U.S. Announces Exchange of Ambassadors With Belarus After Meeting With Lukashenka

 

Via state.gov:

Since Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994, he has consolidated power through widespread repression. In 1996, Lukashenka reacted to western criticism of a referendum that dissolved Parliament and expanded the authority of the presidency by temporarily expelling the U.S. and EU Ambassadors. After a presidential election in 2006 that violated international norms and was neither free nor fair, the United States implemented travel restrictions and targeted financial sanctions on nine state-owned entities and 16 individuals (including Lukashenka). In 2008, after the United States tightened sanctions due to worsening human rights abuses, Belarus expelled the U.S. ambassador – a position that has remained vacant – and 30 out of 35 U.S. diplomats. Over this period, Belarus became almost wholly dependent upon Russia – politically, economically, and militarily. In August 2015, Lukashenka released all six of Belarus’ political prisoners. In response, the United States provided limited sanctions relief, suspending sanctions on the state-owned entities. Since sanctions relief began, Belarus has taken some steps to improve democracy and human rights. Increased bilateral engagement depends on Belarus making additional progress on human rights and democracy issues.

Today, the State Department’s Under Secretary For Political Affairs (P) David Hale who is in Belarus announced a “joint efforts to move our bilateral relationship forward” and the “exchange ambassadors” as the next step in normalizing the relationship.

I am pleased to stand here today with Foreign Minister Makei to recognize our joint efforts to move our bilateral relationship forward.   Our meeting today marks an historic juncture in U.S. – Belarus relations.   It is my honor to announce that we are prepared to exchange ambassadors as the next step in normalizing our relationship.

The United States remains committed to a sovereign, independent Belarus with a prosperous future for the next generation. The United States also welcomes Belarus’ increased cooperation on issues of non-proliferation, border security, economic cooperation, and information sharing on matters of shared security.

I would like to reiterate that by normalizing our relationship, we are not asking Belarus to choose between East and West.  The United States respects Belarus’ desire to chart its own course and to contribute to peace and stability in the region.

There are still aspects of the Belarus Democracy Act with which the Belarusian government needs to contend, and the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections represent an opportunity to address the spirit of the concerns outlined in the Belarus Democracy Act. With such progress, we can discuss further easing of sanctions.

Belarus is a country with a rich culture and vibrant, talented people.  We look forward to increased cooperation and dialogue between our countries. Thank you.

 

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Report: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Lacks Authority to Fire a Political Appointee #DeptofSwagger

 

