The Cable

Inside Kerry’s effort to save Salam Fayyad

John Kerry unsuccessfully tried to prevent the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and now the uncertainty in the Palestinian leadership is adding uncertainty to the U.S. secretary of state's larger effort to kickstart new peace negotiations.

Fayyad, who is well known in the West and credited for gains in establishing relatively stability and prosperity in the West Bank, will continue on as a caretaker prime minister following his resignation announcement earlier this month. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has broad leeway in choosing Fayyad's replacement; he could choose himself or select a new interim prime minister ahead of new elections, but the schedule for those elections is totally unclear.

Before Fayyad resigned, Kerry made multiple efforts to convince the technocratic Palestinian prime minister to stay and to convince Abbas to keep him around, close associates of Fayyad say. Kerry implored both leaders to put aside their longstanding differences and continue to work together during his recent trip to the region. Kerry also placed a phone call to Abbas urging him to reject Fayyad's resignation.

"John Kerry has had a great relationship with Fayyad and wanted him to stay and asked him to stay and asked the Palestinian president not to accept his resignation," Ziad Asali, the president and founder of the American Task Force for Palestine, told The Cable.

But rather than heed Kerry's advice, members of Abbas's Fatah faction turned Kerry's plea into a criticism of Kerry, according to Asali.

"A lot of people in Fatah accused the U.S. of applying pressure on Abbas not to accept Fayyad's resignation," Asali said. "This was considered an insult to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people and an humiliation because it was an American interference in internal Palestinian politics."

Fatah leader Sufian Abu Zayda said that U.S. "stupidity" had contributed to Fayyad's resignation.

"Fayyad did not want to be seen as someone who has been imposed on the Palestinians and Fatah by the Americans," Abu Zayda said. "On the other hand, Abbas cannot afford to be seen as someone who succumbed to U.S. pressure."

Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad described Kerry's call to Abbas as "a humiliating and degrading interference by the United States in internal Palestinian affairs."

Asali rejected those assertions and said that Kerry had every right to try to keep Fayyad in place, not only because Fayyad had great relationships with several Western countries, but also because he was seen as a reliable steward for the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid the PA receives from international donors.

"I think it was perfectly OK for Kerry to do what he did. Everybody interferes with Palestinian affairs. It has been the case for decades. That's Palestinian politics," he said. "Salam Fayyad is the person who was at ease in the international community."

Still, Kerry's critics in Washington maintain that the effort to save Fayyad represented a diplomatic setback. Several reports said that Fayyad had attempted to resign in late February, before President Barack Obama's trip to the region, but the administration convinced him to hold off. But ultimately, the Abbas-Fayyad split was irreparable.

"Fayyad's departure was an unfortunate early defeat for Secretary Kerry. Kerry and President Obama did everything they could to keep Fayyad there, but it was too late. The divisions between the two Palestinian figures were too deep," said Jonathan Schanzer, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "Kerry's intervention was not a mistake. The problem was that these efforts came too late. For the last four years, the administration has elected to work with Abbas at the expense of Fayyad."

Not only will Fayyad's departure hurt international donor confidence but it also may bode poorly for America's ability to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table with Israel and prevent the Palestinians from pursuing greater recognition at U.N. organizations, an effort spearheaded by Abbas against U.S. wishes, Schanzer said.

A big part of Kerry's new Mideast peace push is to promote economic development in the West Bank, a process that would run parallel to a political process but that could serve to build confidence between the Israeli and Palestinian governments. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said this week that the U.S. government would still move forward with that initiative despite Fayyad's departure.

"He's been a key partner of ours. He's someone we've worked very well with, the international community has worked very well with, and he's been highly effective at helping to move forward the Palestinian economy and build institutions," said Ventrell. "Having said that, he's one individual... the Palestinian people and the work of the Palestinian Authority are bigger than any one individual, and we're committed to moving forward with economic and institution-building efforts in the West Bank, and we'll make that clear to Congress as well." 

Asked if the State Department was worried that Congress might be less willing to give the PA money now that Fayyad is gone, Ventrell said, "We are not concerned."

