Senator Rand Paul Blocks Olson Nomination Over Pakistani Doctor, Shakil Afridi

In our blog post on the recent confirmation of ten ambassadors (see Confirmations: Cunningham, Cretz, Malac, Armbruster, Wharton, Holtz, Laskaris, Ries, Koenig, Kirby) , we noted that it did not look like Ambassador Richard Olson’s nomination made it out of the SFRC.

In fact, his nomination did make it out of the SFRC. But according to The Cable’s Josh Rogin, there was no SFRC business meeting on the Olson and Cunningham nominations, and both were discharged from the committee and sent to the floor without the committee weighing in.

Apparently, two GOP Senate aides told The Cable that some Senate Foreign Relations Committee members were upset that the Cunningham and Olson nominations were rushed through the process and they didn’t have time to submit questions for the record and get answers. The good news is — it’s not personal, so there usually is a resolution. Excerpt below:

The concerns about Olson, who previously served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, aren’t personal, but committee members want more detail on the would-be envoy’s proposed approach to the Haqqani network, the militant group that has been waging cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Olson promised to make the issue a priority at his July 31 confirmation hearing, but multiple senators want to use the opportunity to gauge if the administration plans to include the Haqqani network in any effort to negotiate an end to the Afghanistan war.

So the Olson nomination is on the floor but now Senator Rand Paul has placed a hold on it. More from The Cable:

For Paul, his hold on the Olson nomination is part of his overall effort to pressure the Pakistani government to release Shakil Afridi, the doctor who worked with the CIA to help positively identify Osama bin Laden. Afridi was sentenced in June to 33 years in jail for treason. Paul is not only holding up the confirmation of the U.S. ambassador, he is also threatening to force a vote to cut all U.S. aid to Pakistan over the issue, the aides said.

Paul’s office did not respond to our request for comment, but The Cable caught up with the senator himself in the hallways of the Capitol Thursday. He said he had met with the State Department and with Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman, and told them that he will keep pressing the issue unless Afridi is released. Afridi’s next hearing is Aug. 29.

Senate leadership is dead-set against letting Paul have a vote on his amendment, out of concern that senators won’t want to publicly stand up in defense of sending more American taxpayer money to Pakistan. But Paul said he plans to use Senate Rule 14 to force a vote. It’s not clear if this legislative tactic will work, but Paul is confident.

Read in full here.

The Cable surmises that there is little chance the Pakistani courts will respond to Senator Paul’s demand, “so his hold will prove useless and will probably be lifted under pressure next month.”

As to the Senate hold on Carlos Pascual’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR), that one is reportedly related to the “Fast and Furious scandal,” which unfolded while he was ambassador to Mexico.  This report did not indicate who placed a hold on this nomination.  But he can be Acting A/S for ENR while awaiting confirmation; Ambassador Olson cannot be in an acting capacity for US Mission Pakistan while stuck in WashDC.

We’ll see what happens after the August break.

Domani Spero

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Which region gets the most US foreign aid in the FY2013 request? Go ahead take a guess …

The following figure extracted from the CRS report on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2013 Budget and Appropriations:

Extracted from CRS report

Via the CRS:

Under the FY2013 budget request, aid to Africa would decline by 10% from the current level to $6.4 billion; U.S. aid to the Near East would increase by 12% to $9.0 billion, largely due to support for the Arab Spring; and aid to South Central Asia would increase by 6% to $5.3 billion. Aid to Africa primarily supports HIV/AIDS and other health-related programs while 88% of the aid to South Central Asia is requested, largely for war-related costs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Near East region continues to be dominated by assistance to Israel ($3.1 billion), Iraq ($2.0 billion), Egypt ($1.6 billion), and Jordan ($0.7 billion). The Western Hemisphere’s projected relative decline in FY2013 is attributable to a reduction in funding of ESF and INCLE for Colombia. Europe and Eurasia’s 14% decline is largely due to progress made by many countries in the region and other more pressing global priorities. Aid to East Asia and Pacific remains relatively low and consistent with past years’ levels.

Here are the countries in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau:

Map of Countries in the Near Eastern Affairs Regional Bureau

Domani Spero