How Larry Palmer, the US Ambassador nominee for Venezuela got rolled?

During the December 20 Daily Press Brief, State Department Spokesman, PJ Crowley talked about Venezuela’s withdrawal of its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the US (or any other state) appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee is acceptable to the receiving state. In this case, Venezuela.  The acquiescence of the Venuzuela is signified by its granting its agrément to the appointment. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused or withdrawn, but as we can see now, it does happens.

So — in short, the Venezuelan government was for Palmer before it was against Palmer. Here is the official word from the press shop:

This morning in Caracas, our acting Chargé Darnall Steuart met this morning with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. At the meeting, the foreign minister presented her with a Diplomatic Note formally withdrawing the agreement of Larry Palmer to be the Ambassador to Venezuela. We regret this action taken by the Venezuelan Government, and it will bear responsibility for that action. We believe that precisely because there are tensions in the relationship, it was important to maintain diplomatic communications at the highest level. President Obama nominated Larry Palmer to serve as Ambassador to Venezuela because he has a unique combination of experience, skill, and wisdom to successfully represent our nation in Caracas, and we have never wavered in that view.

AP reported three days ago that in a televised speech Chavez chuckled as he addressed Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, saying Palmer must be stopped if he attempts to fly into Caracas’ international airport, in nearby Maiquetia.  “If he arrives at Maiquetia, grab him, Nicolas, grab him,” Chavez said. “Give Mr. Palmer a coffee from me, and then ‘bye-bye.’ He cannot, he cannot enter this country.”

Well, since Hugo the Gladiator is now set to rule his country by decree in the next 18 months (at the special request of flood victims, of course), we wonder if his Foreign Minister also has arrest powers that we know nothing about?

Larry Palmer’s nomination was reported out of the SFRC on December 14 and still needs the confirmation of the full Senate. What happens after he is confirmed now that Venezuela has officially withdrawn its agreement to his posting in Caracas is anybody’s guess. There will be consequences, yes? but what?

For more of this — read Liz Haper’s Venezuela’s Formal Rejection of Ambassador-Designate Larry Palmer | December 21, 2010:

The long-running debate over how to deal with the irrational and impulsive strongman, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has reached feverish pitch this winter. The latest casualty in this war of words has become U.S. Ambassador Larry Palmer, the Obama administration’s nomination as ambassador to Venezuela. Worse yet, Chávez ultimately got what he wanted out of this latest battle: his choice of who will not be our next Ambassador in Venezuela. On Monday, Venezuela formally told the U.S. to not bother sending Larry Palmer as the next ambassador since he would be asked to return the moment he landed in Caracas.

How did this all go down?
To note, Palmer—true to his venerable professionalism as an American Foreign Service officer – takes all responsibility for the controversy that arose from the publication of the QFR.  But I must ask: should it really be a job requirement that an ambassador knows how “questions for the record” are handled?  Of course not.

So, what was the understanding between the legislative and executive branches?

It’s not clear whether some sought to use the QFR to strong arm the State Department to articulate or take tougher positions, and thereby bolster Palmer’s confirmation prospects and support on the heels of his “weak” hearing performance. Alternatively, perhaps the QFR was publicized to thwart his prospects entirely. Who knows; at this stage, it’s irrelevant.

What’s very relevant are the unfolding consequences of the QFR mishandling. First and foremost, Palmer got rolled. A dedicated Foreign Service officer was not treated with due professionalism and respect. We will not know how great he would have been in Venezuela. Second, the State Department on this matter appears naive, indecisive and disorganized. Third, critics who never wanted ANY ambassador—and certainly NOT Palmer—in Caracas, succeeded. As did Chávez, for the short term.

To take up the second point, the State Department appears to have different and confused messages on Venezuela. The ostensible example of this is the two messages of Larry Palmer’s Senate testimony versus his answers to the QFR. What can be said publicly and on the record regarding Venezuela?  Beyond talking with a low voice on the safest matters, it is not clear.  Is such timidity to Chávez’ bluster necessary?

The next step will be to see whether the State Department will go bold and call Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez a persona non grata, or take a softer approach and cancel his visa.

Read the whole thing here.




Commercial warfare: Just how much grease was used to repatriate the Lockerbie bomber to Libya?

That’s what some US Senators really wanted to know. 

On the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Charles Schumer (D-NJ) have concluded in a report that convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s release from Scottish prison was not medically justified. Justice Undone: The Release of The Lockerbie Bomber, is the report of an investigation spearheaded by Menendez’s office, and details political and commercial motivations that influenced the various governments involved in his release. 

On September 29, 2010, Senator Menendez chaired a hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to explore al-Megrahi’s release. Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Committee, joined in questioning witnesses, and Senator Lautenberg testified at the hearing.  The Committee also heard testimony from U.S. Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State; Mr. Bruce Swartz, U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice; Dr. James L. Mohler, Senior Vice President for Translation Research & Chair of the Department of Urology at Roswell Park Cancer Center; Dr. Oliver Sartor, Plitz Professor of Cancer Research at Tulane Medical School; and Dr. Geoff Porter, an expert on Libyan affairs.

