Appointments: Beers may go to White House, Kaidanow for State CT

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With the White House nomination of Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security, multiple administration sources say they expect acting DHS Secretary Rand Beers to join the National Security/White House staff as a senior advisor on counterterrorism issues to National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Beers, confirmed as DHS Undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate in 2009, has served since September as acting DHS Secretary since the departure of Janet Napolitano to head the University of California, and before that, as acting deputy Secretary, after the departure of Jane Holl Lute last May. He did not respond to a query from the Back Channel.

Beers worked closely with Rice as a foreign policy and intelligence advisor to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served as co-chair of the Obama/Biden DHS Transition team. He previously served in the NSC of four presidential administrations, and in multiple senior roles in the State Department, including as assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement and counter-terrorism coordinator. A former Marine Corps officer who served in Vietnam, Beers resigned from the Bush NSC in March 2003, coinciding with the US invasion of Iraq, and later served as foreign policy advisor to John Kerry’s unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.

The White House declined to comment, saying they have no new appointments to announce at this time. White House sources previously said they expected Lisa Monaco to remain as the top White House advisor on counter-terrorism and intelligence issues, and it’s unclear exactly what Beers’ title will be. Associates said Beers was one of the few people in Washington who didn’t care about his title.

“When Rand was my boss, he always said there is no limit to what you can accomplish [in Washington] if you are willing to let someone else get the credit,” Heather Hurlburt, who worked with Beers at the progressive National Security Network, said Tuesday.

As the Back Channel previously reported, Rice is also bringing on Rob Malley to advise her and the NSS on Iran and Syria, sources said. The appointment, also not yet announced, is a “done deal,” but may await some final administrative work, one former official told the Back Channel Monday. Malley did not respond to queries.

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Deputy US Ambassador to Afghanistan Tina Kaidanow is expected to be nominated to be the next State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, multiple officials tell the Back Channel.

Kaidanow, a former US Ambassador to Kosovo, previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and as a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. She did not respond to a query from the Back Channel. If confirmed, Kaidanow, a career foreign service officer, will head the State CT bureau that includes senior advisors Eric Rosand and Michael Jacobson.

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Kurt Kessler, deputy counselor to the US mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, is expected to join the White House WMD coordinator shop as an Iran non-proliferation expert. Kessler, a former Middle East and Iran analyst in the State Department’s International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau and before that at the Agency, is considered one of the most knowledgeable experts on Iran’s nuclear program in the US government, associates said. He did not respond to a query.

(Photo of Rand Beers, acting Homeland Security Secretary, from his DHS biography.)

Kerry may tap Indyk as peace envoy

Former US ambassador to Israel and Clinton Near East envoy Martin Indyk may take a lead role in helping US Secretary of State John Kerry conduct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, diplomatic sources tell Al-Monitor, although an official cautioned that a decision has not been finalized.

Indyk, vice president of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, did not respond to a query Saturday. Gail Chalef, a spokesperson for Brookings, said Sunday that Indyk was away for the weekend and they declined to comment.

The decision on an envoy or negotiator has not been finalized, an official said Sunday, suggesting that a team of people would be assembled.

“No decision on a negotiator or envoy has been made,” a person familiar with the deliberations said. “The first step was getting the parties back to the table, and now Kerry will determine the right combination of players to work with the parties, knowing it's going to be a slog and that he can't carry it on his own shoulders day in and day out.”

The Back Channel previously reported that former Bill Clinton Middle East advisor Rob Malley may join the State Department Near East bureau, and may also play a role in Kerry's negotiating team.

Kerry announced Friday that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would come to Washington in the next week or so after he was able to reach agreement with the parties on a basis to resume negotiations.

The details on the talks would be kept under wraps, Kerry said, given the fragility and political sensitivities of the process. “We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead,” he said.

The parties had agreed to stay in negotiations for a minimum of six months, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that he believes it is a vital strategic interest of Israel to pursue negotiations at this time, given the threat posed by Iran and to counter the prospect of a bi-national single state.

