generation of progressives to lead on national security." Its board of advisors includes Clinton era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Carter era official and CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, former Democratic Senator Gary Hart, Clinton era Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, and former Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter.

The Center for National Policy also does not outright identify with either party. Its leadership has included senior Democrats including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretaries of State Madeline Albright, Cyrus Vance, Ed Muskie and former 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer.

"With a national footprint and deep reach in Washington, and a set of values-driven policies, we think we can help this administration and help future administrations and congresses put their values and the security platform together and lead a whole new generational march on what our policy should be for America," Kleinfeld said. "We hope to make big waves."