UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond Reopens British Embassy @UKinIran in Tehran

Posted: 1:46 pm EDT
Updated: 2:31 pm EDT

 

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Speaking at the re-opening ceremony of the British Embassy in Iran, the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, has said:

I am delighted to be here today. I am the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Tehran since Jack Straw in 2003, and only the third British Minister to visit since 1979. It’s a huge pleasure and privilege to be here.
[…]
This Embassy, and this beautiful compound, is a special place. Britain acquired in it 1869 for 20,000 tomans, then £8,000. A huge sum, in those days, but it has repaid us many times.

It has witnessed great moments in the history of both Iran and Britain. The Bast of 1906 that led to Iran acquiring its first Constitution and National Assembly, for example. And the Tehran Conference of 1943, when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin dined here and planned a second military front in Europe.

The attack in 2011 which forced our Embassy to close was a low point. But since the election of President Rouhani, we have seen our relationship steadily improve, step by step. In 2014, we appointed non-resident Chargés. Last autumn, Prime Minister David Cameron met President Rouhani in New York, the first meeting at that level since 1979 between the leaders of our countries.

Last month’s historic nuclear agreement was another milestone, and showed the power of diplomacy, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, to solve shared challenges.

Re-opening the Embassy is the logical next step. To build confidence and trust between two great nations.

Iran is, and will remain, an important country in a strategically important but volatile region. Maintaining dialogue around the world, even under difficult conditions, is critical. And Embassies are the primary means of achieving this.

Mr. Hammond thanked the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Embassy, represented by their Chargé, Ewa Nilsson, “for their generous and unstinting solidarity over the last four years, initially acting as the UK’s protecting power, and continuing to help us with all manner of ways in areas from consular to finance,” and its Embassy staff, for their “commitment and loyalty over the years.”
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U.S. Embassy Poland: Ambassador Steve Mull Flies in F-16, Reportedly Lands Top #IranDeal Job

Posted: 3:55 pm EDT

 

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The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation

Posted: 12:22  pm EDT

 

We’ve previously blogged about the Iran hostages here (see Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran HostagesJanuary 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years LaterNovember 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day).  The following CRS report dated July 30, 2015  outlines the history of various efforts, including legislative efforts and court cases, and describes one bill currently before Congress, the Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015 (S. 868) on the bid to compensate the hostages.

Excerpted from CRS report via Secrecy News:

Even today, after the passage of more than three decades, the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage Crisis remains an event familiar to most Americans. Many might be unaware that the 52 American mostly military and diplomatic personnel held hostage in Tehran for 444 days or their survivors continue to strive for significant compensation for their ordeal. The former hostages and their families did receive a number of benefits under various civil service laws, and each hostage received from the U.S. government a cash payment of $50 for each day held hostage. The hostages have never received any compensation from Iran through court actions, all efforts having failed due to foreign sovereign immunity and an executive agreement known as the Algiers Accords, which bars such lawsuits. Congress took action to abrogate Iran’s sovereign immunity in the case, but never successfully abrogated the executive agreement, leaving the plaintiffs with jurisdiction to pursue their case but without a judicial cause of action.

Having lost their bids in the courts to obtain recompense, the former hostages have turned to Congress for relief.
[…]
The Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015, S. 868, a bill similar to S. 559 (113th Cong.), was introduced in the Senate at the end of March and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Like its predecessor bill, S. 868 would establish the American Hostages in Iran Compensation Fund in the U.S. Treasury to be funded through a 30% surcharge on penalties, fines, and settlements collected from violators of U.S. sanctions prohibiting economic activity with Iran. The 2015 bill, however, would permit payments from the fund to be administered by the plaintiffs’ representative and principal agent in Roeder I, under the supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. The surcharge would apply to sanctions administered by Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, or the Department of Energy. Surcharges would be required to be paid to the Secretary of the Treasury without regard to whether the fine or penalty is paid directly to the federal agency that imposed it or it is deemed satisfied by a payment to another federal agency.

