“On Background” Senior State Department Official Outs Self During Special Briefing

Posted: 5:18  pm EDT

 

The State Department announced that it will will host, GLACIER, “an important conference in Anchorage, Alaska on August 30-31 that will focus the world’s attention on the most urgent issues facing the Arctic today.”

GLACIER stands for Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, & Resilience and “will be a global conversation” convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It will reportedly include senior U.S. Government officials and representatives from seven other Arctic nations as well as Arctic experts from the global scientific and policy communities, public and private sector representatives, and Alaskan State, local and indigenous leadership. The conference expects delegations from around 20 countries and about 450 participants.

As a prelude to the event starting Sunday, the State Department held a Special Briefing via teleconference with a senior State Department official. It also issued an “important reminder” that this was an “on-background call, so [Senior State Department Official] should be referred to as a senior State Department official going forward” and asked attendees to “appreciate that courtesy professionally.” “On background” usually means that a reporter can use the information you give them, but cannot name or quote you directly.

Excerpt below from the Senior State Department Official.:

The excitement and momentum are building here in Anchorage as we approach the GLACIER conference. I’ve been here, I think, as I said, since Monday, and have been involved with one other conference, the Alaskan Arctic Conference, which was organized by former Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who is currently the president of Pt Capital, and Alice Rogoff, who owns the Alaska Dispatch News. I spoke at that conference on Tuesday to wrap that up. And over the intervening days, I’ve had an opportunity to meet with the mayor, the governor, and other senior officials here in Alaska. I visited the University of Alaska; I traveled down to Seward, Alaska to the Alaska SeaLife Center; and also took a walk out to, most appropriately, the Exit Glacier since we’re here for the GLACIER conference. It was a special treat to go out there not just to see the glacier and the beauty of the Alaska countryside, but also to see the dramatic changes that have occurred over the years, particularly looking at pictures and the geography out there on how that particular glacier has receded, and particularly over the last couple of decades.

Senior State Department official hikes Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska, August 2015 (Photo via DipNote)

So it’s a great scene setter for me. I returned to Anchorage yesterday after the seward trip. I met with a series of people, including students at the University of Alaska. Today, I’ll be going out to Alaska Command to talk about our U.S. leadership efforts in the Arctic Council, doing a couple of interviews both on TV and with the press, and most importantly, speaking to all of you today.

GLACIER is going to be a historic event. The media outlets up here have been promoting not just the conference, but in particular, the fact that our final speaker on Monday will be the President of the United States. Even beyond that, he is coming in for the GLACIER conference, but I think as everybody knows now, he’s going to spend some time in Alaska and he will be the first president – the first sitting president to visit the American Arctic, going above the Arctic Circle here in Alaska.

We have a jam-packed day on Monday. There’ll be an opening plenary session with senior officials, leadership from Alaska and Alaska native groups speaking to the entire session. Secretary Kerry, Dr. John Holdren, the science advisor to the President will speak, and then the ministers will be involved in a track for the remainder of the day covering various topics, talking about the challenges in the Arctic. And the other participants – the 300 or so other participants in addition to the delegations will be broken down into two separate tracks which will cover various issues throughout the day as well. Everybody’s brought back together at the end of the day for the final plenary session, at which time we’ll have the President speak to us and we’re all, as I said, very excited about that.

This is obviously a very significant event for Alaska, but I think it’s also a significant event for the world. Whenever the United States gets involved in a project, whenever the United States puts its focus on problems or issues, there is usually action that occurs. And as an individual, as an American, as a retired Coast Guardsman, an employee of the State Department, I could not be more excited that we are now gaining this focus on our Arctic challenges all brought together here in this wonderful conference that’s going to occur on Monday.

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According to his brief bio, Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., USCG (Ret.) became the U.S. State Department’s special representative for the Arctic in July of 2014. Prior to his appointment, Papp served as the 24th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and led the largest component of the Department of Homeland Security. We are aware of no other Senior State Department official who also previously served as a retired Coast Guardsman.

