Hillary Clinton: China, Russia must “show Assad the writing on the wall”

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday downplayed changes made to the text of a joint statement on what should be done in Syria that was issued by major powers meeting in Geneva.

Russia continued to oppose language in the statement calling for a political transition under which Bashar al-Assad would be required to leave power. But Clinton insisted the edits agreed at the meeting convened by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan Saturday did not alter that key demand.

“Assad will still have to go,” Clinton told reporters in Geneva Saturday.  “He will never pass the mutual consent test, given the blood on his hands.”

The plan agreed at the Action Group on Syria meeting calls “for the Assad regime to give way to a new transitional governing body that will have full governance powers,” Clinton said.

Indeed, Clinton continued, “we and our partners made absolutely clear to Russia and China that it is now incumbent upon them to show Assad the writing on the wall.”

“The unity government should be formed on the basis of ‘mutual consent,’” Annan stressed Saturday, Russia Today reported, which noted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “also pointed out the new document does not command a political process for Syria.”

A draft Action Group communique dated June 28 and obtained by Al Monitor called for “..an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms; …guidelines’ and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people; and … actions …[to] support [Annan's] …efforts to facilitate a Syrian- led political process.”

But an Annan-proposed “non-paper,” dated a day earlier (June 27), called explicitly for the formation of a transitional government in Syria that would exclude certain actors. Continue reading

Kofi Annan calls for Syria national unity government; UN plans for 200,000 refugees

UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan is calling for a national unity government in Syria as a way out of the escalating conflict that has seen Syria’s refugee population more than double since March to almost 100,000 people.

Annan’s proposal, contained in a diplomatic ‘non-paper,’ comes as he convenes a meeting of the newly-formed Action Group on Syria–the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Turkey and the Arab League–in Geneva on Saturday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent Washington at the gathering.

“The conflict in Syria will only end when all sides are assured that there is a peaceful way towards a common future for all in Syria,” Annan’s diplomatic memo– entitled ‘Non-paper, guidelines and principles for a Syria-led transition,’ and posted by the UN-Report blog, states:

It is therefore essential that any settlement provides for clear and irreversible steps in transition according to a fixed time frame. The key steps in any transition include: – The establishment of a Transitional Government of National Unity which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place

The national unity government “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups,” the non-paper says, “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation”–namely, Bashar al-Assad.

Annan, announcing the Action Group Wednesday, defined its objectives as to forge international consensus on “concrete actions” to lead to a cessation of violence, that has claimed almost 15,000 lives. Clinton and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in St. Petersburg, Russia Friday, ahead of attending the Geneva forum.  Iran and Saudi Arabia were both denied invitations to the Action Group meeting, as a compromise based on the U.S.’ insistence Iran be excluded.

The meeting comes as the Independent Commission of Inquiry for Syria this week delivered an interim report that found that militarization of the Syria conflict is intensifying, as arms flow to anti-regime groups.”The main thing we identified is an intensification of military conflict as anti-government armed groups have acquired more weapons, more people and they are able to do their own kind of damage against the Syrian army, and acquire some territory–at least temporarily,” Karen AbuZayd, a member of the Commission, told Al-Monitor in an interview Wednesday from Geneva.

“This is an armed insurrection, not just a little guerrilla warfare … and it is much worse for the people,” AbuZayd said. Meantime, Assad regime forces continue their full fledged assault on Syrian population centers, based on patterns they have employed over the past year: prolonged shelling of the town, entering the city and targeting populations with unlawful killings, torture, etc., “moving from one place to the other,” AbuZayd said. Continue reading

Who will Obama nominate to be US envoy to Iraq? A short list

In the wake of Obama’s nominee for Iraq ambassador withdrawing his name from consideration last week after an unusually bruising ordeal, it’s a fair bet the Obama administration is inclined to go with a safe, more easily confirm-able pick for its next nominee for the post.

Washington Iraq experts say they expect the new nominee to be announced in the next couple weeks, and have offered a somewhat lengthy list of diplomats they have heard are in the mix for the post overseeing the largest US embassy in the world.

The last US Ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, left Baghdad earlier this month and formally retired from the State Department in a ceremony last week. His deputy, the Chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Robert Stephen Beecroft, is currently the de facto acting ambassador, conducting meetings that the ambassador otherwise would have. Several Washington Iraq hands consider that the administration may decide to keep Beecroft, a former US Ambassador to Jordan and career foreign service officer, in the job.

