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@StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via DPB:

QUESTION: And my other question pertaining to Ambassador David Friedman, he gave us an interview to the Jerusalem Post last week, last Friday.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: And he termed the Palestinian territories as allegedly occupied. Has there been any departure from the standard U.S. position that these territories are occupied?

MS NAUERT: Our position on that hasn’t changed. The comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Okay. But he is the ambassador of the United States of America.

MS NAUERT: His comment does not represent a shift in U.S. policy. Okay?

 

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@StateDept Appoints Andrew Schofer as U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group #NagornoKarabakh

Posted: 12:06 am  ET

 

On August 28, the State Department announced the appointment of career diplomat Andrew Schofer to be the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The United States is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Andrew Schofer as the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Schofer brings extensive experience in Europe and International Organizations to the position, and most recently served as Chargé d’ Affaires, a.i. for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). From August 2015 until January 2017, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at UNVIE. From August 2014 to August 2015, he served as the Counselor for IAEA Affairs at UNVIE. Prior to his assignments in Vienna, Mr. Schofer served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus from 2011 to 2014, and has also worked overseas at the U.S. Embassies in Kuwait City, Kuwait; Manama, Bahrain; and Moscow, Russia. Mr. Schofer’s Washington assignments included postings on the Iraq Desk in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, where he was primarily responsible for the Middle East and Counterterrorism portfolios.

The United States remains firmly committed to the Minsk Group Process and helping the sides reach a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As expressed in the June 19 and July 6 statements, the United States supports a just settlement that must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act; in particular, the principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination. Andrew Schofer looks forward to helping the sides achieve this goal.

We have informed the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan of Andrew Schofer’s appointment. Andrew Schofer will assume his new position effective immediately.

 

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POTUS Tweets About Wall During #Harvey, Reminds Us of Mexico’s Help During Katrina

Posted: 2:46 am  ET

 

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U.S. Mission Russia to Suspend Nonimmigrant Visa Operations Starting August 23

Posted: 2:06 am ET

 

On August 21, U.S. Mission Russia announced that it is suspending nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia effective Wednesday, August 23.

As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.  Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale.  Beginning September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.  As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission will begin canceling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide.  The NIV applicants who have their interviews canceled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  NIV applicants originally scheduled for an interview at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok should call the number below if they wish to reschedule their interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The staffing changes will also affect the scheduling of some immigrant visa applicants.  Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.  (For American Citizen Services hours, please check the U.S. Mission to Russia website at https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/acs-hours.)

US Mission Russia released a Fact Sheet also noting that the cancellation of visa interviews prior to September 1 is due to “planning for departures and staff reductions” that has already begun “in order to meet the Russian government’s September 1 deadline for the reduction of personnel.” It further notes that operation at reduced capacity will continue as long as its mission staffing levels are reduced.

As of August 21, the appointment visa wait times for U.S. Mission Russia for visitor visas are as follows: Moscow (85 calendar days), St. Pete (44 days), Vladivostok (2 days) and Yekaterinburg (59 days). When visa interviews resume at the US Embassy in Moscow on September 1, all visa interviews at the three constituents posts will remain suspended.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (via TASS) said that “the US authors of these decisions have plotted another attempt at stirring up resentment among Russian citizens regarding decisions by the Russian authorities.”

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The World Watches Another Trumpster Fire Week #WhatNowPublicDiplomacy?

Posted: 2:38 am ET

 

Last June, USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy did a piece on Islamophobia & U.S. Public Diplomacy in the Trump Era. In another post on re-thinking social engagement, CPD writes that “in the age of Trump though, global organizations, especially those with American origins, must do all they can now to shore up their reputational capital and strengthen bonds of trust with the people they engage with and serve – customers, employees, influencers, citizens – around the world.” On Wednesday, USC Annenberg will host P.J. Crawley, former spox and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs for a conversation on U.S. domestic politics and the future of America’s global leadership in the age of Trump.

Former FSO John Brown once wrote that at its best, public diplomacy “provides a truthful, factual exposition and explication of a nation’s foreign policy and way of life to overseas audiences,”  — how do you do that particularly after what happened last week? After a new underground railroad from the United States to Canada is widely reported to “escape a harsh new U.S. regime”?