The purpose of the fund would be to make payments to the former hostages and their family members who are members of the proposed class in Roeder I, as well as to settle their claims against Iran. The proposed class in Roeder I appears to consist of “Representatives, administrators and/or executors of the estates of all diplomatic and military personnel and the civilian support staff who were working at the United States Embassy in Iran during November 1979 and were seized from the United States Embassy grounds, or the Iranian Foreign ministry, and held hostage from 1979 to 1981.”

Accordingly, it is unclear whether all spouses and children of the former hostages qualify for payments from the fund.

Payments would be made in the following amounts and according to this order of priority:

(A) To each living former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per former hostage].

(B) To the estate of each deceased former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1), $10,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$4.44 million per estate of a former hostage].

(C) To each spouse and child of a former hostage identified as a member of the proposed class described in subsection (a)(1) if the spouse or child is identified as a member of that proposed class, $5,000 for each day of captivity of the former hostage [$2.22 million per qualifying spouse or child of a former hostage].

The bill would not appear to provide compensation for former hostages who were released from captivity prior to 1981.

Under the bill, once a class member consents and receives payments from the fund, the recipient would be barred from bringing a lawsuit against Iran related to the hostage crisis. Once all payments are distributed according to the above plan, all such claims against Iran would be deemed waived and released.

Read in ful here: CRS R43210: The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation.

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SFRC: Iran Nuclear Agreement Review, July 23, 10am – With Kerry, Moniz, and Lew

Posted: 4:24  am EDT
Updated: 4:21 pm EDT

 

Date: Thursday, July 23, 2015
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: Senate Dirksen G50
Presiding: Senator Corker

Witnesses

  1. The Honorable John F. Kerry
    Secretary Of State
    U.S. Department of State
    Washington , DC
  2. The Honorable Ernest Moniz
    Secretary
    U.S. Department of Energy
    Washington , DC
  3. The Honorable Jacob Lew
    Secretary
    U.S. Department of the Treasury
    Washington , DC

Prepared statements and video of SFRC hearing should be available here on July 23.

Update: Here is the Secretary of State:

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Iran, World Powers Agree to Historic Deal in Vienna

Posted: 1:31 am  PDT
Updated: 1:29 pm PDT

 

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Via NYT:

VIENNA — Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States have agreed to a historic accord to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions against Iran, a senior Western diplomat involved in the negotiations said on Tuesday.

The deal, which President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency, culminates 20 months of negotiations.

A formal announcement of the agreement was expected later on Tuesday, when foreign ministers from Iran and the six nations it has been negotiating with will meet at a United Nations complex in Vienna. Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the European Union, said a final plenary meeting of the six nations — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — would take place at 10:30 a.m. in Vienna, followed by a news conference, but she provided no further details.

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Updated

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Tweet of the Day: Note to State Department: Don’t be so prickly

Posted: 12:51 am EDT

 

NYT’s David Brooks Asks, “Are we in nursery school?” Acting State Dept Spox Marie Harf Reax. Tsk-tsk!

Posted: 11:41 am PDT

 

So last week, SecState #56 and SecState #60, both Republican-appointed Secretaries of State wrote an op-ed about The Iran Deal and Its Consequences.

The Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf was asked about this during the April 8 Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION:  Henry Kissinger and George Shultz published a piece in the Wall Street Journal today that raised a lot of questions about the deal.  These are diplomatic statesman types.  Do you guys have any reaction to that?  Do you think they were fair?
MS HARF:  Well, the Secretary has spoken to a number of his predecessors that were former secretaries of state since we got this agreement – or since the parameters – excuse me – we got the parameters finalized.  And we’re having conversations with other senior officials.  We are happy to have that conversation about what this agreement is, what it isn’t, the work we still have to do, and how we are very confident that this achieves our objectives.  And that conversation will certainly continue.
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QUESTION:  Okay.  So one of the things they say is that “absent a linkage between nuclear and political restraint, America’s traditional allies will conclude that the U.S. has traded temporary nuclear cooperation for acquiescence to Iranian hegemony” in the region.  Not true?
MS HARF:  I would obviously disagree with that.  I think that an Iran backed up by a nuclear weapon would be more able to project power in the region, and so that’s why we don’t want them to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s what this deal does.
QUESTION:  Back when —
MS HARF:  And I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives.  I heard a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts in that piece, and those are certainly – there’s a place for that, but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.  I know the Secretary values the discussions he has with his predecessors regardless of sort of where they fall on the specifics.
QUESTION:  Well, I guess one of the criticisms is that there aren’t enough big words and big thought – or people argue that there are not enough big words and big thoughts in what the Administration is pursuing, its overall policy, particularly in the Middle East right now, which has been roiled with unrest and uncertainty.  And I think that’s what the point is they’re making.  That you reject, it, I understand that.  One of the —
MS HARF:  Well, in a region already roiled by so much uncertainty and unrest —

