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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Clinton Email Challenge Now a Sharknado, and Secretary Kerry Is Right to be “Concerned”

Posted: 2:13  pm PDT

 

This happened Thursday night. We drafted this post early morning but waited for a piece of information we wanted to see. So yup, overtaken by events.  In any case, you may now read the inspector generals memos referenced to in the NYT report here. See NYT: Criminal Inquiry Sought Over Clinton Emails? Read the Inspector Generals Memos.  We’re also waiting for the OIG to issue a clarification on the DOJ referral the NYT reported.

The memos went possibly from two IG offices — State Department Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough, III — to the Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. The IGs memos are also cc’ed to one of the State Department’s deputy secretaries. It looks like, the memos or contents/snippets of it were shared with DOJ, as a DOJ official appears to be the NYT’s source for this story (see tweets below).

Here are the tweets from July 24:

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The report from the NYT includes the following:

— 1.  The memos were provided to The New York Times by a senior government official.

— 2.  The inspectors general also criticized the State Department for its handling of sensitive information, particularly its reliance on retired senior Foreign Service officers to decide if information should be classified, and for not consulting with the intelligence agencies about its determinations.

— 3.  The revelations about how Mrs. Clinton handled her email have been an embarrassment for the State Department, which has been repeatedly criticized over its handling of documents related to Mrs. Clinton and her advisers.

— 4.  Some State Department officials said they believe many senior officials did not initially take the House committee seriously, which slowed document production and created an appearance of stonewalling.

— 5.  State Department officials also said that Mr. Kerry is concerned about the toll the criticism has had on the department and has urged his deputies to comply with the requests quickly.

Today:

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On this whole email debacle at the State Department, it must be said that this might not have happened if not enabled by senior bureaucrats in the agency. We do not believe for a moment that senior officials were not aware about the email practices of then Secretary Clinton or the record retention requirement. But hey, if the practice was done for four years over the protests and dissent of officials at “M”, “A”, the Legal Adviser or the CIO, we’d like to see that email trail.

By the way, this NYT report follows a July 20 Politico report about a contentious hearing where U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon demanded explanations for why some of the Associated Press’ FOIA requests received no reply for four years or more before the wire service filed suit in March.

“The State Department’s not going to have the luxury of saying, because we’re focusing on Hillary’s emails, we’re doing so at the cost and expense of four-year-old requests. So, that’s not going to be an excuse,” the judge said. “In my judgment, a four-year-old request gets a priority over a recent request.”

On Mr. Kerry’s concern about the toll the criticism has had on the department … the secretary is right to be concerned. Senior officials did not take Congress seriously?  Even if senior bureaucrats do not agree or approve of the conduct of the Select Committee, even if they think this is a sideshow seeking to derail a presidential campaign, the required document production is still part of their jobs. In my view, the most serious consequence on the appearance of stonewalling is it also gives the appearance that bureaucrats are picking sides in this political shitstorm.

This can potentially undermine the expectation of the State Department as an impartial and non-political entity. The perception, right or wrong, that this impartiality is compromised, will not serve it or its employees well in the long run.

You might like to read a couple previous posts on FOIA personnel, costs and the “persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities” that made this the Clinton email debacle a challenge of Sharknado proportion for the agency. (see Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs and State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why).

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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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Thank You, Switzerland … Good Morning, American Embassy Havana!

Posted: 12:30 am EDT

 

As announced on July 1st, the U.S. and Cuba will officially re-establish diplomatic relations today, July 20. This is the day when both interest sections will become embassies. A State Department official who gave a special briefing on the re-opening of embassies last week told reporters that there is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, so that will not happen until Secretary Kerry travels to Havana later this summer:

Secretary will be there to officiate for these very important events of raising the flag and unveiling the signage for the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He does – his presence there is ceremonial. It’s important, it’s historic, but legally the embassy will be functioning on Monday, July 20th. There is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, and we wanted the Secretary to be there to oversee these important events.

There will also be a flag installation in Foggy Bottom but this is apparently a “routine installation with no public or media component.”  All American employees of the interest section in Havana will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy but there will be no new additional employees at this time.

USAenCuba/FB

USAenCuba/FB

Our DCM in Havana, Conrad Tribble tweeted just minutes ago:

 

July 20 also marks the day when the agreement with Switzerland as the “protecting power” of the United States  in Cuba is terminated.  That will require a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been the United States’ protecting power for many years, and that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade from interest sections to embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB

Photo via US Embassy Havana/FB

 

 

The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. will hold its ceremonial re-opening in the morning of July 20 with very limited attendance by a U.S. Government delegation to be lead by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson.
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In the early afternoon Secretary Kerry will meet his counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, at the State Department for an historic meeting. Afterward at 1:40, they will have a joint press conference, “sort of the first historic joint press conference between the Secretary of State and the Cuban Foreign Minister,” according to the State Department.

