US Ambassador Hennessey-Niland Visits Taiwan With Palauan Presidential Delegation

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The U.S Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland visited Taipei with the presidential delegation from Palau on March 28.  The five-day trip is reportedly to launched ‘Asia’s first travel bubble’ between two ‘Covid-safe’ destinations — Taipei and Koror, Palau’s biggest island.” According to SCMP:

US ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland was part of the delegation, becoming the first US envoy to visit Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979. Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be returned to its control by force if needed, has repeatedly warned the US against official contacts with the island.

There does not appear to be any statement on state.gov or post’s social media about this trip.
State.gov backgrounder: Palau gained its independence and established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1994, with the entry into force of the Compact, under which the U.S. remains responsible for Palau’s defense until 2044. Palau is a sovereign nation and conducts its own foreign relations. The United States and Palau cooperate on a broad range of issues, including strengthening regional security, promoting sustainable development and addressing climate change, and protecting fisheries and the environment. Approximately 500 Palauans serve as volunteers in the U.S. armed forces, and Palau also has one of the highest levels of voting coincidence with the United States at the United Nations. The United States and Palau signed the Compact Review Agreement in 2010, with a wide range of federal programs to continue until 2024. Read more

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@StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications

 

On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s  still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The State Department also released a statement Inspector General Confirms No Wrongdoing in Emergency Arms Sales to Counter Iran, The Secretary’s “Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed” and “Complied with the Requirements” of Law.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:

“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
[…]
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”

But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
It’s high time for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to go in and take a look at the State Department given the circumstances of the Linick firing, the abrupt resignations of the acting State OIG, as well as the dismissal of other IGs in multiple agencies. Starting with the State Department, CIGIE can then “address the integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies.”
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers

“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.

For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”

Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency?  So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Per footnote:

Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.

4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion

OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.

So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”

Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.
The unredacted document is posted here labeled in red “FOR INTERNAL U.S. GOVERNMENT/COMMITTEE USE ONLY – NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE MAY NOT BE FURTHER DISCLOSED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.  Wow! Now you can see which part of the public report, the State Department asserted the public should not see (it has to do with the timeline of the emergency declaration and the bureau involved. And oh, money, money, money).

Maximum Pressure Season 3 Gets a Dual-Hatted Special Rep Elliot Abrams For Venezuela AND Iran

Pompeo’s remarks on the departure of Brian Hooks says that “he has achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime.” Historic results  does not mean successful, does it? Why else would they need Elliot Abrams to be the new Special Representative for Iran?  Or the former Iran Rep has done such a historic job his replacement only needs to do the job at half time, as Abrams spend the other half exerting maximum pressure on Venezuela?
What the bananas is even happening?
State Department bench these days must be really thin, why else would these senior diplomats be doing two-three jobs at any given time? But perhaps it’s not State that has a thin bench but Pompeo’s in group that has a thin bench. And with folks bailing out these days (Akard, Hook, who else?), how soon before Foggy Bottom’s upper echelon starts looking like a ghost town?
Pardon me? Not soon enough? Well, okay, let’s keep our ears to the ground.
It’s that time of year when burrowing feds come into fashion. In 2016, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were excited to ferret out political appointees who slip into career positions in the federal government. They must be just as excited now.
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4/22 Proclamation Suspends Entry of Immigrants For 60 Days; @StateDept Already Suspended Routine Visa Services on 3/18

 

 

State/CA released this on April 23, 2020: Proclamation Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak

On Wednesday, April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation suspending entry into the United States of certain immigrants who present risk to the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak.  The proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 23 and expires in 60 days, unless continued by the President.  

U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and those holding valid immigrant visas on the effective date of the Proclamation, are not subject to the proclamation.  The Proclamation is not retroactive. No valid visas will be revoked under this Proclamation.  The proclamation provides exceptions to its restrictions for certain categories of immigrants, including: certain healthcare professionals, aliens seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an EB-5 investor visa, spouses and children (categories IR2, CR2, IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4) of U.S. citizens, members of the United States Armed Forces and any spouse and children of a member of the United States Armed Forces, and aliens seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa.  Please refer to the proclamation for a full list of exceptions.   Routine visas services have been suspended at U.S. posts worldwide, but as resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services for applicants who are not subject to this presidential proclamation. 

The full text of the presidential proclamation is available on the White House website at:  

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspending-entry-immigrants-present-risk-u-s-labor-market-economic-recovery-following-covid-19-outbreak/

See immigrant visa categories here.
Per Sec 2.(b)  of the Proclamation.
The suspension and limitation on entry pursuant to section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply to:

(i)     any lawful permanent resident of the United States;

(ii)    any alien seeking to enter the United States on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional; to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19; or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees;  and any spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of any such alien who are accompanying or following to join the alien;

(iii)   any alien applying for a visa to enter the United States pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program;

(iv)    any alien who is the spouse of a United States citizen;

(v)     any alien who is under 21 years old and is the child of a United States citizen, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;

(vi)    any alien whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee;

(vii)   any member of the United States Armed Forces and any spouse and children of a member of the United States Armed Forces;

(viii)  any alien seeking to enter the United States pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa in the SI or SQ classification, subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may impose, and any spouse and children of any such individual; or

(ix)    any alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.

Note that the  State Department already suspended routine visa services in most countries on March 18, 2020.

If your routine visa services are still open during this pandemic, please tell us why (Updated)

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