On that same day, conservative talk show radio host Hugh Hewitt had NYT’s David Brooks as guest and was asked about the Kissinger-Schultz op-ed, and the State Department’s official response to it. Click here for the transcript: Below is an audio of the exchange.

HH: David Brooks, this is the critique of the critics, is that we don’t have a lot of alternatives. In fact, every critic I’ve heard has alternatives, and I’m sure Kissinger and Schultz do. But a lot of big words? Really?
DB: Are we in nursery school? We’re not, no polysyllabic words? That’s about the lamest rebuttal of a piece by two senior and very well-respected foreign policy people as I’ve heard. Somebody’s got to come up with better talking points, whatever you think. And of course, there are alternatives. It’s not to allow them to get richer, but to force them to get a little poorer so they can fund fewer terrorism armies.

The Daily Caller caught that story and posted this:  Are We In Nursery School?’: David Brooks Slams Marie Harf Over Kissinger, Shultz Op-Ed Criticism.

Ouch!

But that’s not the end of the story.

William M. Todd, apparently a friend of the Harf family reposted the Daily Caller story on his Facebook page with a note that says: “Team Obama bans polysyllabic words !!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.17.57 AM

Here is the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson on Mr. Todd’s FB page.

Marie Harf Bill – I’m not sure how you could think this article accurately portrays me or how I view complicated foreign policy issues, given how long you’ve personally known me and my family. Does your hatred of this administration matter so much to you that it justifies posting a hurtful comment and a mean-spirited story about the daughter of someone you’ve known for years and used to call a friend? There’s a way to disagree with our policies without making it personal. Growing up in Ohio, that’s how I was taught to disagree with people. I hope your behavior isn’t an indication that’s changed.

She also posted a lengthy follow-up response here from the Daily Press Briefing.

William M. Todd responded on FB with the following:

I certainly can understand why your Team would disagree with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz on policy matters. However, what is amazing to me was your condescending and, almost childish criticism of what I considered to be a well-reasoned and thoughtful op-ed on the current Middle East crisis.

So, this is where we are people.

That’s potentially the next official spokesperson of the United States of America to the world.

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Journalists to Diplomats in Iran Nuclear Talks: We are out of clean underwear!

Posted: 12:05 pm EDT

 

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It’s a good thing something is breaking …

 

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Congressional Research Service Reports and Briefs – October 2014

via state.gov

-10/31/14   Border Security: Immigration Inspections at Port of Entry  [502 Kb]
-10/29/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-10/29/14   U.S. and International Health Responses to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa  [633 Kb]
-10/28/14   The Ebola Outbreak: Quarantine and Isolation Authority – Legal Sidebar  [55 Kb]
-10/27/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [340 Kb]
-10/23/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-10/22/14   Political Transition in Tunisia  [437 Kb]
-10/22/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [594 Kb]
-10/21/14   A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Comparison of Current Proposals in Brief  [302 Kb]
-10/21/14   Turkey-U.S. Cooperation Against the “Islamic State”: A Unique Dynamic? – CRS Insights  [170 Kb]
-10/20/14   Palestinian Authority: U.S. Payments to Creditors as Alternative to Direct Budgetary Assistance? – CRS Insights  [58 Kb]
-10/17/14   U.S. Citizens Kidnapped by the Islamic State  [60 Kb]
-10/10/14   Al Qaeda-Affiliated Groups: Middle East and Africa  [1119 Kb]
-10/10/14   Increased Department of Defense Role in U.S. Ebola Response – CRS Insights  [48 Kb]
-10/07/14   As Midterm Election Approaches, State Election Laws Challenged – Legal Sidebar  [53 Kb]

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Is This Iran Watcher London Position Not Bidlisted About to Go to a “P” Staffer?

