The Cable

Wendy Sherman headed to Israel and Jordan

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will go to Israel and Jordan next week in advance of the visit there by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the State Department said Wednesday.

"Following the P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan with Iran on its nuclear program, Under Secretary Sherman is traveling from February 28-March 4 to Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, where she will meet with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign Ministers," the office of outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. The statement didn't say what Sherman would do there or whom she would meet.

Kerry and Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan later in March. Kerry will not visit those countries on his current nine-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East, but he will be in that region with stops in Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in the next few days,

Several State Department sources told The Cable that Kerry had wanted to visit Israel on his maiden voyage as secretary of state. There was a back and forth between the State Department and the White House. Ultimately, the decision was made that Kerry and Obama would visit Israel together.

In a press briefing earlier this month, Nuland said that Kerry wasn't going on his own because the Israeli government was still in the process of getting set up after the last round of elections.

"Given the fact that the government coalition negotiations in Israel are still underway, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah," she said.

Former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, now with the Wilson Center, told The Cable that it was wise of the administration not to send Kerry to Israel before the Obama visit.

"By going to Israel before the president, Kerry would risk exposing himself as not a serious player and taking away the president's own fire. All eyes should be on Obama. Not only is that the way Obama wants it; that's also the best approach to take," he said.

What matters now concerning Israel is whenObama sits down with the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for a private conversation, they test their capacity to reach understandings with one another on Iran and the Palestinian issue, Miller said.

"Kerry's relationship with Bibi isn't broken; Obama's is. So too, the president needs to have a public conversation with the Israeli people and to personalize his often remote, detached persona. John Kerry can't do either of these things; nor should he be expected to," he said.

The Cable

Boehner: No more free foreign flights after sequester

Lawmakers will no longer be able to use military aircraft to go on congressional delegations, known as CODELs, to foreign countries after the sequester kicks in, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told his caucus Wednesday.

Congressmen regularly use military planes to visit foreign countries on "official" business, a cost imposed on the U.S. taxpayer. But after March 1 when the looming across-the-board automatic spending cuts dictated by the 2011 Budget Control Act go into effect, lawmakers will have to foot their own bill and fly commercial, if they want to visit foreign leaders in far off lands.

Boehner delivered the tough-love message to members of the House GOP caucus on Wednesday during a meeting on the next continuing resolution appropriations bill, which included an update on House efforts to comply with the sequester, a House GOP leadership aide told The Cable.

"The House Administration Committee has already notified leadership, committee, and member offices in the House that there will be spending cuts in their offices to comply with the sequester. And the speaker told the members today that in addition to those spending cuts, he is suspending the use of military aircraft for official travel by House members," the aide said. "The Speaker believes this is the prudent and responsible course of action, and it goes above and beyond the spending cuts the House will be implementing to comply with the president's sequester."

Over the last congressional recess alone, there were a host of lawmakers gallivanting around the globe. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) went to Afghanistan. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) went to Mexico (he flew commercial). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) went to Israel and Jordan. Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) went to Tunisia, Mali, Senegal, and Algeria. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) traveled with Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Terri Sewell (D-AL) on a trip to Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa ... just to name a few.

Many of these trips are substantive; some are less so. There has long been suspicion that trips to certain locations -- often tropical or tourist destinations with little relation to foreign policy or national security -- are just taxpayer-funded vacations for lawmakers and their spouses.

According to Legistorm, the list of the top 20 countries visited by congressmen on official travel includes France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

There's a requirement that each day of official travel include one meeting with a foreign official, however. Fun fact: congressional aides told The Cable that the foreign official who has held the most audiences with American lawmakers over the years is none other than the mayor of Machu Picchu, Peru. Money well spent.

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