White House names Sherwood-Randall new defense/WMD coordinator

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The White House last week named National Security Staff Senior Director for Europe Elizabeth “Liz” Sherwood-Randall as the new coordinator for defense and WMD, as the Back Channel first reported was in the works.

Sherwood-Randall will take up her duties as the first White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control on April 8, the White House said in a March 19 announcement.

The Back Channel first reported last month that Sherwood-Randall may be tapped to succeed WMD czar Gary Samore, who left the administration in January for the Harvard Belfer Center; and subsequently reported that the defense and WMD portfolios were expected to be combined under the new coordinator position.

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Sen. Nelson: Netanyahu raised no concerns about Hagel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised no concerns about President Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, US Senator Bill Nelson said in Israel Tuesday.

Nelson, a Florida Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “that Hagel has a record of support for Israel” and he will vote to confirm him, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Nelson spoke on a visit to Israel following meetings Tuesday with Israeli leaders and Israeli intelligence officials about Iran’s nuclear program.

So far, several Democrats on the armed services panel have indicated they plan to back Hagel’s confirmation, including its chair, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island—a close Hagel friend—and now Nelson.

Several Republicans have said they have strong concerns about the former two term Nebraska Republican and decorated Vietnam combat veteran. Among them, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the armed services panel; David Vitter (Louisiana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Texas’ junior Senator Ted Cruz.

Both former Defense Secretary Bob Gates and ret. Gen. Colin Powell, with wide bipartisan support, issued statements strongly endorsing Hagel for Secretary of Defense on Monday.

Meantime, the Council on Foreign Relations told Al Monitor Tuesday that controversial accusations made by its senior fellow Elliott Abrams in an interview Monday did not represent the views of the institution.

Abrams, the former Bush White House Middle East advisor, called Hagel an anti Semite in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered. The accusation was widely lambasted on social media sites after the interview aired. Asked by Al-Monitor what evidence he has to support his accusation, Abrams did not respond.

Abrams’ wife Rachel Abrams is a founding board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a Bill Kristol–led, GOP group at the center of the anti-Hagel campaign. ECI previously ran TV ads against President Obama’s 2012 reelection.

“As you may know, the Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional position on matters of policy,” CFR’s vice president for global communications and media relations Lisa Shields told Al-Monitor by email Tuesday. “The views expressed by our more than seventy experts, who reflect a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives, are theirs only.”

(Photo: Democratic Senator Bill Nelson during a debate October 17, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper.)

Senate letter urges Obama to toughen demands on Iran nuclear deal

Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joseph Lieberman (Indep.-Conn.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are circulating a letter to fellow members that urges President Obama not to offer Iran any sort of concessions or sanctions relief if and until a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached. It also expresses skepticism about any nuclear deal that would allow Iran to maintain enrichment capabilities, although it doesn’t explicitly rule it out.

“First, we strongly believe there should be absolutely no diminution of pressure on the Iranians until the totality of their nuclear problem has been addressed,” the draft letter circulated to other Senators on Thursday said. “The time for limited confidence building measures is over.”

“We remain very skeptical of any proposal that would allow the current Iranian government to possess an enrichment capability in any form, given its long track record of deceptive and illicit conduct,” the letter also states. “We also believe that, at an absolute minimum, a successful resolution of the Iranian nuclear file must include the complete closure of the Fordow facility; full cooperation by Iran with the IAEA … and an extremely intrusive and comprehensive inspection regime for the foreseeable future.“

The letter also calls on President Obama to reiterate his readiness to undertake military action if Iran does not desist.

The Senate offices circulating the letter set a deadline of December 13th for signatures. That is the date that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to send a team to Iran for further consultations.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Thursday, said the agency has a robust dialogue with Iran, but is seeking concrete results in terms of its requests for access to sites, people and information.

“We did not say Iran has nuclear weapons. We did not say it has made a decision to make nuclear weapons,” Amano said. “We have credible information that Iran has engaged in activities relevant to nuclear weapons… Without clarifying these issues,” the IAEA can’t give assurances that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes, the IAEA chief said. Continue reading

Egypt reacts to Mubarak verdict: “What Egypt needed was a truth and reconciliation commission”

Huge demonstrations have erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and cities throughout Egypt hours after an Egyptian judge sentenced deposed president Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister to life in prison for accessory to murder, while acquitting six senior security officials in the killing of unarmed protesters.

Al-Monitor reached out to several veteran Egypt watchers for their reaction to the verdicts.

“What Egypt needed was a truth and reconciliation commission about the crimes committed during the Mubarak era, not an ordinary court where prosecutors did their job poorly and is limited to the 18 days of the 2011 uprising,” Issander El Amrani, a Middle East analyst who blogs at “The Arabist,” told Al Monitor Saturday.

Issander El Amrani, who blogs at “The Arabist“:

These verdicts give you two parts: on the one hand, there’s a crowd pleasing part against Mubarak and his minister of interior as the two chief villains of the Egyptian uprising. On the other, every other security official is exonerated, sending a message to the entire security apparatus that their corporate interests are secure and they
won’t be abandoned by the regime, which still needs them. In the context of a presidential election where one of the two remaining candidates represents a restoration of the old order and the other wants to eliminate it, that amounts to a call to arms. But away from the verdicts, the entire process was flawed to start with.

What Egypt needed was a truth and reconciliation commission about the crimes committed during the Mubarak era, not an ordinary court where prosecutors did their job poorly and is limited to the 18  days of the 2011 uprising.

Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square:

I can understand why people are upset, but the verdicts aren’t terribly surprising. Mubarak et al were tried under the old regime’s unstable legal order with Mubarak-appointed judges.

It seems this gives a lift to [Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed] Morsi, people are coming out of the woodwork for him now. That said, hard to make a judgement definitely on the pres elections. Were Ayman Nour and his minions going to vote for [former Mubarak regime Air Force chief Ahmed] Shafiq? Continue reading