— Domani Spero

 

Remember that position at the US Embassy in London last year that “mysteriously” appeared, got pulled down, then re-advertised under curious circumstances? See London Civil Service Excursion Tour Opens — Oh Wait, It’s Gone, Then It’s Back, Ah Forgetaboutit?). Well, it sounds like there’s another one; and this one is roiling the American Foreign Service Association, for good reasons.

With the bidding deadline around the corner, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wants to bring to your attention an FS-02 IROG position in London that has been the subject of some discussion between AFSA and the Department.  In AFSA’s view this position should be available to all eligible bidders now; however, the position has yet to be posted.  On October 1, AFSA’s Governing Board met to discuss the Department’s refusal to include the FS-02 Iran Watcher position in London (IROG Position Number 67700008) in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, instead proposing to include it in the pilot Overseas Development Program.  The Governing Board passed a unanimous motion strongly objecting to the Department’s decision and instructing its General Counsel to advise AFSA on avenues of redress for this apparent breach of contract.  AFSA, the professional association and exclusive representative of the Foreign Service, had previously expressed concern to the Department about including the position in the pilot Overseas Development Program that was created two years ago pursuant to an informal agreement between the Department and AFSA.  AFSA’s concerns center around the position’s uniqueness, Farsi language designation, and the significant number of interested, qualified Foreign Service bidders for the position.  The position is the only one in London and the only Iran Watcher position in an English speaking country.

The Foreign Service needs to build up its Iran expertise including language capability.  The best known Persian speaker at State is probably the State Department Farsi spox, Alan Eyre, who since 2011 has been the public face of the United States to many Iranians and Persian speakers. In 2013, when State/OIG looked into the process of establishing “language designated positions,” we learned that State had established 23 LDPs for Persian-Iranian. Those are jobs where the selectees will be required to have official language training and reach a certain level of proficiency prior to assuming the position. That’s the number for the entire agency, by the way.  In 2012, 8 students studied Farsi at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have no idea how many Farsi speakers have attained the 3/3 level at State but we know that studying a hard language does not come cheap.

The OIG team estimates training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000; training in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000; and training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student. Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.

So — what’s the deal about this Iran Watcher London position?

Rumor has it that a staffer at the Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman‘s office, the Department’s fourth-ranking official allegedly wants this position.

If the State Department is not listing this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist, that means this job is not/not up for grabs for Foreign Service officers. One less FSO studying Farsi next year!

If State includes this position in the Open Assignment Cycle bidlist then only FS employees can bid and a CS employee cannot be assigned to London unless there are no qualified FS bidders (we’re told that’s not going to be the case here).

If State is listing this position under the Overseas Development Program, it means this is potentially for a two-year London assignment, open to Civil Service employees only, and requires a 44-week language training for presumably an S-3/R-3 proficiency in Farsi.

And if this position goes to a Civil Service employee, the chance of that employee serving overseas is a one-time fill. He/She goes to London for two years then return to the State Department. Unless the State Department moves to a unitary personnel system, CS employees typically do not serve on multiple tours overseas.  Which means that State could be spending between $180,000 – $480,000 to teach — whoever is selected for this London position — Persian language to an employee who can be assigned overseas just once.

Now, perhaps the more important question is, in light of AFSA’s protest — if State gives in and list this London position in this Summer’s Open Assignment Cycle, would that really make a difference? Sure FSOs can bid on it, but will anyone of the qualified bidders be …. um…the right fit?

Maybe we can go through this “call your friends in London upstairs” exercise, and see what they say (pick one):

  1. don’t bother applying for the job
  2. don’t waste your time on this one
  3. forgetaboutit, selection already done
  4. all of the above

And you’re wondering why watching bureaucratic life and backstage machinations can make one jaded?  If indeed this job is going to go, as rumored, to a “P’ staffer, all job-related announcements would just be bureaucratic theater.

But don’t worry, everything will fit in the end. Just like a puzzle box.

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