Another leading contender on the short list is the current US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, according to a source close to the administration who declined to be identified. Jones was confirmed last summer as the US Ambassador to Jordan—perhaps the best indicator of his ability to get confirmed in the current atmosphere. He previously served as the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Iraq and was very involved in the transition from Pentagon- to State-lead of US efforts in the country. Jones also previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, DCM in Cairo, Governor Coordinator for Al Anbar Province, Iraq; and as Iraq/Iran director in the NSC, among other assignments and is considered to be a rising star in the State Department (and White House). Meantime, the situation in Jordan is considered to have stabilized sufficiently after some initial jitters early into the Arab uprisings that it is not considered overly disruptive to possibly move Jones next door to Iraq, if the nomination proceeds, all things considered, sources suggested.

Other contenders: several Washington Iraq “hawks” are rumored to want US envoy to Syria, Robert Ford, for Iraq. (Though some of the same hawks previously moved to block Ford’s confirmation for the Syria post in 2010, but later changed their minds.) Ford, one of the State Department’s leading Arabists, previously served as the deputy ambassador in Iraq, and as ambassador to Algeria,  speaks fluent Arabic and has impressed Republicans and Democrats alike with his principled and brave show of support for Syrian demonstrators even as the US embassy in Damascus had to close for security reasons late last year. Continue reading

Egypt’s Tamer Hosny teams up with LA’s Snoop Dogg on new song

Egyptian singer and actor Tamer Hosny has teamed up with American rapper/producer phenomenon Snoop Dogg on a new song to be released this week, Al Arabiya reports.

You can see a sneak preview of the video for the song, “Si L Sayed,” above, which was filmed in Los Angeles and posted by Hosny to YouTube this past spring. Continue reading

US seen hardening its position in Iran nuclear talks

Iran came to talks in Moscow last week (June 18-19) prepared to discuss stopping enriching uranium to 20% but refused two other conditions that might have led to a partial agreement in the nuclear standoff, Barbara Slavin and I report on the front page:

Briefings by diplomats whose countries took part in the talks portrayed the meetings as a “dialogue of the deaf,” with the two sides trading widely divergent proposals. However, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator did express willingness to discuss one key step requested by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1): stopping enrichment of uranium to 20% U-235, the isotope that gives uranium its explosive power.

The western members of the P5+1 insisted, however, that Iran had to meet all three conditions contained in their proposal: stop 20% enrichment, ship out a stockpile of more than 100 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium and close Fordo, a fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom.

That stance has led some P5+1 members to conclude that the United States hardened its position in Moscow compared to two earlier sessions in Baghdad and Istanbul, according to diplomatic briefings shared with Al-Monitor. [...]

“Earlier, the US had implied that they were ready to address the three E3+3 demands … separately,” a briefing shared with Al-Monitor said, using the terminology Europeans employ for the P5+1. “However, this position had changed in Moscow,” where the US insisted “that the three demands should be treated inseparably, as a package.”

Indeed, after the P5+1 presented its proposal to Iran in Baghdad last month, Washington’s clear expectation was that Iran would not accept it as-is.

“There were two possible scenarios,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, in an interview with Al-Monitor Tuesday. “Either the P5+1’s proposal was no more than an opening salvo,” and it would be willing to negotiate better terms with Iran based on it during the next round, “or with tougher sanctions looming in the horizon, it was simply a take-it-or-leave-it offer. And it turned out in Moscow that Washington was not prepared to offer more.”

 

Go read the whole piece.

I also report that Bob Einhorn, the State Department Iran sanctions czar and a veteran nonproliferation expert, will lead the U.S. team participating in P5+1/Iran technical talks in Istanbul next week (July 3rd).

Iran’s team is expected to be led by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, although that is not confirmed.

 

NATO offers solidarity with Turkey but muted on response over downed plane

NATO ambassadors, meeting in Brussels Tuesday, expressed strong solidarity with member nation Turkey over Syria’s downing of a Turkish military reconnaissance plane last week (June 22). But the 28-member military alliance remained muted on the looming question of what further action it may be willing to contemplate, vowing only to “remain seized” of developments.

“Let me make this clear: The security of the Alliance is indivisible,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a press briefing following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council Tuesday.  “We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.”

“I would certainly expect that such an incident won’t happen again,” Rasmussen said. “Should anything happen Allies will remain seized of development, we closely monitor the situation and if necessary we will consult and discuss what else could be done.”

The White House, echoing the expressions of solidarity from Brussels, also praised Ankara’s “measured response” so far.

“The United States and NATO stand in solidarity with Turkey,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told journalists on Air Force One Tuesday.  “We will work with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable and to continue to push forward for Syria’s needed political transition.”

“We commend Turkey for its measured response thus far,” Carney added.