Why the State Department find it necessary to have a special briefing on background with its special representative for the Arctic is perplexing. We’ve come up with zero bucket for reasons. Anybody out there understand the why here, please share.

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U.S. flag goes up in Cuba: “What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.”

Posted: 4:37 am EDT
Updated: 1:06 pm EDT

 

Maine poet Richard Blanco who was born to a Cuban exile family and read at President Obama’s second inauguration will read a poem commemorating the reopening of the US Embassy in Havana on August 14. Its title is “Matters Of The Sea” or “Cosas Del Mar,” and its first line goes, “The sea doesn’t matter. What matters is this – that we all belong to the sea between us.” Looking forward to reading it in Spanish!
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Secretary Kerry With U.S. Delegation Set For Ceremonial Reopening of U.S. Embassy Cuba

Posted: 12:21 am EDT

 

Secretary Kerry will be on a historic trip to Havana this Friday where he will preside over the ceremonial reopening of  the U.S. Embassy there. At a State Department background briefing, a senior administration official gave a quick rundown of the secretary’s events in Havana:

The opening ceremony, which is the flag-raising ceremony at the embassy, is principally a government-to-government event. It’ll include officials from the Cuban Government, a range of U.S. Government agencies, as well as members of Congress. There will be some U.S. and Cuban private citizens there, but it is primarily a government-to-government event, and it is extremely constrained in space. If you’ve ever been to our embassy, you know what the – I was somewhat amused to see it described as our front lawn, because it’s a very constrained space. But it is principally a government-to-government event, signifying this new relationship and the reopening of an embassy.

Later in the day, we are having a large event at the chief of mission’s residence, which is also a diplomatic installation, in which a broad range of groups will be invited, including the Cuban Government, Cuban Americans, Cuban artists and cultural leaders, the Diplomatic Corps, entrepreneurs, and Cuban political human rights and media activists.
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On the issues of the Secretary’s delegation, let me say that I think, for example, one of the things that is most important to us is to make sure that our colleagues at the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department are recognized for their work in the change in policy, so there will be senior representatives from both those departments on the Secretary’s delegation. The regulations that were put in place after the President’s December 17th announcement were Treasury and Commerce regulations, and so it’s particularly important to us that those departments be represented by senior members. Obviously, we’ve long had colleagues from the Department of Homeland Security involved in our relationship with Cuba as part of our migration talk because they work on – for example, the Coast Guard has had a relationship with Cuba for a number of years now, a very productive operational relationship. So I think that it is those kinds of other agencies that will be part of this delegation.

Here’s a couple of interesting pieces on the road to this day:

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The State Department says that this visit is the first by a Secretary of State in 60 years. Or perhaps 70 years?

 

The U.S. Delegation, who’s in and who’s not?

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He’s not part of the official delegation but let’s give a shoutout 📣 to career diplomat Ricardo Zuniga!

In May, 2015, Mr. Zuniga completed a three-year detail with the National Security Council Staff, where he served as a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Last month, he assumed charged as Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

ricardo zuniga

President Barack Obama talks with Ricardo Zuniga, National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, after the President delivered a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross in the Oval Office, Dec. 17, 2014. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice watches from the doorway. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 Related items:

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Raising the Flag at U.S. Embassy Havana (Video)

Posted: 11:20 pm EDT

 

Ahead of the official flag raising at the US Embassy in Havana with Secretary Kerry this Friday, the State Department released the following 8:36 minute video featuring three former U.S. Marines assigned to Embassy Havana in 1961. The video is narrated by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, our Charge d’Affaires to Cuba.

