Veteran Middle East scholar David Makovsky has joined the team of US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk as a strategist and senior advisor.
Makovsky formally joined Indyk’s team and started working at Foggy Bottom today, a State Department official told Al-Monitor Monday.
“Drawing upon decades of experience working and writing on Israeli-Palestinian issues, Makovsky will serve as a strategist for the U.S. efforts and will be dealing with the wide range of issues associated with the negotiations,” the State Department official said in a statement. “We believe this expertise will greatly contribute to the ongoing efforts to achieve peace.”
Indyk has been expanding his team as the U.S. prepares to step up its role in trying to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian final status peace agreement. Israeli media reported Monday that US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel again to Israel late next week.
Makovsky, a former journalist, has most recently served as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directed the project on the Middle East peace process. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
Update: “While we are saddened to lose David, we are proud that he will play this critical role in U.S. policymaking,” Robert Satloff, executive director at the Washington Institute, said in a press statement later Monday. “We are confident that David will enrich the U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts to promote Middle East peace with the same creativity and wisdom that have made him a pivotal member of the Institute research team and a trusted resource to decisionmakers in Washington and throughout the region.”
(Photo: David Makovsky will serve as a senior adviwor to US Middle Peace envoy Martin Indyk. By Jennifer Logan.)
US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk is expanding his team as the U.S. prepares to intensify its role facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“We've agreed that those talks should now be intensified and American involvement should be increased to facilitate these discussions,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. (Sept. 30). “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”
To that end, he has grown his office's ranks.
Julie Sawyer, a career civil service officer who most recently served as Persian Gulf director on the National Security Staff, has joined Indyk’s team as his traveling senior aide. Sawyer previously served as a Middle East advisor to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
Sawyer joins a team that already includes deputy envoy and longtime Kerry confidante Frank Lowenstein. Ilan Goldenberg, a former Middle East advisor at the Pentagon and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, has joined the office as chief of staff.
USAID deputy assistant Middle East administrator Hady Amr has joined the envoy’s team as an economics advisor.
Michael Yaffe, a career foreign service officer specializing in Middle East and arms control issues, has joined the envoy’s office to do international outreach with organizations such as the Arab League and the Quartet. Yaffe came to the envoy's office—next to the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau—after serving as a professor and dean at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia center for strategic studies.
The Pentagon has seconded an official to work with the team on security issues. David Wallsh, a Fletcher PhD candidate in Middle East and international security studies, joined Indyk's team last week to work on security issues related to the peace process. In addition, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jon Allen, the former Afghanistan and Centcom commander, has been leading a security dialogue with the Israel Defense Forces to help address Israel’s security requirements, Indyk told the J Street conference.
Indyk’s shop is expected to bring on someone to do outreach to the press, think tanks and the Hill, but sources would not yet disclose who that will be.
The growing ranks signal the seriousness of the negotiations effort, and the commitment to it by Secretary Kerry and President Obama, officials say.
“All core issues are on the table,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at Bar Ilan University, said negotiations were stuck over the Palestinian refusal to date to recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people and to thereby give up the right of return, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly made reassuring comments in a meeting Monday with some members of the Israeli Knesset.
Relatively little has leaked from the talks to date, which have been conducted with little fanfare or publicity in the region since Kerry formally relaunched talks in Washington in July and named Indyk as envoy.
(Photo of US envoy Martin Indyk addressing the J Street Gala September 30, 2013, by J Street.)
The top US Iran negotiator told a Senate panel Thursday that “the onus is on Iran” to bring a credible and verifiable action plan to the table at nuclear talks in Geneva next month for the US to determine if the new Iranian leadership is serious about a nuclear deal. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also urged Congress to hold off on new Iran sanctions until she and her counterparts hear from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the P5+1 talks in Geneva October 15-16th.
“We will know in the next short period of time whether there is anything serious here or not,” Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.
“The onus is on Iran,” to bring a substantive plan to the Geneva talks, Sherman stressed. “We will not put ideas on the table until we hear from Iran.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif, in a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and other P5+1 foreign ministers in New York last week, said Iran would complete a comprehensive nuclear agreement within a year, Sherman told the committee. But a shorter term confidence building measure is desirable, Sherman said, to put time on the clock and reduce Iran’s nuclear capabilities while that longer negotiation would take place.
Under questioning by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Sherman declined to say whether the U.S. would rule out a final deal with Iran that would permit it to pursue domestic enrichment.
“You know, a negotiation begins with everyone having their maximalist positions,” Sherman said. “We have ours, too, that they have to meet all their obligations under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) NPT and UN Security Council. They have theirs too. Then you begin a negotiation.”
