The Cable

State Dept. working with Syrian opposition to channel aid

The State Department and USAID are increasing their humanitarian aid for Syria but have no intention of moving any of that money through the Syrian opposition coalition, as several senators have called for.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg just returned from a trip to Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. In Kuwait, they pledged $155 million of additional U.S. humanitarian aid to help alleviate the suffering caused by the Syrian civil war, bringing the total U.S. aid commitment to $365 million.

Richard and Lindborg said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters that State and USAID don't work through government structures and therefore won't be dispersing any of that aid through the Syrian opposition coalition, which President Barack Obama has recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

"Globally we provide our humanitarian assistance through the U.N. system and our NGO partners and this is specifically to ensure that there is a global humanitarian architecture that can get assistance to people who need it the most," said Lindborg. "We don't provide humanitarian assistance through other governments anywhere globally."

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Cable that although the aid won't be given directly to the Syrian opposition coalition, a portion of the new funds will be dispersed in coordination with the coalition and its partners inside Syria.

"We are intensifying our work with the Syrian opposition coalition to channel assistance to those NGOs who can effectively deliver humanitarian aid on its behalf to the most needy in Syria, especially those in areas where the Assad regime has systematically blocked or limited UN access," Nuland said.

Last month, seven U.S. senators from both parties traveled to some of the same refugee camps and met with the Syrian opposition coalition leaders, after which they publicly called for the U.S. government to funnel some aid through the opposition leadership in order to bolster their legitimacy and credibility.

"We are delivering significant humanitarian assistance into Syria, but it's going through international aid agencies and being distributed out of Damascus, rather than in ways that strengthen the credibility and the reach and the effectiveness of the Syrian opposition council," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

The State Department delegation did meet with the Syrian opposition coalition's assistance coordination unit in Turkey and is working with them to determine where aid is needed inside Syria. The State Department has a full time liaison with that unit to help them increase their own capabilities, Lindborg said. But they won't be getting any U.S. humanitarian assistance.

"Aid is supposed to be delivered not based on one's political beliefs or which side one's picking in a war, or which faction one belongs to, but based on need. We want to work with them, but right now they're not built as an organization to deliver aid," Richard said.

"We are always very respectful of the role of Congress. We're being especially sweet to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff now because we don't know which ones are going to come over the State Department and be our bosses," said Richard.

Forty-nine percent of food aid is reaching contested or opposition-held areas, Richard said, and aid is reaching all regions of Syria, although aid workers are frustrated that aid is not reaching everyone who is in need. The United States is also spending about $50 million to help a range of local governance and civil society organizations get established inside Syria.

The trio visited refugees camps in Turkey and Jordan and lamented the plight of those there, especially women and children, who make up 80 percent of the refugee camp populationsin the countries surrounding Syria. There are currently 240,000 refugees in Jordan, 171,000 in Turkey, 256,000 in Lebanon, 83,000 in Iraq, Richard said. Another 2.5 million Syrians are internally displaced inside the country, according to U.N. figures, which Richard said were the most reliable figures available.

The officials said the NGO groups that are delivering the aid on the ground are largely independent but acknowledged that their leaders may also have some ties to the Syrian government. Seventy percent of the total international humanitarian aid is going to groups that are supervised by the Syria government, the officials said.

The Syrian regime is not in control of any of the aid but it does control access to many of the communities where the aid is going, the officials noted. They also said the Syrian regime has been more willing recently to allow aid to flow to more areas inside Syria.

"We think they have calculated that they have to pacify parts of the country by letting some aid go through," said Richard.

The senators all said that the refugees on the ground don't believe that the United States helping them and are increasingly bitter toward the United States.

"We heard a visceral frustration and outright anger, especially from the refugees, about the inadequate level of the U.S. support and assistance in their struggle against the Assad regime," McCain said. "This woman warned us that these Syrian children would, in her words, seek revenge on those who did not help Syria in its hour of greatest need."

The aid doesn't have any markings identifying the United States as its source, which could account for the confusion, the State Department officials said.

"Our aid is not being branded. We are not putting flags on the aid so perhaps it's not as visible as it is in other situations. But that is a priority to ensure that it reaches people and that it doesn't create additional insecurity," Lindborg said. "However, the bottom line is that there hasn't been enough."

The Cable

GOP senators call for delay in Hagel committee vote

Two senior GOP members of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable Tuesday that they won't consent to a committee vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense until the former Nebraska senator discloses all of his recent paid speeches and until an allegation of misconduct in his Senate office is fully investigated.

At Hagel's Jan. 31 confirmation hearing, ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK) noted that the committee had requested Hagel provide all of the speeches he had delivered over the last five years, since he left the Senate, including disclosing who paid him for them. Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) gave Hagel a deadline of Monday at 5 p.m. to provide more information for the record. Hagel testified that many of his speeches were private, not videotaped, and often did not include prepared remarks, but that he would comply with all legal requirements.