Excerpt below from the special briefing:

QUESTION: Thank you. So starting Monday, what changes, what is different at the now-U.S. Embassy in Havana? Can anyone go? Is it like other embassies in the world where you have to have a previous appointment? What is going to happen with U.S. diplomats? Do – starting Monday, are they free to roam the country as they haven’t been before? Can you be more specific on the logistics please?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Yes, on Monday they will – all of the employees of the – the American employees of the interest section will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy. So it is an upgrade in status for the – for all the U.S. employees there. The chief of mission will be upgraded to charge d’affaires, and they will be then entered as a member of the diplomatic corps in Havana, and that will mean that they are invited to diplomatic functions just like any other country. That has not been the case previously. And yes, there are conditions that we have talked about previously, about – when we made the agreement to open the embassies. And there will be some – those conditions will all be active and effective on July 20th and will begin to function under those new conditions. Those new conditions do include greater freedom for U.S. diplomats to travel throughout Cuba.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Quickly, will the charge d’affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, be in Havana, and will he do anything in Havana on Monday? Did you get the new employees that you asked for and will they be there start this – starting next week? And you said they get an upgrade of employees that are at the Interests Section. Do they also get a pay upgrade?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – actually, Jeff DeLaurentis will be – and I should have mentioned that earlier – he will be in the delegation that is here in Washington, and that’s a fairly standard practice and especially for a historic meeting that our representative in the embassy would come back for that meeting. So he will be here in Washington. And so our deputy chief of mission in Havana will actually on that day be in charge of the post. And again, there is no other activity other than we’re going to have a statement put out by the embassy announcing that they have indeed elevated status to an embassy that morning.

There also will be a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been providing us protecting power for many years, and that will now be – that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade.

As for the employees, there may be some confusion in that the discussion of personnel and staffing that we had with the Cubans referred specifically to American employees, and that’s a personnel issue that we’ll work out in the months to come. So on that day, we would not get new employees. In fact, the employees at the Cuban Interests Section will be the same employees and they – as I understand it, they’re excited about becoming (inaudible) of the U.S. embassy.

Read more here.

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Related Posts:

 

 

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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Washington and Havana Formally Restores Diplomatic Relations After 54 Years

Posted: 2:17 pm  EDT

 

According to history.state.gov, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902 following the defeat of Spain in 1898.  On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba. Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba.  Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.

Today, after over 50 years, a new day. For once, instead of boots on the ground, diplomatic negotiations and engagement made this day possible. It appears that we have rediscovered the non-coercive instruments of statecraft (as Ambassador Chas Freeman spoke about so eloquently), that persuaded the Cubans that they can benefit by working with us rather than against us. A big shout-out to our diplomats who labored so hard to get us here!

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Obama Admin Official Leaks Dismal Stengel-Kerry Memo on ISIS Counter Messaging

Posted: 2:08 am EDT

 

An internal State Department memo paints a dreary view of the Obama administration’s efforts to counter messaging by the Islamic State. And somebody leaked it to the New York Times.

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Why, indeed?

The internal memo, dated June 9 is marked SBU or “sensitive but unclassified.” It was drafted and approved by Richard A. Stengel, the State Department’s under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs (State/R) and a former managing editor of Time magazine.  The memo addressed to Secretary Kerry is cleared only by one person, Susan Stevenson, from Stengel’s own Front Office; there are no other addressee.  It’s hard to say how far this memo traveled in 4-5 days before it was leaked but the source could not be too far away from Stengel and Kerry’s offices.

The question now is motive. Who leaked that memo and why? Is it to garner support from higher ups like those in the WH or is it to torpedo Stengel’s “big proposal and immediate improvement” before it get legs. Who gains, who losses from this leak?

The memo is made available online by the NYT.

Pardon me, you’re waiting for the SBU leaker to get caught? We’ll, we’re also waiting for the trap doors for the leakers of the 2010 secret cables sent by then Ambassador Eikenberry on the Afghanistan strategy, and the 2012 top secret cable by then Ambassador Crocker on Pakistani havens.  To-date, none of those leakers have been caught. So, catch the SBU leaker? Good luck!

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Secretary Kerry Back Home From Hospital, But Not For Long

Posted: 2:04 am EDT

 

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John Kerry Tweets Photo of Self in Hospital Jammies Recovering From Surgery

Posted: 12:20 am EDT

 

 

The photo was released by the State Department with the following caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on June 9, 2015, with National Security Adviser Susan Rice from his room at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, where he is recovering from surgery to repair a broken right femur he suffered during a biking accident in France. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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Related post:

Secretary Kerry Breaks Leg in Bike Accident, to Return Home Via Air Ambulance (Updated)