The Cable

Samantha Power leaving White House

Samantha Power, a close personal aide to President Barack Obama and the top White House staffer on preventing genocide and mass atrocities, will leave government - temporarily - at the end of this month.

Since 2009, Power has served as the National Security Staff's senior director for multilateral affairs and has been a key figure in forming and implementing Obama's policies related to human rights. Her husband, former White House regulations czar Cass Sunstein, left the administration late last year to take a teaching position at Harvard Law School and Power will take some time off from government service to join him and their two young children in Boston.

"After four years at the White House, Samantha will be leaving the NSC later this month and will spend some well-deserved time with Cass and her two small children, Declan (3) and Rian (eight months). While she is likely to return to the administration, no decisions have been made on her next steps," NSS Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. "Samantha has been a powerful voice in this administration and a long-time friend and adviser to the President. We will miss her at the NSC, and we look forward to continuing the President's work promoting human rights and dignity."

Power has long been rumored as a possible replacement for Susan Rice if and when Rice leaves her post as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Around the State Department, several sources told The Cable that Power could return to government to replace Maria Otero as the Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Otero's last day at the State Depatment was today.

Power, a former journalist who covered the wars in former Yugoslavia, won the Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem from Hell, an examination of the U.S. response to genocide. She was a top advisor Obama's first presidential campaign for president until March, 2008, when she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster" in a press interview.

She played a key role in the Obama administration's decision to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011, but she leaves office at a time when the White House faces severe criticism for perceived inaction in Syria, where over 60,000 civilians have been killed after two years of civil war.

For outside experts, Power's tenure was successful in that she pushed hard for the institutionalization of human rights advocacy and atrocity prevention in the U.S. government despite dealing with a White House leadership whose record on such issues is decidedly mixed.

"There is a small group of people that really care about genocide prevention and prevention of mass atrocities and we all appreciate that we had a real champion for those issue at the highest levels of government," said Mike Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience, which conducts the genocide prevention efforts at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "She worked very hard to strengthen the interagency treatment of these issues and she had a great deal of passion for those issues and she brought that passion to the government."

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The Cable

The Kerry era begins

Secretary of State John Kerry started work Monday morning at the State Department with a few jokes and a call to arms for the State Department employees he now commands.

Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, introduced Kerry on the mezzanine of the C Street entrance to the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters, the same spot where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her farewell remarks last Friday. Kerry was actually sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan last Friday afternoon in a private ceremony in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room.

"If I'm wandering around the building later and I sort of wind up in your office, it's not because I'm there for a meeting; it's because I'm lost and I need directions. So just tell me who you are, tell me what you do, and tell me where I am. And we'll rely on that," Kerry said.

"Here's the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years: Can a man actually run the State Department? I don't know. As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill."

Standing alongside Kerry was a host of State Department senior officials, some of whom are set to depart the administration in the coming days. Deputy Secretary Tom Nides will step down. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and several other top officials could stay on for a while.

Kerry has brought several senior staffers with him to State, such as former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director Bill Danvers and his own Staff Director David Wade, but their final positions have not yet been determined.

Kerry promised his opening remarks would be brief, and they were, by Kerry's standards. He thanked Clinton, her team, President Barack Obama, and State Department employees. He spoke about his sister Peggy Kerry, a long time staffer at the U.S. mission to the U.N., and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, who will visit the State Department Wednesday, and his father, a former Foreign Service officer.

Kerry then told the story about how as a 12-year-old traveling with his father in Germany, he rode his bicycle into communist-controlled East Berlin and became aware of the stark reality of living behind the Iron Curtain and the value of living in a free democracy.

He also pledged to protect the State Department from the onslaught of political attacks related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

"I also understand how critical it is that you have somebody there advocating for you. The dangers could not be more clear. We're reminded by the stars and names on the wall, and we are particularly reminded by Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith. And I know everybody here stills mourns that loss, and we will," Kerry said "So I pledge to you this: I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics, number one."

Secretary Kerry's schedule for the remainder of the week has not yet been determined, but he spent the weekend making phone calls to foreign leaders, including: Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, and Mexican Foreign Secretary Antonio Meade.

On Saturday, Kerry had lunch with former Secretary of State George Shultz.

"Secretary Kerry has now met with or spoken by phone with each living secretary of state, Democrat and Republican, since being announced as President Obama's  nominee," said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.