On January 4, 1961, U.S. Marines Jim Tracy, F.W. “Mike” East, and Cpl. Larry C. Morris assigned to U.S. Embassy Havana lowered the American flag outside the embassy for the last time. For 54 years, the soldiers’ warm affection for the Cuban people never wavered. And neither did their belief that, one day, they would reunite to raise the flag again. On August 14, 2015, these three U.S. Marines reunite and join Secretary of State John Kerry to re-open the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

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Photo of the Day: Who’s This Guy?

Posted: 12:24 am EDT

 

Photo by state.gov

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry examines a portrait – made of tiny colored stones, and commemorating the 20th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam – which was presented to him on August 7, 2015, after he held a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh at the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Guesthouse in Hanoi, Vietnam. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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560 Ex-Peace Corps Volunteers Write to Secretary Kerry Urging Suspension of Aid to Dominican Republic

Posted: 3:08 am EDT

 

Nearly 600 former Peace Corps volunteers and three PC country directors who served in the Dominican Republic wrote an open letter to Secretary Kerry urging the suspension of aid to the Dominican Republic due to its treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent:

It is due to our deep and abiding concern for the most vulnerable members of Dominican society that we are writing to you about the crisis of statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent. We urge you to end U.S. involvement in the violation of their human rights: enforce the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act and annual Department of Defense appropriations.

The Leahy laws state that no U.S. assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government.

In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court i​ssued a ruling (168-13) that effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of people, primarily those of Haitian descent, of their Dominican citizenship. This ruling stands in direct contravention of international human rights law—specifically the A​merican Convention on Human Rights,​which the Dominican government r​atified in 1978. This convention enshrines the right to a nationality and prohibits its arbitrary deprivation. Many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, including those whose families have resided in the

Dominican Republic for generations, were rendered stateless and face forcible deportation to a country where many have no ties whatsoever. A subsequent Dominican law (1​69-14)​, which addressed the court’s ruling, further entrenched the negation of the right to citizenship on the basis of one’s place of birth, and retroactively conferred citizenship on the basis of the immigration status of one’s parents.

The volunteers’ letter specifically cites the security forces that “appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U​.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, which has r​eceived more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013.”

“If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses. In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.”

A small group representing the volunteers has requested a meeting with Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.

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Kerry Visits Vietnam as US Embassy Hanoi Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Posted: 2:11 pm EDT

 

 

Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Photo from US Embassy Hanoi/FB

Diplomatic relations with Vietnam were established on February 17, 1950, when the Consulate General at Saigon was raised to Legation status with Edmund A. Gullion as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.

In 1952, the United States Legation in Saigon was raised to Embassy status on June 24, 1952, when Ambassador Donald R. Heath received confirmation of his appointment from the United States Senate. The United States maintained its Embassy in Saigon and conducted diplomatic relations solely with the Government of South Vietnam, which in 1955 reorganized itself as the Republic of Vietnam.

The United States closed the Embassy in Saigon and evacuated all Embassy personnel on April 29, 1975, just prior to the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnamese forces.

According to history.state.gov, the United States opened a Liaison Office in Hanoi, the capital of a reunified Vietnam on January 28, 1995. Diplomatic relations were re-established July 11, 1995, and Embassy Hanoi was established with L. Desaix Anderson as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim. Ambassador Pete Peterson presented his credentials and assumed his post at the Embassy on May 14, 1997.

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Senate Judiciary Sets Sight on Allegations Over Huma Abedin’s State Dept Employment, Senate Hold On

Posted: 4:33  pm EDT

On July 30, Senator Charles E. Grassley , the Judiciary Committee chairman  wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry saying it has learned that State/OIG has opened an investigation to examine the circumstances of Ms. Abedin’s work arrangements, leave status, and conversion from a full-time Department of State employee to a Special Government Employee (SGE) and Senior Advisor to former Secretary Clinton. He writes that the “OIG found at least a reasonable suspicion of a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641, theft of public money through time and attendance fraud, and Title 18, United States Code, Section 208, acts affecting a personal financial interest related to conflicts of interest connected to her overlapping employment as an SGE and her employment at Teneo and at the Clinton Foundation. The Judiciary Committee first inquired about related issues in June 2013.”