On Tuesday afternoon, committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told The Cable that the deadline had passed and that the committee had not been given the information it requested, specifically on who paid Hagel to give speeches. "A number of senators wrote and asked for additional financial information that I thought was reasonable and the chairman agreed and directed that information be provided by yesterday. It has not been provided. Those were reasonable requests," Sessions said. "I believe the request for financial information was legitimate and should be complied with before a vote takes place."

Sessions also told The Cable that he was waiting for the results of a previously undisclosed investigation by the Republican committee staff into a complaint by a former aide involving another Hagel aide. Three GOP congressional aides confirmed that the committee was looking into the complaint, although there is no evidence that Hagel was directly involved or even was aware of the incident in question.

The aides said that over the last two weeks, the minority committee staff had interviewed several former Hagel staffers who came forward to complain about how the former senator had managed his office. The staff found none of their complaints worth pursuing aside from that of the one former junior female staffer, whom the committee interviewed late last month. According to Sessions and all three aides, the female staffer told the committee she had been sexually harassed by a senior male staffer while working in Hagel's office in 2007. One aide said the alleged harassment included "inappropriate statements and conduct."

Neither the accuser nor the accused responded to requests for comment, but The Cable spoke with Lou Ann Linehan, Hagel's chief of staff at the time of the alleged incident.

"I remember handling it, I thought it was handled. I did not bring it to the senator. I would not have taken it to the senator unless it required a termination and that wasn't the case," she said. "The term sexual harassment shocks me a little bit. I wouldn't have put up with anything that was actually sexual harassment. I had a very low tolerance for it. I don't put up with that stuff. Hagel didn't tolerate it, I didn't tolerate it."

Linehan described the incident as a dispute between a newly promoted senior staffer and one of his subordinates, centered around his handling of his new supervisory powers. Both staffers continued to work for Hagel for more than a year after the incident, Linehan said, which she cited as evidence that the two staffers had resolved the issue among themselves.

"It evidently smoothed out. Nobody came back to me later," she said. Linehan said that nobody from the committee had contacted her as of Monday afternoon. Former Obama campaign spokeswoman Marie Harf, who has been working with Hagel on the confirmation process, declined to comment on the allegations.

Sessions told The Cable that he had been briefed on the allegation, but said that he wanted to know the facts before making any judgment. "It should be analyzed and we should find out what happened," Sessions said. "I know the staff is looking at it. Pretty soon we'll get a final report on what the facts are."

For Sessions, the issue is whether Hagel was aware of the woman's complaint at the time. "I think Hagel is entitled to fair treatment. If he had been warned or there were indications [of the alleged incident], all of us have certain responsibilities. So let the facts speak out," he said.

According to the three senior GOP aides, the accuser did not feel that the matter was properly addressed at the time, which is why she insisted on talking to the committee staff now. There's no evidence the staffer filed a formal ethics complaint at the time of the alleged incident.

"She's raising it again now because she wasn't satisfied that it was handled the right way," one of the aides said. "There will be members who want to know what the results of the investigation are before they vote on the nomination."

Other Republican senators are focusing on Hagel's financial disclosures. Armed Services Committee member Roger Wicker sent Hagel a Jan. 29 letter signed by six senators asking for the text of all of Hagel's speeches, information on who paid for them, and whether foreign entities had given any money to organizations Hagel has worked with in a leadership capacity.

An official working on the Hagel confirmation told The Cable that a response to Wicker's letter was being sent to senators Tuesday but declined to characterize the response in any way.

Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable Tuesday that he does not think a committee vote on Hagel's nomination should proceed until the nominee provides more information about his past speeches.

"Chuck has said some things that are out of the mainstream and I don't think it's unfair to say, ‘Tell us who you spoke to, particularly when you got paid,'" Graham said. "He's said he's given hundreds of speeches; we've only gotten [information about] four. We know he's received money from different groups, but we don't know who they are, who backs him, who funds him."

"I don't think you can make an informed decision [until that information is received]," Graham said.

Graham also said he has not yet decided on whether he would support a filibuster.

"A filibuster of a cabinet position is something we would have to take very seriously and I promise you I would," he said. "I would ask the administration to reconsider the nomination."

A spokesman for Levin told The Cable that the committee has yet to schedule the vote on Hagel's nomination.

"Senator Levin had said the vote could happen ‘as early as Thursday,' and that is still the case," Levin spokesperson Tara Andringa said.

UPDATE: Hagel declined to provide most of the records requested by the GOP sentors in a letter sent late Tuesday. Wednesday afternoon, Levin announced that the committee would not be voting on the nomination this week. 

"I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete. I intend to schedule a vote on the nomination as soon as possible," Levin said in a statement.

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