Speaking at a Brookings Institution luncheon Thursday, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams said that Fayyad's departure would mean that Palestinian security forces, which had become increasingly professional, would once again become "Fatah goon squads." 

Asali said the ball is now in Abbas's court and that the Palestinian leader must choose a replacement for Fayyad who can attempt to fill Fayyad's role both at home and abroad.

"The perception of the international community that their conditions for continued donation would have to include a transparent and accountable administration, so in that sense, if they are not satisfied they will not donate," he said. "In an ideal world Abbas would have to have to get someone credible and competent and someone who would get the support of the donor community as well as the Palestinian people."

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Will the State Department sanction China and Russia for human trafficking?

Every year the State Department issues a report on human trafficking abroad, and this year it faces an awkward challenge in deciding how to deal with two huge countries with poor trafficking records -- China and Russia.

In last year's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, both China and Russia were on what's known as the Tier 2 Watch List, which is the second-worst rating a country can receive. The rating is reserved for those countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and also have a high number of trafficking victims and fail to show evidence that that they are working to improve their actions on human trafficking. 

Countries cannot stay on the Tier 2 Watch List forever, and this year the State Department must either promote Russia and China to Tier 2 status or demote those countries to Tier 3, the lowest classification, which is shared by the likes of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Tier 3 status opens those countries to sanctions from the U.S. government.

"I am particularly concerned about the government of China's record," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Thursday. "The government of China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for eight consecutive years in large part because its plan to fight human trafficking is inadequate, unevenly implemented, and the government of China has not been making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards." 

An "automatic downgrade" from the Tier 2 Watch List was added by Congress to the law in 2008. A country can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for two years, after which the president can waive a downgrade to Tier 3 for two more years. Both China and Russia have now reached that limit.

"China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Azerbaijan have now had at least four full years of warning that they would face downgrade to Tier 3 if they did not make significant efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent trafficking.  Now their time on the Tier 2 Watch List is up," said Smith. 

Smith has been a longstanding opponent of China's one child policy, which has resulted in gender imbalances throughout China that create a magnet for the trafficking of women from all over Asia. China also forcibly repatriates North Korean trafficking victims who face severe punishment or death when they are returned to the DPRK.

"The government of China is failing not only to address its own trafficking problems, but is creating an incentive for human trafficking problems in the whole region," he said.

Russia doesn't have procedures in place to identify and deal with trafficking victims not does it have an overall plan to deal with trafficking, Smith added.

"Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking," the State Department's 2011 report stated. "The Government of the Russian Federation does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, however, the government failed to demonstrate evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period."

China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for a total of 7 consecutive years; Russia has been on the watch list for 8 years. 

Mark Lagon, the State Department's former ambassador-at-large for trafficking in persons,  testified that China is the country to watch most out of the 6 countries currently on the Tier 2 Watch List. He said that a huge number of Chinese suffer in the laogai, or "reeducation through labor" prison camps, in China.

"Some local authorities compel children to perform manual labor in farms or factories in so-called ‘work-study' programs-again notably applied to Uighurs," he said. "Onerous child labor in brick kilns is often left unfound or undisturbed by authorities. Absent addressing a number of these problems, China deserves to finally be placed on Tier 3 after eight years on a so-called ‘Watch List.'"

Logon also said that of all the countries being discussed as possible candidates for downgrade to Tier 3, "Russia is the one which clearly is moving backward, not forward, on addressing human trafficking, despite active U.S. efforts." 

The TIP report is set to come out in June. The State Department's Office of Monitoring and Combating Trafficking in Persons is run ably by Amb. Luis CdeBaca, but the position of undersecretary of state for civil society, democracy and human rights, which sits above that office, is vacant. That means the final tier evaluations might be adjudicated by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Lagon said

"Burns was particularly kind and frank when I came to Russia in 2008 as ambassador-at-large and he was ambassador to that nation. He confirmed Russian authorities did not look at human trafficking as a human rights matter, instead seeing it as only a security and immigration enforcement matter," he said. "Russia is backsliding, and he should note that."