Asked by Rubio if President Obama would ever agree to a final deal in which Iran would have some domestic enrichment capacity, Sherman responded: “I am not going to negotiate in public, with all due respect,” she said. “I can only repeat what the President of the United States has said.”
The committee chair, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) said Iran’s actions would be critical for determining whether Congress would support future sanctions relief.
“What is important now is what Iran does, not what it says, [we don't] need more words,” Menendez said. “I would like to see compliance and the suspension of uranium enrichment…I am also serious about relief from sanctions if Iran meets its UN Security Council responsibilities.”
(Photo: FILE U. S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva. Reuters.)
New York __ US Secretary of State John Kerry shook hands and met alone with Iran’s new top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif for thirty minutes Thursday, in the highest level direct talks between the two countries in decades.
“We had a constructive meeting, and I think all of us were pleased that Foreign Minister Zarif came and made a presentation to us, which was very different in tone and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to possibilities of the future,” Kerry told journalists after the meeting.
“Now it’s up to people to do the hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities could do,” Kerry said.
The historic meeting between the top American and Iranian diplomats, with not even note takers present, took place in a room off to the side of a meeting of foreign ministers from the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, hosted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. When Zarif arrived, Ashton’s deputy Helga Schmidt gave up her seat to him, placing Zarif between Ashton and Kerry. After Zarif made a twenty minute presentation to the group, Kerry leaned over to Zarif and suggested that they might meet privately, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
“We had more than a chat,” Zarif said after the meeting Thursday. “Now we have to match our words with action.”
He said the parties had agreed to try to reach a negotiated settlement on Iran’s nuclear program within a year. “We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agree, first, on the parameters of the end game, how we want to proceed [regarding] Iran’s nuclear program, in a year’s time, and also to think about steps, starting with a first step, that should be implemented in order to address the immediate concerns of two sides, and move towards finalizing it hopefully within a year’s time,” Zarif said.
“I’m optimistic,” Zarif said, speaking at the end of an event featuring Iranian President Hassan Rouhani convened by the Council on Foreign Relations and Asia Society Thursday. “This was a good beginning. I sense that Secretary Kerry and President Obama want to resolve this.”
Zarif “made a thoughtful presentation, he laid out what Iran’s interests were, … and expressed a desire to come to an agreement and have it fully implemented in a year’s time,” the senior State Department official said Thursday, stressing again that Zarif proposed both reaching and implementing a nuclear deal within a year.
“He laid out some thoughts that he had, what a process may look like, what elements might be in a first step,” the US official said. “Certainly some important things have happened here today.”
Ashton and Zarif along with political directors from the P5+1 will next meet October 15-16 in Geneva. The new Iranian leaders quickly agreed to a date and venue for the nuclear talks, whereas the former team would spend weeks negotiating over such logistical details, the State Department official said.
“Like the Minister [Zarif], I am very ambitious for what we can do,” Ashton said after the meeting. “But we all know that we have to be very practical in translating political ambition into…effective work on the ground.”
A proposed confidence-building measure presented by the six parties to Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan last February “remains on the table,” Ashton continued. “Either the Iranian government can decide to respond directly to that, or it can put forward its own proposals.” She proposed that Iran shares its ideas before the next meeting in Geneva.
“If the Iranians agreed to establish a US-Iran channel on the margins of the P5+1, it’s a good sign,” former top Obama nonproliferation advisor Gary Samore, president of United Against a Nuclear Iran [UANI], told Al-Monitor Thursday.
–Barbara Slavin contributed reporting.
(Photo: European Union. Second photo: Jason DeCrow/AP.)
President Obama this week nominated top White House Iran advisor Puneet Talwar to be Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, as the Back Channel reported in July was expected.
The promotion for Talwar, who has served since 2009 as the National Security Council Senior Director for Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf affairs, would mark the latest departure of a key member of the U.S. Iran negotiating team as the U.S. prepares to resume P5+1 nuclear talks with the new Iranian Hassan Rouhani administration in the coming weeks, after a five month hiatus.
Rob Malley, a former Clinton administration NSC Middle East advisor, is expected to join the NSC, succeeding Talwar after his confirmation, as the Back Channel previously reported was under consideration. The White House declined to comment. Malley didn’t respond to a query.
But several sources suggested that Malley may not play the same role on Iran issues as Talwar, and that National Security Advisor Susan Rice would like to bring Malley to the White House to help rethink how the National Security Staff Middle East work is organized. Malley has already been informally advising the State Department on Syria from the outside, officials tell the Back Channel.
