Friday links: Abbas not seeking right of return, US Syria plan faces resistance

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Obama, Romney face off at foreign policy debate

The last debate of the 2012 US presidential campaign, on foreign policy, gets underway in a few minutes in Boca Raton, Florida, and Middle East issues–Iran, Libya, Syria, Israel–look set to predominate.

I’ll be joining the folks at NPR affiliate KCRW and friends for a live-blog of the debate, which you can follow here. What questions do you hope get asked? Continue reading

Hillary Clinton: ‘I take responsibility’ for Benghazi security lapse

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN Monday that she accepts responsibility for the security lapse that led to the death of four State Department personnel in Libya last month.

“I take responsibility” for what happened in Benghazi, Clinton told CNN‘s Elise Labott. “I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha.”

Clinton spoke from Lima, Peru Monday, as Republicans have accused the Obama administrating of giving conflicting accounts of what it knew in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack on the US Benghazi outpost.

Clinton has widely signaled her plans to step down from the job of Secretary of State at the end of Obama’s first term, even if he is reelected. In her role as Obama’s top envoy, she has become the most popular figure by far in the Obama cabinet, one who is widely eyed as a prospective Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone reports Tuesday that Clinton made a similar statement of responsibility in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday (Oct. 10), but the paper did not publish it:

On Monday night, the Journal’s Monica Langley reported that Clinton made a similar comment to her in a recent interview. That comment had not previously been published.

“I take responsibility,” Clinton told the Journal. “I’m the Secretary of State with 60,000-plus employees around the world. This is like a big family … It’s painful, absolutely painful.”

Clinton sat for an interview with the Journal last Wednesday and there was no embargo preventing the paper from publishing any part of it, a State Department spokesman told The Huffington Post

(Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a speech to the media at the government palace in Lima, October 15, 2012. Clinton is on a two-day official visit to Peru.  REUTERS/Jorge Luis Baca.)

Diplomats mull refreshing Iran nuclear proposal ahead of new talks

Washington and five world powers are considering offering Iran a refreshed proposal that could include limited sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, Iran analysts and western diplomats briefed on the consultations said this week.

Diplomats rom the P5+1 are expected to hold a new round of talks with Iran next month, following informal contacts this month between European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, her deputy Helga Schmid, and their Iranian counterparts, the sources said.

Western policymakers “recognize they need to include some sanctions relief,” in the reformulated proposal, Trita Parsi, an Iran analyst with the National Iranian American Council, told Al Monitor Thursday. “But there’s a problem with sequencing, and questions about how to stop, freeze, shut, ship out.”

Given many US sanctions on Iran are legislated by Congress, and not solely under the discretion of the executive branch to lift, Washington will be looking to the Europeans for options for limited sanctions relief, Parsi said.

“We recognize that the Iranians need something more with which they can sell a deal at home, and we will expect real change on the other side,” the Guardian’s Julian Borger cited a European official in a report published Thursday. “It is about getting the sequencing right.”

Western diplomats see a few month “window”–from the US presidential elections Nov. 6 until some time in the spring–in which to try to negotiate a deal, Al Monitor‘s Barbara Slavin reported this week. Western diplomats and analysts suggest the timeline may be constrained, both because of wide anticipation of renewed pressure from Israel for military action early in the new year, as well as Iran’s leadership preparing for Iran presidential elections in June.

“The American administration is essentially looking at a window of immediately after the US presidential elections until March of next year, when the Iranians have their new year and after that, presidential elections,” Parsi said. “Before then, something positive needs to happen.” Continue reading

DNC adds Jerusalem to platform


Update: The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday added an amendment to its 2012 platform saying Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The language, almost identical to that in the DNC 2008 platform, was added after its omission came under criticism from some Republican groups.

“President Obama personally intervened to strengthen the language,” a Democratic aide involved in the process told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

Obama campaign officials saw the issue as an unnecessary distraction, a source said, adding:. “They were and continue to be comfortable with the original language [in the DNC 2012 platform] that they feel is stridently pro-Israel.”

“The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Wednesday.

The new amendment, passed in a confusing voice vote at the DNC convention in Charlotte, North Carolina Wednesday,, states: “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

The pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), praised the decision.

Continue reading

Obama campaign aides portray Romney foreign tour as lightweight

Obama campaign advisors set out Monday to cast GOP challenger Mitt Romney’s upcoming foreign tour as a series of offshore fundraisers that lack much in the way of substance.

“We in the United States, Britain and NATO have agreed to a plan to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014,” Michele Flournoy, the Obama campaign’s top foreign policy advisor and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, told journalists on a call arranged  by the Obama for America campaign Monday.  “The transition process is already underway.”

“Gov. Romney has articulated opposition to that timeline,” Flournoy continued. “So  he fundamentally disagrees with our British friends.”

Romney plans to depart this week for the UK, where he will attend the London Olympics, and meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Then he will travel to Israel and Poland, his campaign said. “He is really abroad to learn and to listen,” Romney policy director Lahnee Chen told reporters on a conference call, the AFP reported.

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior advisor, portrayed the Romney itinerary as lightweight compared to candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 world tour in which he traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, as well as Germany, France and the UK. Obama “made it a priority to visit and talk with our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait,” Gibbs said. “It was important during the trip to meet servicemen and women, as well as consult commanders in the region to get a sense of the situation on the ground.”

On Iran, which is expected to be a major focus of Romney’s discussions with Israeli leaders, “all we have gotten from Romney is tough talk,” said Colin Kahl, who served as Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, on the campaign call. Continue reading

GOP-linked Emergency Committee ad: It’s time to act on Iran

BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller reports:

The Emergency Committee for Israel, the hawkishly pro-Israel conservative group, has released a new ad targeting the Obama administration’s Iran policies, calling for immediate action to put an end to the country’s nuclear program.

 

The “significant” ad buy will air in New York and Washington DC beginning today, on Sunday political shows, and during weekend sporting events, with additional markets to follow next week, according to the group. Continue reading