The letter outlines questions and allegations related to Conflicts of Interest and Special Treatment, and Improper Designation as an SGE (special government employee). The letter is quite particular, using specific terms like “baby moon,” “out of the office,” “going out of town,” “maternity leave,” and inquiring about Ms. Abedin’s stay at the US Ambassador’s residence in Rome. Here’s a list of what the Committee is interested in:

To aid the Committee in its investigation of these allegations, please provide the following:

  1. All documents and communications referring or relating to time and attendance for Ms. Abedin, all approved timesheets, leave requests, and any requests for paid or unpaid excused absences or administrative leave.
  2. All documents and communications referring or relating to Ms. Abedin having applied for or having received approximately $33,000 for unused leave.
  3. All documents and communications referring or relating to Ms. Abedin having applied for or having received compensation for unused leave.
  4. All documents and communications between or among Ms. Abedin and any employees, clients, or other affiliates of Teneo.
  5. All documents and communications referring or relating to time and attendance for Ms. Mills, all approved timesheets, leave requests, and any requests for paid or unpaid excused absences or administrative leave.
  6. All documents and communications between or among Ms. Abedin and any employees or other affiliates of the Clinton Global Initiative.
  7. All documents and communications between or among Ms. Abedin and any employees or other affiliates of the Clinton Foundation.
  1. All documents and communications forwarded by Ms. Abedin to a non-State Department e-mail address.
  2. All documents and communications between or among Ms. Mills, Ms. Abedin or Secretary Clinton referring or relating to Ms. Abedin’s leave requests or time and attendance, including the mentioning of Ms. Abedin being “out of the office,” “going out of town,” “maternity leave,” “annual leave,” “sick leave,” “baby moon,” or other similar statements.
  3. All documents and communications referring or relating to the Office of Inspector General investigation into Ms. Abedin.
  4. A description of Ms. Abedin’s duties at the Department of State before her designation as an SGE.
  5. A description of Ms. Abedin’s duties at the Department of State after her designation as an SGE.
  6. All documents and communications previously requested by this Committee relating to communications between or among the Department of State, Teneo, and Mr. Band. Additionally, please provide a written explanation as to why these records have been withheld to date.
  7. All documents and communications referring or relating to Ms. Motley’s meeting with Secretary Clinton that allegedly resulted in the granting of Ms. Abedin’s SGE designation.
  8. All documents and communications referring or relating to Ms. Abedin’s stay at the U.S. Ambassador to Italy’s residence in Italy and her trip to France in 2011.
  9. Did the Department search for or consider any other candidates besides Ms. Abedin for the SGE-expert position requiring expert knowledge on policy, administrative, and other matters? If so, please provide the supporting documentation. If not, why not?
  10. A list of all other instances in which a Department of State employee converted from a regular, full-time position to an SGE, and subsequently became simultaneously employed by a private company.
  11. All work papers, background documents, and communications relating to whether Ms. Abedin’s employment as an SGE presented any ethical concerns or conflicts of interest with her multiple private sector jobs.

The full letter is available to read here: CEG to State (Abedin Annual Leave SGE), 7-30-15-3

And because this is not going to end anytime soon, the HuAb investigation has now turned into a Senate hold for the nomination of the Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operation (State/CSO); a bureau which appears to be in fundamental crisis. Having the top nominee snared in a Senate hold is not going to help the already problematic bureau, is it?

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According to time.com, the State Department has provided five letters since 2013 in response to Grassley’s inquiries about everything from its use of SGE designations to Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. But Grassley says those letters have been incomplete and that the department has willfully withheld responsive materials, demonstrating “a lack of cooperation and bad faith in its interaction with Congress.”

Grassley filed a “Notice of Intent to Object” in the Congressional record on August 4 signifying his intent to block the  nomination of career foreign service officer David Malcolm Robinson , of Connecticut, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations).