Resumed diplomacy “is important in and of itself in order to try and bring about the conclusion of the conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said in a statement Saturday. “And it is important in light of the strategic challenges that are before us, mainly from Iran and Syria.”

(Photo: Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat and Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, at the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar in June 2013. From the Brookings Foreign Policy program Facebook page.)

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Martin Indyk: ‘We’re at a tipping point’ in Syria


Doha, Qatar__“We’re at a tipping point in Syria,” Martin Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution and one of the architects of Middle East policy under former President Bill Clinton, told Al-Monitor in an interview in Doha Tuesday.

“I don’t know what President Obama will decide,” Indyk, speaking at the conclusion of the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, said, regarding reports the White House is meeting this week to consider possibly coming out in support of lethal aid to the Syria rebels.

“I think the objective now is to help the opposition stave off further defeats. The Iranians and Hezbollah have intervened in a dramatic way with troops and weapons and this has led to a total imbalance on the battlefield. This is external intervention to try to ensure Assad survives.

“There can’t be any political solution based on an agreement on a post-Assad transition if Assad thinks he is going to see victory,” Indyk, who served as the Clinton era envoy to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said. “So we’re at a tipping point. We’ve got to tip the balance back the other way. […] Whether the British and French with our support, or our lead, it doesn’t matter, [if] that staves off defeat. That’s urgent.”

But any decision to provide lethal aid and organizational support to the Syrian rebels “has to be part of an overall strategy which begins with an effort to achieve a political solution,” Indyk continued. “Geneva provides a framework for that. We can’t get to Geneva if Assad thinks he’s winning on the battlefield.”

“What happens on the battlefield determines what happens in the conference room,” Indyk said. “If [the conflict is] stalemated, [it’s more likely] you can get a political agreement.”

Indyk said he doesn’t believe Russia gave a green light to the recent Hezbollah actions in Syria.

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Kerry staff shifts as State appointments gather pace


One of John Kerry’s most experienced advisors has had to step back from his job as deputy chief of staff, but is staying on for now at the State Department, officials tell the Back Channel.

William Danvers, former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director and a former Clinton and Obama administration national security official, had some medical concerns, but is apparently cleared to ease back into work. His role appears to have shifted however from deputy chief of staff to other assignments, officials said. Danvers declined to comment.

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State RUMINT: Malinowski for State DRL, Sewall for CT or PM

Updated: Two more Clinton administration alums may be tapped for senior State Department posts.

The Obama administration may name Human Rights Watch's Tom Malinowski to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), sources tell the Back Channel. Harvard's Sarah Sewall is also rumored to be up for a top State Department job, with some sources saying the White House has picked her for Counterterrorism Coordinator, others hearing Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

Sewall, a lecturer at  the Harvard Kennedy School and expert in the field of protecting civilians in wartime, did not respond to queries from the Back Channel. The State Department and White House declined to comment on whether the appointment was in the works.

The Back Channel previously heard that the bureau's Deputy Coordinator Anne Witkowsky was also under consideration for the Counterterrorism Coordinator post, which was formerly held by Daniel Benjamin, who left in January to head Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding.

Sewall, a member of the Obama/Biden transition team, previously served in the Clinton administration as the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and as the foreign policy advisor to then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, is expected to be nominated to succeed Michael Posner as Assistant Secretary of State for DRL. He did not respond to a query from the Back Channel Friday.

Malinowski previously served as a foreign policy speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, and as a member of the State Department policy planning staff. Continue reading

Obama calls Bibi

President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Friday, a day after the Israeli leader called for a “clear red line” to be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

“The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” a White House readout of the call said.  “The Prime Minister welcomed President Obama’s commitment before the United Nations General Assembly to do what we must to achieve that goal.”

Full White House read-out of the call: Continue reading

President Obama condemns the killing of US diplomats in Libya


President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed heartbreak and outrage over the killing of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other US diplomatic personnel in a mob attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya Tuesday.

Stevens was the first US ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.