Senator Menendez reportedly also invited Mr. Tony Hayward, former Group Chief Executive of BP; Sir Mark Allen, a consultant to BP and former MI6 agent; the Right Honorable Alex Salmond, Member of the Scottish Parliament and First Minister of Scotland; Mr. Kenny MacAskill, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice; Dr. Andrew Fraser, Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and Care; and the Right Honorable Jack Straw, former British Justice Secretary to testify before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All of these individuals declined to participate or to send representatives to participate in the hearing.

Justice Undone: The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber. The 58 page report including heartbreaking letters from some of the next of kins of those who perished in the attack is available here.


“The U.K. pushed for the release because of its expanding business ties to Libya. We believe that Scotland was motivated by pressure from the U.K., Libya, and Qatar – as well as its own interest in participating on the international stage. The U.K. Government played a direct, critical role in al-Megrahi’s release. The U.K. has always been protective of its energy companies, especially BP, which has strong historical and economic ties to the government, and it has a history of intervening with foreign governments on behalf of BP. Libyan oil and natural resources were extremely attractive to U.K. energy companies, and, at the time of al-Megrahi’s release, BP was negotiating a $900 million oil exploration deal that would secure a much-needed reliable source of energy for the U.K. Keeping al-Megrahi in prison threatened this oil agreement, as well as other profitable trade deals and investments with Libya. The threat of commercial warfare was a motivating factor. The U.K. knew that in order to maintain trade relations with Libya, it had to give into political demands. Faced with the threat of losing the lucrative BP oil deal and other commercial ties, the U.K. agreed to include al- Megrahi’s release in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with Libya. Around the same time as al-Megrahi’s release, the U.K. and Libya were moving forward with other lucrative deals.Normalizing relations with Libya – and al-Megrahi’s release – clearly benefited U.K. business interests.”


  • While press reports have provided contradictory accounts of al-Megrahi’s current health status, we call on the Libyan Government to allow for independent confirmation of his health status and, based on the results of that review, either return al-Megrahi to Scotland or place him in a Libyan prison in conditions comparable to those provided to other convicted murderers.
  • We call upon the Scottish and U.K. Governments to apologize to the families of the bombing victims for al-Megrahi’s unjustifiable release.
  • We call on U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to proceed with an independent inquiry into al-Megrahi’s release. The only way for the U.K. and Scottish Governments to remove the cloud of suspicion hanging over their respective governments is for the Prime Minister to launch an independent inquiry with full subpoena authority into al-Megrahi’s release. The inquiry should include a panel of international, independent prostate cancer specialists to examine the medical records of al-Megrahi.
  • We call on the U.S. Department of State to launch its own inquiry into al-Megrahi’s release and to publicize its findings. The Department should dedicate Foreign Service Officers and independent investigators to exhaustively identify and interview sources to determine how and why al-Megrahi was released.
  • We call on the U.S. Intelligence Community to either assist in the U.S. Department of State’s inquiry or launch its own inquiry, assigning its officers and using resources at its disposal to fully understand why the Scottish and British Governments would have facilitated the release of a man convicted of killing 270 people including at least one intelligence officer.

The full report is here.

The Lockerbie bomber was released on ‘compassionate grounds’ by the Scottish Government after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and supposedly given three months to live some 16 months ago.

The Daily Mail reports that the Lockerbie bomber is  now “close to death” but here’s the kicker — “His death will pave the way for a bid by his family to sue the Scottish authorities over his alleged treatment in Greenock Prison.”

Below is a video of the Lockerbie Bombing (1988)*** Video courtesy of and copyright owned by Television New Zealand (TVNZ) *** [Part 1 of 2]

Part 2 is here:

Meanwhile UPI reports an update on that oil deal.  Apparently Libya’s hopes of new oil strikes in the Gulf of Sidra have been set back by BP’s postponement of launching a $1 billion deep-water exploration program as the company grapples with the aftermath of the huge Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Excerpt:

Libya’s reserves, the ninth largest in the world, total 41.5 billion barrels of oil. Current production is around 1.8 million barrels per day.
At current production rates, Libya’s reserves will last for another 63 years even if no new strikes are made.
BP is committed to spending $1 billion onshore and offshore over the next seven years under a controversial $900 million exploration contract it signed with Gadhafi in May 2007.
In July, as BP grappled with the Gulf of Mexico disaster, U.S. lawmakers alleged that deal was linked to Britain’s August 2009 release of a former Libyan intelligence agent, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, from a Scottish prison, and demanded an investigation.

Britain adamantly denied there was any linkage. BP has denied it lobbied British authorities to free Megrahi on compassionate grounds because he was suffering from prostate cancer to persuade Gadhafi to sign the Sidra deal.

British leaders insist a prisoner-transfer agreement signed Nov. 17, 2008, was part of a broader diplomatic effort to encourage Tripoli, which denied any involvement in the Pan Am bombing, to stop supporting terrorism and dismantle its clandestine nuclear program.

However, according to U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Gadhafi threatened to cut trade with Britain and warned of “enormous repercussions” if Megrahi died in prison.

Read the whole thing here.