The Cable

Russia denies visa for leading congressional human-rights advocate

The Russian government has denied a visa for a prominent congressman in what that the lawmaker believes is clear retaliation for U.S. efforts to punish Russian human rights violators.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights, has been traveling to Russia and before that the Soviet Union for decades. But this month, the Russian government denied him a visa for the first time, despite a personal intervention from the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.

In an interview Wednesday with The Cable, Smith said the Russians were already retaliating for a recent U.S. law that seeks to call out and punish Russian human rights violators. That bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability and Rule of Law Act of 2012, was named after the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison, allegedly after being tortured by Russian officials.

Smith was an original sponsor of the bill.

"The Magnitsky bill is the reason I didn't get the visa. This is the first time," Smith said. "I was shocked. During the worst days of the Soviet Union I went there repeatedly."

The Russian government gave Smith no explanation for its action. Smith met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak just before the visa was denied, and Kislyak told Smith the decision was made in Moscow, not Washington.

Smith also said that the State Department, including U.S. Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, tried to intervene on his behalf but was unsuccessful.

The purpose of Smith's planned visit was to discuss the other actions the Russian government has taken to respond to the Magnitsky law, including passing a law banning American adoptions of Russian orphans last December. Smith said he wants to straightforwardly address Russian concerns about alleged abuses of past adoptees.

"I even have a resolution that highlights the fact that those 19 kids died. If somebody is responsible for this, they ought to pay a price," he said. "I was going over to talk about adoption and human trafficking. They have legitimate concerns that we have to meet."

With this action, Russia joins a short list of countries that have denied Smith entry due to his work on human rights, Smith said.

"I've been rejected in China, Cuba, and Belarus, but I'm pro-engagement, as long as you're honest and aggressive," he said. "I'm disappointed but I am determined to have it reversed. So I'm going to reapply.

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The Cable

Hagel must work to repair relationships on Capitol Hill, GOP says

As Chuck Hagel proceeded toward confirmation Tuesday, several Republican senators said that he will have a lot of work ahead of him to prove himself and repair his relationships in the Senate after the Pentagon nominee's long and bruising confirmation battle.

The Senate voted 71-27 Tuesday to end the long debate over the nomination, and Hagel is expected to be confirmed by a smaller number of votes than that Teusday afternoon. He will begin his tenure as defense secretary with significantly less Senate support than his two predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, and after several GOP senators attacked his stance on a variety of issues, his competence, and his willingness to be transparent with Congress.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said Tuesday that after Hagel is confirmed, senators on both sides of the aisle will figure out a way to work with him for the benefit of the country and that Hagel won't punish GOP senators for putting up roadblocks during his confirmation process.

"He's a professional. We're professionals. We've all served together; we've all been through the rough and tumble of politics. Frankly, we're friends. Even those who voted against him would count themselves as friends," Levin said. "Everybody here who has worked with Senator Hagel realizes that he's not the kind of person who carries grudges ... I don't see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department."

Several GOP senators who were directly involved in the Hagel fight told a different story. They all said they were willing to work with Hagel but that it was Hagel's responsibility, not the Senate's, to mend fences and prove that he can do the job.

"I think he will be entering weak based on his performance. He has to up his game," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a leader of the anti-Hagel campaign. "That's his challenge: to prove to Congress that he's capable of doing his job. I hope he will."

Graham never got many of the items he requested as part of the Hagel fight, including FBI interviews of the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the names of those survivors, and a final answer on who changed the talking points that U.N. ambassador Susan Rice used to talk about the attack on Sept. 16.

But Graham said he can still use the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director to get the information he wants. Meanwhile, Hagel has to show his ability to lead the military and demonstrate that he will stick by the testimony he gave at his confirmation hearing, some of which contradicted his past statements on policy matters.

"Senator Hagel has got to prove to people that he's up to the job," said Graham. "Hopefully he'll live up to his testimony. After his hearing, he's tough on Iran, supportive of Israel, and he thinks sequestration is bad."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) told The Cable Tuesday that the long and bitter confirmation process has done harm to Hagel's reputation but that Hagel can fix it if he tries.

"There's no question that this process has been very damaging to him. There's no question this has not been a positive thing for him," Corker said. "My guess is that after this thing is over he's going to need to really go to work and show that he can and will be a tremendous leader at the Defense Department."

Senate Armed Services Committee member Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said that she will vote no on the Hagel nomination but that she is willing to work with him, as long as he takes the first steps.

"It is my hope, if he is confirmed as secretary of defense, that he will sit down with everyone on the committee and I will do everything in my power to work with him and I hope he takes different positions as secretary of defense than he did in the Senate," Ayotte said. "Traditionally, it's been a strong measure to have your secretary of defense have overwhelming bipartisan support, and he does not have that. So he's going to have to work extra hard to work with us on the committee. I will work with him."

Even Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), who supported Hagel's nomination and voted to end the debate two weeks ago, said that it was Hagel's responsibility to build new relationships of trust.

"I think people will try to work with him and the key for Chuck Hagel is that he reach out and I think he intends to do that," Johanns told The Cable. "He has to reach out and if he does that he will be OK."

UPDATE: The Senate confirmed Hagel Tuesday afternoon in a 58-41 vote.

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