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

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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

More RUMINT: NSS, NEA, CT

No final decision has been made, one official cautioned. But the Obama National Security Staff’s Prem Kumar, the NSS director for Israel and Palestinian affairs who has served as acting Senior Director for the Middle East North Africa since the departure of Steve Simon, may be promoted to keep the job, officials tell the Back Channel.
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Simon has moved to become the head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US. Kumar didn’t immediately respond to a query.

Kumar seems to be something of the internal favorite, with several colleagues saying they hope he's chosen to move up. The administration had been mulling a few candidates for the post, however, and may be looking for someone more senior, one source suggested. It's not clear if that thinking has shifted, with the  decision to bring over Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon to take over the former Dennis Ross NSS Central Region portfolio, with Senior Directors for MENA, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia (minus India) reporting to him.

US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is in the running to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs, sources said. The well regarded career diplomat previously served as US Ambassador to Pakistan. “Anne is very good,” a former diplomatic colleague said, adding the administration is “leaving no stone unturned” in candidates having been reached out to about the post. Others previously rumored in the mix include US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and NSS Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar, but Patterson may have the edge.

Sources suggested that the State Counter-Terrorism coordinator may be hired from within. Among the possibilities, Eric Rosand or Michael Jacobson, two senior advisors in the office, experts in the field suggested. The post was previously headed by Dan Benjamin, who has moved on to Dartmouth. Continue reading

US diplomats: "Plainly wrong" to conclude US must remove MEK from terror list

American diplomats firmly pushed back Friday on reports suggesting that the U.S. must remove a controversial Iranian anti-regime group, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), from a U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.

“MEK leaders appear to believe that the Secretary has no choice now but to delist them,” the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin said in a call with reporters Friday. “That conclusion is quite plainly wrong.”

“In short, the court did not order the Secretary of State to revoke the MEK designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Benjamin continued. “The court has told the State Department that it must act by October 1, but it did not mandate a particular result. I think that’s very important to underscore. The Secretary thus retains the discretion to either maintain or revoke the designation in accordance with the law.

The State Department call was prompted by an impasse in efforts by the United States and United Nations to persuade members of the cultish group to leave their former paramilitary base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf.

To date, about 2,000 MEK members have been persuaded to leave Ashraf for the former U.S. Camp Liberty military base in Iraq, where they can be interviewed for possible relocation to third countries. But the last relocation convoy occurred in early May, and some 1,200-1,300 MEK members remain in Ashraf, and are apparently issuing new demands, emboldened by the perception the group's terror designation may soon be revoked.

American officials have sought to encourage the relocation from Ashraf by indicating that cooperation in doing so will be a key factor in determining whether the group remains on the U.S. terror list. But a US court decision last month has interfered with that message.

In June, the US court of appeals ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a determination by October whether the MEK should be taken off the US terror list or its terror designation should be reissued.

Meantime, the Iraqi government is threatening to forcibly close the camp, and the United States is concerned about possible violence and a potential humanitarian disaster should relocation efforts continue to stall.

Despite the group's terrorist designation, several prominent former senior American officials have taken large speaking fees to lobby for delisting the MEK. Among them, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, former DHS chief Tom Ridge, former UN ambassador and top Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser John Bolton, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson, and former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani. The Treasury Department issued subpoenas this past spring to determine who is paying for the massive lobbying effort on behalf of a designated terrorist group, and whether US criminal laws have been violated.

But American diplomats said Friday such lobbying will not impact the Secretary's decision on the MEK's designation.  Continue reading