The violent protests in Benghazi and Cairo were reportedly spurred by the 15-minute trailer of an anti-Islam film posted to YouTube that was produced by someone claiming to be an Israeli real estate developer based in California, who called Islam “a cancer.” But it’s not clear the filmmaker is who he says.

“I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,” President Obama said in a statement early Wednesday.

“Make no mistake: Justice will be done,” Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony flanked by Clinton Wednesday.

After the ceremony, Obama was to join Clinton for a closed-press visit to the State Department to console State Department colleagues of those killed. In addition to Stevens, they included Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, a husband and father of two who had previously served in Iraq, South Africa, Canada and the Hague.

Stevens was a deeply admired US diplomat who had spearheaded US efforts to support Libya’s democratic transition after the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, the Arabic-speaking Stevens, a native of California, had worked as a trade lawyer before joining the Foreign Service in 1991. Among his foreign service postings were Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the Iran desk, before he was confirmed as US ambassador to post-Gadhafi Libya earlier this year. (See the welcome video Stevens made to introduce himself to Libyans).

“Like Chris, Sean was one of our best,” Clinton said in a statement.

Two other US personnel killed in Libya were not yet being identified publicly pending notification of their next of kin, Clinton said.

Stevens died of smoke inhalation from a fire set by RPG attacks on the consulate. He had gone to Benghazi to assist the evacuation of US consular staff under attack, reports said.

Meantime, the man who claimed to have written, produced and directed the $5 million film that reportedly sparked the protests said he blamed lax security at the US government facilities and the protesters for the deaths of the US diplomats.

“I feel the security system (at the embassies) is no good,” the man who identified himself as “Sam Bacile” told the Associated Press in an interview from an undisclosed location Wednesday. “America should do something to change it.”

“Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world,” the AP report said.

But it’s not clear that Bacile is who he claims. Israeli officials said they would not confirm or deny that he is an Israeli citizen, under that or other names.

And there were some hints that Bacile may be a pseudonym, possibly for someone affiliated with the Egyptian Coptic diaspora. Continue reading

No Bibi-Obama meeting in New York; White House says scheduling, not snub

The White House has cited a scheduling conflict for declining an Israeli request for a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Obama when both leaders travel to New York later this month.

The two leaders are “simply not in the city at the same time,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told journalists Tuesday.

“The President arrives in New York for the UN on Monday, September 24th and departs on Tuesday, September 25th,” Vietor explained. “The Prime Minister doesn’t arrive in New York until later in the week.”

“But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, during his visit,” Vietor added.

An Israeli official told Israeli daily Haaretz, which first reported that there would be no Obama-Netanyahu meeting, that Netanyahu’s office had indicated he would be willing to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with Obama, but that request had also been turned down, Barak Ravid reported.

However, the White House said Tuesday that is false.

“Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied,” the NSC’s Vietor said.

The White House does not anticipate that Obama will hold any bilateral meetings with foreign leaders in New York, Vietor told Al-Monitor.

Apparently the US informed several countries in recent days that Obama would not be holding bilaterals with foreign leaders in New York, but Israeli officials were the only ones to go to the press to raise an outcry, a US official told Al-Monitor.

A former Israeli official also cautioned that it’s possible the Israeli side is hyping the matter to portray Obama as chilly towards the Israeli leader during the US presidential election campaign.

However, the White House did not seem to go out of its way to entirely dispel the impression that it has grown weary of having to deal with endless whispering capaigns, tirades, misinformation, and meltdowns from Jerusalem.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu unleashed a harsh denunciation of world leaders for urging Israeli restraint on military action on Iran. His broadside followed remarks by Clinton Sunday that  “we’re not setting deadlines” for Iran diplomacy.

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday.

Last month, at a closed-door meeting with a US lawmaker and US ambassador, Netanyahu unleashed the most “agitated …very sharp” exchange that the lawmaker, House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, said he has ever seen by a foreign leader.

Netanyahu is currently scheduled to arrive in the US on Sept. 27th and to address the UN General Assembly Sept. 28th.

(Photo: Reuters)