Also expected to join the NSC as a director on Gulf affairs is Elisa Catalano, Rice’s former Iran/Gulf advisor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, and a former special assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
Sources said they were still uncertain who from the White House might be part of the U.S. delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran, led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Talwar has accompanied Sherman as the +1 to most of the political directors meetings with the Europeans and P5+1 for the past few years. Former White House WMD coordinator Gary Samore, who left the administration early this year for Harvard, was also a key member of the U.S. delegation to both the P5+1 political and technical talks with Iran, along with former State Department Iran arms control envoy Robert Einhorn, who left the administration this summer for Brookings. Sherman has selected longtime State Department nonproliferation advisor Jim Timbie to be her top Iran arms control deputy, succeeding Einhorn, officials said.
Beyond their formal functions, Talwar, Samore and Einhorn have served as key points of contact for informal consultations among the foreign diplomatic, arms control and Iran expert communities seeking to confer with the administration.
American officials are preparing with their P5+1 counterparts to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month to agree on arrangements for resuming nuclear talks with Iran. Western officials are still waiting to see what kind of response to the P5+1’s offer new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may bring to the table, when nuclear talks finally resume.
Iranian sources suggested this week that Iran might be willing to limit the number of its centrifuges, but not the quality of them; cap enrichment at 5%; accept a more intrusive IAEA inspection and safeguards regime; and sign the Additional Protocol, in return for significant sanctions relief, recognition of its legal right to enrich to 5%, and additional, unspecified incentives put forward by three European powers in a past proposal.
(Photo: President Barack Obama is briefed by Puneet Talwar, Senior Director for Iraq, Iran and the Gulf States, in the Oval Office, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
New Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is expected to meet with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in New York on September 23, US and Iranian diplomats told Al-Monitor.
Western officials hope the two lead negotiators will be able to agree at the meeting on a new date and venue for resumed P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program.
Meantime, the foreign ministers from the P5+1—the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia—are due to meet on Iran in New York, possibly on September 26th, a western official, speaking not attribution, said Thursday. (The State Department said it did not yet have a confirmed date for that meeting.) Iran is not currently expected to attend the meeting, but one source left open the possibility that could potentially change, depending on what Zarif and Ashton decide.
While Zarif is also expected to separately meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, no meeting with the U.S. has been planned, he told Iran’s Press TV in an interview Wednesday.
It’s possible that an impromptu “hallway” meeting could occur between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif, but one is not planned, a western source suggested.
The White House has not confirmed but neither denied numerous Iranian reports that President Obama sent new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a letter last month following his inauguration. A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council told the Back Channel that they don’t discuss private correspondence. But current and former US officials indicated to the Back Channel they believe such a letter was sent, via Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, who traveled to Iran late last month. Obama is reported to have sent two earlier letters to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in 2009 and earlier this year.
In a potentially dramatic turn of events, Russia on Monday announced that it would immediately urge Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control as a way to avert U.S.–led military strikes.
“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at an emergency press conference in Moscow Monday, following meetings with Syria’s visiting foreign minister Walid al-Moallem.
Lavrov said he had “already handed over the proposal to al-Moallem and expects a quick, and, hopefully, positive answer,’” the Associated Press reported.
“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” Lavrov said.
Moallem, speaking from Moscow on Syrian State TV shortly later Monday, said Syria welcomed the Russian initiative. But it was not immediately clear from his reported comments whether “welcoming” the proposal constituted acceptance of it.
“The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression,” Moallem was quoted as saying by ITV News.
The surprise turn in developments followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telling reporters in London Monday that Syria could avert strikes only if it agreed to turn over all of its chemical weapons by next week.
“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” Kerry said at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague Monday. “Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.”
“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” Kerry added.
Kerry's remark–subsequently downplayed by State Department spokespeople as merely “rhetorical” and “hypothetical,” and characterized by another unnamed U.S. official to CNN as a “goof”–was followed by a telephone conversation between Kerry and Russia’s Lavrov Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The Russian proposal emerged just as the White House is ramping up its public outreach as it presses Congress to vote to authorize the President to conduct limited military strikes to deter chemical weapons use in Syria.
President Obama is scheduled to give a half dozen television news interviews on Monday, and to give a prime time address to the nation Tuesday night at 9pm ET.
U.S. officials reacted to the news out of Moscow with skepticism Monday, suggesting it may be a stalling tactic, but promising to give the Russian proposal a “hard” look.
“Any effort to put Assad's chemical weapons under international control would be a positive step,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said at the department press briefing Monday. But we have “serious, deep skepticism.”
It's “even more important” that the United States doesn't take the pressure off Syria now, White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the White House press briefing Monday. The Russian initiative is “explicitly in reaction to [the] threat of retaliation” by the United States.