Also a quick reminder that the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) who leads in America’s public diplomacy outreach is currently vacant. Ambassador Bruce Wharton, the acting “R” retired in late July. There are no announced nominees for the undersecretary or for the assistant secretaries for the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), or for Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center (GEC).

Some cartoonists below looking at the United States.

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Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns

Posted: 4:30 am ET

 

We recently blogged Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  We also posted our comments on Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing with the State Department Press Corps (see Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs).

We now understand that Deputy Secretary Sullivan had three reasons for holding a town hall with State Department employees.  It appears like he missed some marks.

State/USAID full merger no longer in the planning?

The first reason for the town hall was reportedly to make clear to employees that for planning purposes there will not be a full merger between the State Department and USAID. All Working Groups (now known as “Workstreams”) involved in the redesign were previously instructed to assume that State and USAID will “remain separate” but be “mutually dependent” entities. That is, USAID will not be fully subsumed but it will also not be further separated from State. Our understanding it that the Working Groups would consider consolidation at the management and program levels if it is best or moving things from USAID or State depending on who has the expertise. The important point that folks expected Mr. Sullivan to clarify was to make clear that the full merger is no longer in the planning. Apparently, this he did not do.

Based on the on-the-record briefing with D/Secretary Sullivan, he only mentioned USAID once when he said, “Nothing’s off the table, everything is going to be evaluated by them, the Secretary has not given – other than a mandate to make a better State Department and USAID more efficient and effective for the 21st century, he’s not directed that any outcome result from this redesign.” During the town hall, he reportedly told attendees that “The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID.”  Expectant folks were  disappointed, and were perplexed why Mr. Sullivan did not mention that the full merger is no longer in the planning.

Preparation, Organization, Skepticism

The other two reasons were more challenging. One, he was supposed to impressed upon employees that the re-design process is “truly employee-led” and two, he was supposed to provide some motivation to the staff.

On the re-design, we understand that there are two issues. First, the issue with trust is reportedly a huge concern.  In addition, employees also believe that the contracted firm has more access to Secretary Tillerson than all of the current leadership.  The State Department leadership reportedly doesn’t understand why no one believes that the process isn’t rigged.  So, they do all these things to try and convince folks that is not the case but without much success. Latest examples are the town hall with inadequate answers, and a stakeholder meeting last week with NGOs who do business with State/USAID. Both did not go very well.  In the latter, the State Department representatives apparently tried to take a poll on foreign aid priorities. Sources told a reporter that the poll questions were dumb and the answer choices were often irrelevant. NGO representatives told the reporter that they felt like they were being talked down to and offered BS responses.

The second concern has to do with preparation and organization. Apparently USAID is seen as seeming more prepared and organized in these meetings and in the Workstreams. State reportedly appears seemingly scattered and State folks more likely to disagree with other State people.  At this time, we only know that career employees are in these working groups. We don’t know if there are political appointees working with them and what roles are played by the consulting firms.

Below are the short and the long bits on D’s town hall.

via tenor.com

 

Town Hall Feedback

One blog feedback we received: I was there and DS Sullivan might as well have not showed up. 80 percent of the questions seemed out of his league. Huge disappointment!”

One State Department employee told us he/she gave Deputy Secretary Sullivan a “B” for effort and style, and a “D” for substance, as there were too many questions that he could not answer. If the questions were collected from the Secretary’s Sounding Board, he should have been prepped better.

LGBT

We were informed that Mr. Sullivan did give a pretty good answer on diversity when he was asked if the Department was doing anything to help LGBT employees with the family member accreditation issue (now that State/HR has changed the Fair Share rule to 20% posts or greater, we’ve also learned that only 33% of posts are places where LGBT FSOs can serve accompanied by their families).

The Q&A from the town hall and a few comments in [brackets] below are provided anonymously through one of our contacts:

Re-design

Q: When will the redesign be complete? “There are a couple of steps in that process…when will we get to the point where the redesign is implemented that requires steps from Congress and OMB…as soon as we get clearance from OMB we will start…”

“The redesign is not the dismantling of State and USAID” [he really felt he had to say that out loud]. “Despite what you might read in the newspaper”[….fake news!!]