The meeting in Brussels came as reports emerged Tuesday suggesting the downed Turkish aircraft–an unarmed RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance fighter jet–may have been conducting a spying mission over Syria. But Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc, while acknowledging in comments Monday the craft was outfitted for espionage, “strongly denied it was doing so on this particular mission,” the New York Times reported, in an article noting that the downed 2-seat aircraft “has the ability to gather high-resolution imagery about 60 miles from the target, aviation experts said.”

Syria says the plane was shot down in self-defense after straying into Syrian airspace and that it did not know it was a Turkish plane. Ankara vehemently denies this, hinting it has some  technological evidence–such as intercepted radar communications–to prove it.

Back in Brussels Tuesday, the military alliance did not discuss possibly declaring the plane downing an attack on the entire alliance, Rasmussen indicated. Such an invocation of NATO’s Article 5 has only once occurred—after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Continue reading

Turkey: NATO to consider Syria’s downing of Turkish jet

A senior Turkish official said Monday that Ankara has asked NATO to consider Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish military reconnaissance plane last week an attack on the entire alliance.

“There is no doubt that Syrians deliberately targeted our plane in international airspace,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Monday, the Associated Press reported. “It was an extremely hostile action.”

NATO’s governing board, the North Atlantic Council, is due to meet Tuesday to discuss the incident. Turkey says Syria on Friday (June 22) shot down with no warning an unarmed Turkish RF Phantom reconnaissance jet, whose pilots have yet to be found. Syria later fired on a Turkish rescue plane sent to try to recover the pilots, Turkey said Monday.

(Syria claims it was acting in self-defense and that it did not know the plane’s national origins–charges Turkish officials bitterly refute.)

“No doubt, Turkey has made necessary applications with NATO regarding Article 4 and Article 5,” Turkey’s deputy premier Arinc said Monday, according to the AP. Continue reading

Successor sought for US National Intelligence Officer for Iran (Updated)

Correction: The National Intelligence Council has been searching for a successor for Jillian Burns, who has served as the National Intelligence Officer for Iran for the past few months. Burns is due to rotate out of the NIC to take a new Foreign Service assignment,  colleagues say. I regret the error.

Original Post: The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has named its first National Intelligence Officer for Iran. She is Jillian Burns, a senior State Department Foreign Service officer and veteran Iran hand, who most recently served as an Iran advisor in State’s Policy Planning shop. Previously, the well-regarded Burns served as the first director of the US’s Iran regional presence office (a kind of virtual consulate in exile) in Dubai, UAE. Burns opened the office in 2006, after serving as an “Iran watcher” in Dubai. Continue reading

Blame it on Rio? Israeli delegate says Iran’s Ahmadinejad waved at them

Much to their surprise, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly nodded and waved to the Israeli delegation as he passed by them to address the Rio+20 United Nations Sustainable Development summit held in Brazil June 20-22.

“To the surprise of the Foreign Ministry officials, when the lunatic and his people rose from their seats, they broke with tradition and passed by us rather than go through a detour,” Israeli Knesset Member Shama  Hacohen wrote on his Facebook page, the Algemeiner newspaper reports.

“Despite the sign that says ‘Israel’ on my desk and the lapel pin on my jacket, he nodded and smiled toward us,” Hacohen wrote, explaining, according to the paper, that “the Iranians’ normal procedure is to take a detour around Israeli representatives, instead of walking past them directly.”

Meantime, Ahmadinejad was taking heat from Iranian lawmakers for not leaving Brazil after reportedly being snubbed by Brazil’s president. Banners saying “Ahmadinejad go home” greeted the controversial Iranian leader upon his arrival in the city June 20th, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reportedly declined to meet with the Iranian president, who said last week that he will leave politics after his second presidential term expires next year.

“After the disrespect Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was met with in the airport of Brazil, he should have returned to Tehran, MP Avaz Heydarpour of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee said, Mehr reported,” Iran’s Trend news wrote. Continue reading

Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi declared Egypt’s new president

My colleague Barbara Slavin reports:

Mohammed Morsi of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the new president of Egypt, although his powers and term in office are likely to be limited. Results of a June 16-17 runoff announced Sunday after a laborious rendition of election challenges and decisions gave Morsi 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. About 51 percent of eligible voters participated and nearly a million of the 26 million votes cast were disqualified.

The military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak fell on Feb. 11, 2011 has pledged to turn authority over to the new president by the end of this month. But the SCAF has also announced that it will assume some legislative powers since Egypt’s highest court ordered the dissolution of an Islamist-dominated parliament. The SCAF also says that it will appoint a new constituent assembly to write a new constitution, after which more elections must be held for parliament and president. So it remains unclear how much power Morsi will wield and for how long. Continue reading