Roundup: Hale for Lebanon, Palestinian PM reconsiders resigning; US trained Syria rebels

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  • President Obama on Friday nominated Middle East peace envoy David Hale US Ambassador to Lebanon, as previously reported was in the works.
  • POTUS nominated Mike Hammer, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and former NSC spokesman, to be US ambassador to Chile. Hammer has served the last two years as the spokesman for the US delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran.
  • Who might be in Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet?
  • The text (.pdf) of Hassan Rouhani’s 2005 speech, “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA concerning the Nuclear Dashboard.”
  • Rouhani reportedly changed his family name from Feridoun to evade the Shah’s secret police (Rouhani means “cleric.”)
  • Little is known about Rouhani’s wife, but her name apparently has been discovered: Sahebe Arabi.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informs the Washington Post, in an interview, that Rouhani wrote a book.
  • Israel tries to game Rouhani: Ben Caspit.
  • Shlomi Eldar on Israel’s nuclear option for peace.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah reportedly reconsiders his resignation.
  • Palestinian leaders’ dilemma.
  • Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird reverses himself on “meaningless” Iran elections, offers congratulations.
  • US CIA and military operatives have been secretly training Syrian rebels how to use anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons since last November.

(Photo: Hassan Rouhani campaigns on his plane in northwest Iran on June 10, 2013. AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Clinton Middle East advisor may join State team

Rob Malley, a former Middle East advisor to President Bill Clinton, may join the State Department Middle East team, diplomatic sources tell the Back Channel.

Malley, currently the Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, may come on with the title of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, sources said. It’s not clear or decided yet, however, if his portfolio would focus on the peace process (Israel Palestinian Affairs) or possibly Syria, sources said. (Current DAS for Israel Palestinian Affairs David Hale, the acting Middle East peace special envoy, is expected to be nominated US envoy to Lebanon, The Back Channel previously reported, while US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has been technically filling a DAS slot since the US embassy in Damascus closed in 2011, would like to step down this summer.)

Malley did not immediately respond to a query from the Back Channel Thursday. A former Clinton NSC official and aide to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Malley served as an informal Middle East advisor to the Obama campaign in 2008. He is also a frequent contributor of highly thoughtful analysis at The New York Review of Books. (See This is Not a Revolution, on the Arab awakening; and How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East, from 2009, both co-written with Hussein Agha.)

Earlier this month, Malley told National Public Radio’s Terry Gross the Syria conflict was becoming a regional, sectarian war that was seeping into Lebanon and Iraq.

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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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Top US Syria envoy expected to step down


The top US diplomat on Syria Robert Ford plans to step down this summer, several US officials tell the Back Channel.

Ford, who was confirmed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2011 after serving there since 2010 under a recess appointment, saw his job transformed by the unrest that has long since escalated into a full scale civil war. Earlier this month Ford traveled into Syria from Turkey with a convoy of US food aid, to meet with Syrian rebel commanders and urge them to support transition talks planned to be held in Geneva next month.

Ford was again in Turkey Wednesday trying, along with his French, Arab and Turkish diplomatic colleagues, to push Syria’s opposition to agree to expand and diversify its leadership ranks.

He is said by multiple officials to be exhausted, including from his efforts trying to unify the fractious Syrian opposition. The Back Channel was unable to reach Ford Wednesday.

Ford is expected to stay on for the Syria peace conference in Geneva next month, and possibly step aside in July. (One source thought Ford might next take a job at the State Department Inspector General office, but that couldn’t be confirmed.) It is still unclear who will succeed him in the Syria job, or if the role might be revamped to create a special US envoy to the Syrian opposition, State Department sources said.

(The Back Channel previously reported that US Middle East peace envoy David Hale will be nominated to be the next US Ambassador to Lebanon. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East senior advisor Frank Lowenstein is expected to succeed Hale working the Middle East peace portfolio that Kerry has personally spearheaded. US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson will be nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs.)

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones will travel to Geneva next week to meet Russian counterparts to prepare for the Geneva 2 conference, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki announced Wednesday.

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Middle East envoy Hale expected to be named Lebanon ambassador

US Middle East peace envoy David Hale is expected to be nominated to be the next US ambassador to Lebanon, two sources tell the Back Channel.

Hale, a former US Ambassador to Jordan and career foreign service officer, has served as the US special envoy on Middle East peace since the departure in 2011 of George Mitchell, for whom he served as deputy. Hale would succeed Maura Connelly, who has served in Beirut since 2010, and who is expected to spend a year as a fellow at a Washington think tank, sources speaking not for attribution told the Back Channel. We were unable to reach Hale Tuesday.

The Back Channel reported in February that longtime John Kerry foreign policy advisor and former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chief of staff Frank Lowenstein had moved into Hale’s office and was working as a senior Middle East advisor to the new Secretary of State.

The Hale nomination is one of several Near East bureau appointments expected to be announced as soon as this week, or more likely next week.

The Back Channel previously reported that US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson will be nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Patterson returned to the United States late last week for two weeks of meetings and a few days of R&R, sources said. Patterson did not respond to a previous request for comment.

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Appointments: Frank Lowenstein advising Kerry on Middle East; economist may move up

More John Kerry aides have arrived at the State Department, officials tell the Back Channel.

Frank Lowenstein, former Senate Foreign Relations committee chief of staff and foreign policy advisor to Senator Kerry, has joined the Kerry State Department as a senior advisor, currently focusing on Middle East issues, officials tell the Back Channel. Lowenstein is currently working in the office of David Hale, the acting Middle East peace envoy, and may be being groomed to succeed him, the official said. Lowenstein joins State after a year at the Podesta Group.

Lowenstein joins the fray amid a flurry of preparations for Kerry's and President Obama's upcoming trips to the region. Kerry leaves Sunday for his first foreign trip as Secretary of State, heading to the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. President Obama travels to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan next month.

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is in town this week helping prepare for President Obama’s trip, he said on Twitter Wednesday. Also in town to help prepare for Obama's trip, Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror, an Israeli official told the Back Channel, as well as Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat, the State Department said.  (Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni his envoy on Palestinian peace talks.) Continue reading