Future hiring

Q: AFSA: …We found the same thing Insigniam did – we love our jobs but are driven to distraction by onerous process…but as to the hiring freeze and the FS…because it’s an up or out system, we have a built-in RIF…so we are RIFing right now unless we are hiring…what can you tell us about hiring ELOs next year so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past? “The issues you raise are important” [oh boy…] “that’s why we have ambassadors and career FSOs working on this in the working groups…it’s an important issue we’re working on.”

CA to DHS

Q: One recommendation from the listening tour report was to move CA to DHS? “Nothing is off the table – because this is a bottom up employee-led process, but I have told S how important CA is, it’s not his intent nor mine to move CA. But nothing is off the table.”

Lateral transfers

Q: Why are you preventing lateral moves for civil servants? He’s explaining the hiring freeze... “it’s not a sign of disrespect”. [OMG he just said] “I’ll give you two examples of great civil servants I know.”

Delegations of Authority

Q: On delegations to P – ability to act for S and D in their place – how do we do legal necessary things if you aren’t available? “This process is ongoing…we will ensure decision making is launched at the right level…” [whaaaaaaT?! In the meantime we are f*****g drowning!]
(DS NOTE: Oops! On July 31, Secretary Tillerson issued DA-245-2 from S to the Deputy Secretary (Sullivan); we have yet to see the DA from the Secretary to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (Shannon). 
“S” Clearance for International Travel
Q: We have just been notified we need S’ clearance on all international travel…as you just said the survey mentioned so many of us mentioned the clearance process as onerous. “The means by which we authorize employees to travel is one of these issues that has been raised to me many times…I’m not completely familiar with the issue you raise…but what I can address is, delegations of authority, and the NYT said my authorities were removed because of something I did, but that’s not factually true…we found there are hundreds of delegations of authority and there’s no central way to keep track…but as to travel, I’ll have to get back to you…”
(DS NOTE: Guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must now be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening. On delegations of authority, the notion that there’s no way to track delegations of authority – that’s just incorrect. A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website). 
EFMs and hiring freeze

Q: Hiring freeze especially hard for EFMs. Will the freeze be reconsidered? “We will endeavor to lift the freeze as quickly as possible. In the interim there are waivers” [yeah but S insists on reading each waiver personally!!]

Vacancies

Q: You began your speech with how important Tom Shannon is, but there are a number of other people who could be helping you and poor Tom – the empty AS and under secretaries – why aren’t these being filled? (Applause) “There is no delay or freeze on nominating political appointees though many think there should be...[silence]...that’s a joke!” [Ugh.] “The process is underway, hasn’t gone as quickly as we’ve hoped but it’s underway…I think it’s gaining steam…”

 

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#TrumpChicken Thanks Putin For Kicking Out U.S.Mission Russia Staffers

Posted: 4:19 pm PT

 

On August 10, 2017, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States announced for all the world to hear that he wanted to thank Russian leader Vladimir Putin for slashing the United States own diplomatic staff at U.S. Mission Russia.  He was under the impression that this would result in a smaller payroll.  If he were a little bit more curious about our diplomatic missions, he would know that our career diplomats and their families would be reassigned to other posts. And he would realize that when our diplomats are kicked out from a certain country, it would impact the United States ability to analyze, report, negotiate, and improve bilateral relation with that country.

If he were a little bit more informed, he would know that the reduction in staff — beyond the upheavals it would bring to the lives of mission staffers and their families — would hinder the embassy’s ability to investigate allegations of mistreatment of or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia. If the U.S. does not have sufficient staff, it would jeopardize cooperation with Russia in addressing pressing global challenges where U.S. core national security interests align:

  • nonproliferation
  • nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) security
  • preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises
  • combatting violent extremism and terrorism

But Mr. Trump is not curious, and he is ill informed, and he has not shown signs that he will improve with age. Unfortunately, this also shows us as clear as day that he sees no usefulness for diplomacy nor appreciation for the people who labors in it.

Frankly, the only way we are actually able to process this latest edition in bonkers news is if we imagine that Trump Chicken delivered this message and the real President of the United States is somehow working, not golfing, with the dedicated personnel at Area 51.

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USG Seeks Jerusalem Hotel Room Services For Estimated 2,704 Room Nights For a Year

Posted: 3:06 am ET

 

On July 20, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a solicitation for Jerusalem Hotel Room Services.