Foreign Policy recently reported on a State Department town hall meeting where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “acknowledged having failed to act more vigorously to shield State Department staffers from retaliation by the Trump administration for their perceived political views” and reportedly said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lacked the authority to fire a top Trump political appointee accused of inflicting, or abetting, the alleged harassment. (See State Department Failed to Shield Its Diplomats From Political Reprisals, Officials Concede; also Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice).
Most notable items from the report:
— Deputy Secretary Sullivan and P’s David Hale “acknowledged shortcomings in their response and pledged to make amends for staffers whose careers were upended in a long-running controversy that triggered an investigation by the department’s inspector general.”
— “I will be the first to admit the failure on my part to have done more to address the situation,” Sullivan told the gathering, according to an account of the meeting relayed to Foreign Policy
— Hale encouraged staffers whose careers were damaged as a result of political retaliation to come to him to seek some sort of professional remedy or, if they preferred, to pursue a formal grievance against the department. “I’d like to help; I’d also like people to know they can come to me,” Hale said. He pledged to take their case to the undersecretary of state for management, the director general, or human resources “to make amends.”
— “There’s absolutely no doubt that what was going on was completely unacceptable,” Hale said. “Misconduct is a soft word, frankly, to use for what has occurred.” 
–[M]any of the questions revolved around the fate of Moley and why action had not been taken sooner to discipline him. And some noted that officials in other bureaus of the State Department have been subject to similar mistreatment. […] And other staffers privately expressed skepticism that the State Department’s leadership would hold Moley accountable, noting that Foggy Bottom’s top brass had known about the allegations of political targeting for well over a year and had failed to act swiftly to stop it.
— The “general vibe after the meeting was a mix of bitter disappointment and depression,” one State Department official told Foreign Policy, who was skeptical about assurances that Moley would be reprimanded. “Bottom line here is that there will be NO action taken on Kevin Moley.”
— “The decision to ignore the IG report is devastating,” said another staffer in the bureau. “Ultimately, it renders this kind of vicious political targeting acceptable.”
Perhaps the most shocking thing reportedly said by Deputy Secretary Sullivan:
“The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, so it adds a layer of complexity there,” Sullivan said.
*
Well, first, this individual is not the only non-career official appointed by the president.  According to AFSA, the State Department has 74 political ambassadors (or 45.4% ) appointed by Trump, and confirmed by the Senate. In addition, there are 55 senior officials in Foggy Bottom where 50 of them (or 90.9%) are also political appointees; almost all of them were presidentially appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
So, we’d like to understand what Sullivan told State Department employees actually means. If Secretary Pompeo cannot fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, does this mean, he cannot fire any of the politically appointed senior officials and political ambassadors working for him? Those are his highest ranking officials. They are appointed by the president but they do not report to the president or the White House but to the secretary of state.  How can the secretary manage his agency without authority to, as the FAM likes to put it, “promote the efficiency of the Service?”
Good gracious! Who, pray tell, can the Secretary of State fire?
Second, when Sullivan says “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” does this mean Pompeo is not allowed to do so, or was told not to do it (base on what law or regulations exactly?). Or is it that the secretary is using his discretion as agency head not to fire this one individual?
As often the case these days, we’re quite perplexed about this reported excuse. The deputy secretary appears to be making a rather sweeping statement here, not just with this secretary, and not just with this assistant secretary or this president: “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president.”
Remember Elizabeth Tamposi?  She was Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs  from 1989 – 1992 during the George H. W. Bush Administration.  She was a political appointee. Her tenure is noted for the scandal related to the search of passport records of then presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot  (see Throwback Thursday: An Election, an FOIA, and @StateDept in the Eye of the Storm). She was dismissed by acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger.
An acting Secretary of State fired an assistant secretary of state appointed by a president, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Remember Secretary Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan? She was a widely respected career employee, and the “only U.S. government official to be fired as a consequence of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil” (see Remembering Mary Ryan, FSJ, June 2010)? The secretary of state fired a Senate-confirmed appointee of President George W. Bush. There was apparently another assistant secretary fired by Secretary Powell but we could not find a publicly available citation, so we’re leaving that out.
During the fallout from the Benghazi attack, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant secretary all lost their jobs in Diplomatic Security. In the NEA bureau, one deputy assistant secretary lost his job; his firing reportedly ordered by the State Department counselor. This report says that then Secretary Clinton accepted the resignation of the DS assistant secretary. Whether “S” or “M” made the decision concerning the departure of the DS assistant secretary is not clear, but somebody in Foggy Bottom had the authority to do it.
In recent years, there were also very public departures by political ambassadors to Luxembourg, Kenya, and Malta; all were presidentially nominated and Senate confirmed.
Now, we have the Deputy Secretary of State telling employees that their agency head lacks this authority; an authority which has clearly been exercised by previous secretaries of state several times in the past, in very public ways. So this is mighty confusing for your poor blogger who can’t make sense of the goings on there.
We do want to know where does Sullivan’s “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” excuse come from. We think this has implications not just for this secretary and the agency going forward but potentially for future secretaries of state. 

Related items:

Mike Pompeo’s Kansas Run: He’s Running, He’s Not …He’s Running, He’s … He’s …

 

We don’t usually post about politics but since it’s about Secretary Pompeo, we’ll make an exception. Bloomberg is reporting that “Republican political donors have been told to hold off contributing to the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Kansas in the expectation that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo may decide to run, according to two people familiar with the matter.” 
The Kansas run was reportedly ruled out in late winter, but by mid-summer, it appeared to have been re-opened.
Bloomberg adds that “While Pompeo has been equivocal about a possible run, his actions and speeches have only fueled speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for a Senate bid — and possibly a presidential run in 2024.”