Notably, amid the official expressions of skepticism, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the White House Monday after a meeting with President Obama, reiterated the conditions under which such a deal might be feasible.
“Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step,” Clinton said. “But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely, or be held to account.”
Initial reaction from the Hill ranged from cautious to skeptical—but did not entirely shut off openness to see if the Russian proposal pans out.
“While at this point I have healthy skepticism that this offer will change the situation and it will be several days before we can fully determine its credibility, I do know that it never would have been floated if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had not approved the authorization for the use of force last week,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said in a statement Monday.
“We shouldn’t get our hopes up too high,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
Iran's new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year's holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.
The State Department said Thursday that it had seen the reports on the nuclear file transfer to the foreign ministry, and reiterated its hope for swift, substantive engagement leading to a diplomatic resolution with Iran over its nuclear program. Nuclear negotiations are expected to be discussed in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month, that both Zarif and Rouhani will attend. Zarif is expected to hold meetings there with chief international nuclear negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, British Foreign Minister William Hague, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian media reported Thursday.
The stunning exchange of direct Twitter diplomacy from Tehran that began Wednesday with Rouhani wishing Jews everywhere a blessed Rosh Hashanah has set off amazement in the social media universe. It has also revealed a deep vein of wariness and mistrust, that remain a legacy of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and threats to Israel, and the avowed hostility between Israel and Iran.
The outreach from Rouhani and Zarif, particularly to the Jewish people, signals the “most significant public diplomacy outreach since the revolution,” journalist Robin Wright said Thursday on Twitter. “It signals intent for a serious [diplomatic[ effort, even if issues [are] no easier.”
Zarif's Rosh Hashana greetings–only his second tweet since opening an account (@JZarif) earlier this week that has still not been officially verified–soon led to a stunning Twitter exchange with Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi), the daughter of ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial.
@sfpelosi Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.
Veteran US diplomat David Satterfield will serve as temporary charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt following the departure of ambassador Anne Patterson to Washington in a couple days, US officials tell the Back Channel.
Satterfield, head of the Multinational Force & Observers mission in Egypt, has previously served as deputy chief of mission in Iraq, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, at the NSC, and was confirmed as ambassador to Jordan.
He will be temporarily in charge of the US embassy in Cairo until the nomination and confirmation of Syria envoy Robert Ford, diplomats said.
President Obama last month nominated Patterson to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs.
Who will oversee US Syria diplomacy, if Robert Ford, as we first reported, is tapped to succeed Anne Patterson as US Ambassador to Cairo?
US officials told us, as far as they know, the decision on that has not yet been finalized. Ford, in any case, “will do Syria for a few more months,” as he prepares to go to Egypt, one official, speaking not for attribution, said Tuesday.
“I think serious thought should be given to moving the position out of the Department and to the field, along with 'team Syria' currently cloistered in NEA”–the State Department Near East Affairs bureau, one former senior U.S. official told us. “A difference can be made in Turkey and Jordan with the opposition and in interacting with partners. Hard to do anything useful in Washington from inside the NEA bureaucracy.”
Syria needs a US government point of contact, who can “manage the whole inter-agency Syria process,” another current official said. That, in addition to “a seasoned diplomat who speaks Arabic and knows the region and could engage the Syrians.”
Meantime, US officials told the Back Channel that former Clinton White House Middle East advisor Rob Malley has been offered the job of National Security Staff Senior Director for Persian Gulf Affairs, but as yet has not agreed to take it. (The Back Channel previously reported that the current NSS Senior Director for Iran/Iraq and the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar may be nominated to become Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.)
One possibility is that Malley may instead become a senior advisor on Syria to Secretary of State John Kerry, working out of the front office, a US diplomatic source told the Back Channel. Malley did not respond to numerous queries. He is said to be very close with Frank Lowenstein, Kerry’s deputy Middle East envoy.
Meantime, the Back Channel has learned of several other diplomatic appointments in the works:
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (NEA) Elizabeth Jones may move to become the deputy to US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) James Dobbins, after her successor Patterson is in place, officials, speaking not for attribution, said. Secretary of State John Kerry last week named deputy SRAP James Warlick, a former US ambassador to Bulgaria, the next US envoy to the OSCE Minsk Group.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for NEA Elizabeth Dibble will become Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in London, US officials tell us. (She didn’t respond to a query.)
US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein is expected to become the next PDAS in the NEA bureau, officials said. Feierstein, who met with Yemen’s president in Sanaa on Tuesday, the State Department said, is expected to serve a few more months there before returning to Washington.
US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin is expected to be nominated Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, succeeding Robert Hormats, officials tell the Back Channel. “It’s a done deal,” one official said Tuesday, adding the nomination is expected to be announced the first week of September.