Senator Grassley is quoted in the Time’s report as saying that Robinson was “an innocent victim” of the State Department’s “contemptuous failures to respond to Congressional inquiries.” Grassley also said the department “has engaged in unreasonable delay in responding to Judiciary Committee investigations and inquiries” including the Abedin issue.

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State Dept Appoints Senior Diplomat Michael Ratney as New U.S. Special Envoy for Syria

Posted: 12:58  am EDT

 

On July 27, Secretary Kerry announced the appointment of career diplomat Michael Ratney as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria.

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Michael Ratney as the new U.S. Special Envoy for Syria. I have come to know Michael well in his most recent role as U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, and am impressed by his keen intellect, deep knowledge of the region, and policy judgment.

Michael is a Senior Foreign Service officer who is fluent in Arabic and whose distinguished career has spanned Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, and beyond. I am confident he will continue the important work led by his predecessor, Daniel Rubinstein, to shape our response to the complex and devastating conflict in Syria.

Michael’s leadership and counsel will be critical as we confront the significant challenges posed by more than four years of suffering, bloodshed, and destruction in Syria. We remain committed to reaching a negotiated political transition away from Bashar al-Assad, working to counter the shared threat of terrorism, supporting the moderate opposition, and addressing the humanitarian disaster and its impact on Syria’s neighbors.

Special Envoy Ratney will soon travel to the region to begin consultations with Syrians and other stakeholders seeking an end to the violence and a future of freedom and dignity for all Syrian people.

Mr. Ratney was the Consul General in Jerusalem from July 2012 until this appointment. Below is a quick bio:

Prior to assuming his duties in Jerusalem, Mr. Ratney was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Media, leading efforts in the Bureau of Public Affairs focused on foreign communications and media engagement. From 2010 to 2011, he established and served as the first Director of the Office of International Media Engagement, where he managed State Department initiatives to ensure accurate and positive coverage of U.S. policy by foreign media. In this capacity, Mr. Ratney oversaw the State Department’s six Media Hubs in London, Brussels, Dubai, Johannesburg, Tokyo, and Miami.

From 2009 to 2010, Mr. Ratney served as Spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

Prior to returning to Washington in 2009, Mr. Ratney served from 2006 to 2009 as Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Doha, Qatar. Mr. Ratney was the Deputy Economic Counselor at the American Embassy in Mexico City from 2003 to 2006. In 2004, he served in Iraq, first as a Political Advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, and then as the first Regional Coordinator at the Regional Embassy Office in Basrah.

Mr. Ratney has a B.S. in Mass Communication from Boston University and an M.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. His languages are Arabic, French, and Spanish.

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State Dept to Release 5,000 Pages to Benghazi Panel, No Hearing With Kerry Top Aide For Now

Posted: 12:40  am EDT

 

On July 22, The Hill reported that the Gowdy committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks announced it has called on one of Secretary of State John Kerry’s top aides to appear this week. The panel apparently wanted Jon Finer, Kerry’s chief of staff, to appear on July 29th to discuss the State Department’s compliance with the panel’s investigation.

Late on July 27, The Hill reported that the State Department has agreed to release 5,000 pages of documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi tomorrow, July 28. This document release temporarily cancels Mr. Finer’s appearance before the panel but chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has not ruled out any future appearance.

The new document dump comes after a standoff between the State Department and the House panel, which had previously ordered a top aide to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify on Wednesday.

After the department committed to releasing the 5,000 new pages to the committee, the hearing with that aide — Kerry’s chief of staff, Jon Finer — will be postponed until after Kerry has completed a marathon string of briefings and hearings to sell the international nuclear deal with Iran.
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“If the State Department does not fulfill this production, or if production continues to be anemic and underwhelming, we will move forward with scheduling a compliance hearing before the committee,” he added.

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