U.S. Secretary of State MIchael R. Pompeo and Mrs. Susan Pompeo wave as they depart, Brasila, Brazil, January 2, 2019. Secretary Pompeo is on travel to Brasilia, Brazil, and Cartagena, Colombia, from December 31, 2018, to January 2, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Pryzsucha/ Public Domain]

Ballotpedia says that voters in Kansas will elect one member to the U.S. Senate in the election on November 3, 2020.  The election will fill the Class II Senate seat held by Pat Roberts (R). Roberts was first elected in 1996.  Apparently, some folks in the GOP are concerned that former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius will run — and win — if Kobach is the GOP Senate nominee.” Yeah, that guy.
Senator Roberts was reelected in 2014 with 53.1% of the votes.  Senator Jerry Moran, the junior senator from Kansas was re-elected in 2016 with 62.2% of the votes.  Roberts has held his seat for 22 years, Moran for 8 years. So.
Basically Mr. Pompeo has two glaring choices: stay and face the possibility of firing by a tweet, by a volatile, thin-skinned president, or run for an almost sure seat with a 6-year term extending from January 3, 2021 until January 3, 2027.  If elected to the U.S. Senate, could he run for president in 2024?  Well, he could. We don’t know if he’d win but sixteen senators went on to become presidents. Four of them served just three years in the U.S. Senate before running for president: Obama, Barack (2005-2008); Nixon, Richard M. (1950-1953); Harrison, William Henry 1825-1828; and Jackson, Andrew  1797-1798; 1823-1825. Senate.gov says that G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama moved directly from the U.S. Senate to the White House.
On the other hand, only six secretaries of state went on to become presidents (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan).  The last one elected president was sooo long ago, the 17th Secretary of State  James Buchanan. He served at the State Department from 1845–1849 and eight years later became the 15th President of the United States and served one term from 1857 – 1861. So.
The candidate filing deadline is June 1, 2020 with the primary election scheduled for August 4, 2020. Let us know when he’s make up his mind, will ya?

United States Diplomacy Center Seeks Diplomatic Artifacts For Its Collection

Help Fund the Blog |  Countdown: Less Than 24 Hours to Go

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In 1979, John Limbert was a new FSO posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun by Iranian students. He was one of the fifty-two U.S. personnel who spent 444 days as Iran hostages from 1979-81. Later in his career, he was appointed Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Ambassador Limbert and other Americans at the embassy were held captive for 14 months, and among their many hardships, they also contended with not having a change of clothes. He has now donated the items he wore and a pair of sandals given to him by his captors to the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s collection of diplomatic artifacts.

Via USDC:
The United States Diplomacy Center is actively seeking artifacts that represent American diplomacy and the work of the United States Department of State. These artifacts can come from a variety of individuals and sources. Anyone currently or previously working in a diplomatic capacity might have objects that could be a good fit for our collection. If you have items you might be interested in donating, please email them directly for more information. (Also see U.S. Diplomacy Center: Baseball Autographed by Russian Human Rights Activists). 
Specific areas of collecting interest include (but are not limited to) objects which illustrate the following:
      • Diplomat’s work on the range of global issues today, including examples from programs and partnerships
      • The challenges diplomats face while performing their jobs (security; health; communications; transportation)
      • The unique relationships and connections made through diplomacy
      • Diplomatic events, people, and places throughout U.S. history
      • The wide range of work performed at embassies, consulates, and missions
      • Tools, equipment, and clothing representing diplomatic efforts
      • And of course documents, pens, and diplomatic gifts
The United States Diplomacy Center collects primarily for exhibition purposes; USDC is not a research collection nor an archives.  Acceptance of an artifact does not guarantee exhibition for any length of time.  However, the Center strives to display as much of its collection as possible, either in-person or online.
Email the Center at DiplomacyCenter@state.gov.
Check out their online collection.

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@StateDept Calls on Iran to Abide by JCPOA Commitments, an Agreement the U.S. Is No Longer a Party #NotTheOnion

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Apparently, the Iranians recently announced that they are ramping up enrichment of low-grade uranium and that Iran will pass the limit it is allowed to stockpile under the nuclear deal in 10 days.  Media reports also say that after exceeding the limit, Iran will accelerate uranium enrichment to 3.7%, above the 3.67% mandated by the JCPOA nuclear deal.

At the State Department daily press briefing, the official spokesperson called on the Iranians “not to obtain a nuclear weapon and to abide by the commitments that they’ve made to the international community.”  Just to be clear, this is the deal that the United States withdrew from in May 2018, so the U.S. is no longer a party to this agreement.

Basically, the United States is telling Iran that it is stuck in a bad marriage but it is still expected to keep its vows, while the United States, which divorced itself from this same bad marriage calling it “was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” ever, paints town red, coz see, divorced already.  We hope no one accidentally runs over the cat in the driveway but we are not sleeping well these days.

slow walk to war again

Via the State Department Press Briefing, June 17, 2019:

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to focus on the nuclear deal, the JCPOA —

MS ORTAGUS: Sure, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and nothing else.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay.