The Embassy intends to conduct a pre-proposal conference, and all prospective offerors are invited to attend. The pre-proposal conference will take place at 10:00 AM local Israel time, on August 1, 2017, at the US Embassy Annex Facility located at 11 Galgalai Haplada St., Entrance B, 3rd floor, Herzelia Pituach, Israel.

The requirement is for the providing of lodging rooms for Official US Government visits to the City of Jerusalem.  The estimated number of hotel rooms for one year is 1,202 rooms and 2,704 room nights.  The anticipated performance is for a base period of twelve months and two one -year periods at the option of the Government.

The scope of services requires the contractor to provide a minimum of 40 (forty) and a maximum of 6,500 (six thousand five hudred) single hotel rooms in Jerusalem. According to FedBiz, the contract type will be indefinite quantity.

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‘Rexit’ From Foggy Bottom Is Now a Thing … Plus PredictIt Odds

Posted: 1:20 am ET

 

Via CNN:

For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat.
But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom sooner that that.
Both of these sources are familiar with Tillerson conversations with friends outside Washington. Both said there was a noticeable increase in the secretary’s frustration and his doubts that the tug-of-war with the White House would subside anytime soon.

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ExxonMobil “demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions” – @StateDept says go over there for QQQs!

Posted: 12:42 am ET

 

The State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert did one of her twice a week Daily Press Briefing at the State Department and was asked about the Treasury Department’s Exxon fine for violating the Russian sanctions when Secretary Tillerson was the CEO. A quick note here.  We realized that they’ve changed the name of this briefing into “Department Press Briefing” but as a daily reminder that the Bureau of Public Affairs is now unable to handle the daily demands of briefing the press, we will continue calling this the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing.

Below are excerpts from the DPB:

MS NAUERT: The Secretary – we’re not going to have any comments today for you on some of the alleged facts or the facts underlying the enforcement action. Treasury is going to have to answer a lot of these questions for you. I’m not going to have a lot for you on this today. The Treasury Department was involved in this. They were the ones who spearheaded this. And so for a lot of your questions, I’m going to have to refer you to Treasury.

MS NAUERT: Yes. I’m not going to comment on that at this time. The Secretary recused himself from his dealings with ExxonMobil at the time that he became Secretary of State. This all predates his time here at the Department of State, and so —

MS NAUERT: I think I will say this: The Secretary continues to abide by his ethical commitments, including that recusal from Exxon-related activities. The action was taken by the Department of State – excuse me, the Department of the Treasury, and State was not involved in this.

QUESTION: And does – can you tell us if the Secretary believes in the objectives of the Ukraine-related sanctions programs?

MS NAUERT: I know that we have remained very concerned about maintaining sanctions. That will continue. We’ve been clear that sanctions will continue until Russia does what Russia needs to do.

QUESTION: For the record, will he come down and talk with us —

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m sorry, who —

QUESTION: — talk about this? Just for the record, will he come down and talk about this to us himself?

MS NAUERT: Well, I’m here to speak on his behalf and on behalf of the building. There’s not a whole lot that we can say about this right now. Again, you can talk to Treasury or to Exxon about this. Okay.

MS NAUERT: The Secretary has been – not to my knowledge. I can tell you this, that he has been extremely clear in his recusal of anything having to do with Exxon. When this information come to us here at the State Department, it did not come to the Secretary himself. It came to the Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. The Secretary has taken this very seriously, that Exxon-related activities are not something that he is involved with here as Secretary of State.

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In assessing the maximum monetary penalty, Treasury/OFAC outlined the following as aggravating factors (via):

(1) ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements when it failed to consider warning signs associated with dealing in the blocked services of an SDN; (note: Specially Designated Nationals)

(2) ExxonMobil’s senior-most executives knew of Sechin’s status as an SDN when they dealt in the blocked services of Sechin;

(3) ExxonMobil caused significant harm to the Ukraine-related sanctions program objectives by engaging the services of an SDN designated on the basis that he is an official of the Government ofthe Russian Federation contributing to the crisis in Ukraine; and

(4) ExxonMobil is a sophisticated and experienced oil and gas company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services, and technology subject to U.S economic sanctions and U.S. export controls.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress opening ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 9, 2017. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

AND NOW THIS — the State Department’s “employee-led redesign initiative” with no “predetermined outcomes” is a runner up for “Best in Show.”

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