QUESTION: Just that. Not taking hostages, not malign activity, not things that are not covered in the JCPOA. Does the administration believe there is value in Iran staying – continuing to comply with the JCPOA, which the President called the worst deal ever negotiated?

MS ORTAGUS: Listen, we continue to call on the Iranian regime not to obtain a nuclear weapon, to abide by their commitments to the international community. And I think it’s unfortunate that they’ve made this announcement today. As I said earlier, it doesn’t surprise anybody. I think this is why the President has often said that the JCPOA needs to be replaced with a new and better deal. Iran, as evident by their announcement today but also their pattern of behavior over the past few years, is keen on expanding – or seems to be keen on expanding their nuclear program, and it now wants to exceed these nuclear limits in advance of these so-called sunset clauses.

QUESTION: But that suggests that you believe that there is —

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.

QUESTION: — values in these limits, no? Does it not? I mean, if you look at —

MS ORTAGUS: We call on the Iranians not to obtain a nuclear weapon and to abide by the commitments that they’ve made to the international community.
[…]
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow on Matt’s question, so while there is no new deal between the U.S. and Iran, you ask Iran to abide by the JCPOA even though you left – the U.S. left this deal. When you say you ought to abide to their international commitments, you mean to abide to the JCPOA, which the U.S. left?

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah. We have made it very clear since this President came into office and since the Secretary came here that we will not tolerate a – Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. Full stop. So any actions that they take to get a nuclear weapon will be countered by a maximum pressure campaign by the United States Government that continues to this day. There should be no relieving of sanctions for their malign and unacceptable behavior.

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Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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Present at the Creation Also (Our Years of Wrecking Ball Diplomacy and Swagger) #grabthisbooktitlenow

 

On October 3, the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations issued a ruling on the Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America).  Excerpt via:

(1) unanimously, that the United States of America, in accordance with its obligations under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, must remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of (i) medicines and medical devices; (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation;

(2) unanimously, that the United States of America must ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to in point (1);

(3) unanimously, that both Parties must refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.

The Trump Administration responded by pulling out the United States from the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran  (PDF) and from the 1961 Optional Protocol on Dispute Resolution to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (PDF). The latter in connection with a case that challenges the USG’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to NSA John Bolton. Per transcript of the WH Briefing, Mr. Bolton said that “The United States remains a party to the underlying Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and we expect all other parties to abide by their international obligations under the Convention.”

ICYMI, read the following from Chimène Keitner who previously served as Counselor on International Law in the State Department:

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Amb. Prudence Bushnell: Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience (Book Preview)

 

 

Related posts:

ADST-DACOR Book Launch: Amb. Prudence Bushnell’s Account of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings

Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s book, Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings will be available on October 1. On October 2, ADST-DACOR will hold a book launch at the DACOR Bacon House. This is the 65th volume in the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series.

Date: October 2
Time: 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
To RSVP please email: programs@dacorbacon.org if you plan to attend the reception (free of charge)

Via Amazon: On August 7, 1998, three years before President George W. Bush declared the War on Terror, the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Prudence Bushnell was serving as U.S. ambassador. Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is her account of what happened, how it happened, and its impact twenty years later.

When the bombs went off in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania that day, Congress was in recess and the White House, along with the entire country, was focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Congress held no hearings about the bombings, the national security community held no after-action reviews, and the mandatory Accountability Review Board focused on narrow security issues. Then on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. homeland and the East Africa bombings became little more than an historical footnote.

Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is Bushnell’s account of her quest to understand how these bombings could have happened given the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nairobi had been getting since 1996 from special groups in the National Security Council, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. Bushnell tracks national security strategies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep us safe in 1998 and continue unchallenged today. In this hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account she reveals what led to poor decisions in Washington and demonstrates how diplomacy and leadership going forward will be our country’s most potent defense.

“Ambassador Prudence Bushnell is a true professional with the toughness, grit, courage, and compassion that marks the kind of superb leader you want in charge during a crisis. I witnessed her remarkable composure, even when personally injured, and her take-command leadership style. This book is important for many reasons. It vividly presents a profile in courage; an understanding rarely appreciated about our foreign service men and women working in difficult assignments; a set of valuable lessons learned; and a case study in leadership during crisis. Every American should read this book.”—Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

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