Some Republicans looked like they were set up for a new fight against President Barack Obama's nominee for to replace Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former journalist and Harvard scholar, who has written critically of what she viewed as America's moral failure in the face of modern genocides in Africa and the Balkans.
"Jeanne Kirkpatrick is turning in her grave right now," Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted this morning. "I don't know about you, but it might be helpful to have someone rep'ing America at UN who doesn't think we are the source of world's ills."
But by the time President Barack Obama announced Power's and Rice's nominations at a White House ceremony things were beginning to look up. As the Cable reported, Republican conservatives were voicing report for the Power. And Senator John McCain, who had vigorously opposed Rice's nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State, issued a statement backing Power. "I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nation," McCain said. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
Yet Urbahn cited a lengthy article by Power in the March 2003 issue of the New Republic, the same month the United States entered Iraq, a conflict which epitomized for her the Bush administration's "overreliance on power in the name of principle."
In that piece, Power faulted the United States for applying double standards -- what she termed "a la cartism" -- in the conduct of its foreign policy, griping about the "shortage of democracy in Palestine, but not in Pakistan," or bombing Serbs in defense of ethnic Albanians but saying nothing about Russian excesses in Chechnya.
Power argued that America's international standing and credibility required that Washington also confront the darker chapters of its foreign policy past -- CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile, and Congo, and the doubling of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein the year he gassed the Kurds.
"We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, permitted by the United States," she wrote. "Willie Brandt [the former German Chancellor] went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also cathartic for Germany," she wrote. "Would such an approach be futile for the United States?"
The New Republic piece, as well as many other published writings, including her book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, will provide fertile ground for Republicans to pick through for signs of her political suitability.
Power has long had a deep interest in the United Nations, which she covered as a freelance reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s. She wrote a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, the U.N. trouble-shooter who was killed in the Aug. 2003 terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Baghdad.
But if Power survives the confirmation hearing, she may have some explaining to do here in New York. Before joining the Obama administration, where she served as the National Security Staff's expert on international organizations and U.N. peacekeeping, Power had provided a withering assessment of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Here's my account of her remarks:
During then Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign, a top foreign-policy advisor, Samantha Power, spoke disparagingly of Ban, characterizing his handling of the Darfur crisis as "extremely disappointing," in a Frontline interview. Ban ‘looks to be adopting the persona of many of his predecessors in that job, which is to be more of a secretary than a general. Darfur needs a general. Not a military general, it needs a diplomatic general, a political general, a moral general. It doesn't need a secretary."
"Is that all there is?" she told the New Statesman, a British magazine, before Obama was elected. "Can we afford to do without a global figure, a global leader?" U.S. officials have insisted that Power's comments do not reflect the views of the current administration, in which Power serves as a White House advisor on multilateral issues.
Obama administration officials have previously noted that the remarks were not made while she was in government and that said that she has since patched up her relationship with Ban.
But Power has also directed sharp criticism of the human rights conduct of other key U.N. powers, including China and Russia. The U.N. Security Council, she noted in her New Republic piece, is "anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy peace against justice and security against human rights."
Hmm, this is going to be interesting...
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Ed.: This post has been updated to reflect Sen. John McCain's statements in support of Power's nomination.
The latest round of Russian and U.S. diplomacy has yet to prove it can end a civil war in Syria that has already exacted well over 70,000 lives and threatened to engulf the region. But it has been enough to convince Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria, to put his retirement plans on hold and serve as the diplomatic ringleader for the high-stakes negotiations.
The political conference -- which is designed to bring together Syrian officials, opposition leaders, and big-power foreign ministers -- is expected to begin in Geneva, Switzerland, around June 15 and last two to three days, though the final date has not been set in stone, according to diplomats involved in the preparation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has committed to open the event with a speech, but he will turn over the work of mediation to Brahimi, a veteran diplomatic trouble shooter who has negotiated peace deals in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brahimi has confided to diplomats that he envisions the conference as a truncated version of the 2001 Bonn conference, where the former Algerian diplomat helped forge a transitional Afghan government headed by Hamid Karzai to fill a political vacuum created by the U.S.-led military overthrow of the Taliban. The meeting will start large, with speeches by senior international dignitaries, and then shift into more intimate talks involving the warring parties.
Brahimi's goal is to gain support for the implementation of the June 2012 Geneva action plan, which outlined a roadmap for a political transition to a provisional government with full executive powers in Damascus. The Geneva pact -- which was backed by Russia and the United States -- represents the most important big-power agreement on a plan to resolve the conflict. But the deal has foundered in the face of a split over the wisdom of threatening further sanctions against the Syrian government to compel its compliance with the terms, as well as differences over the role of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's future.
There are several crucial matters that remain unresolved on the eve of talks, including the composition of the Syrian and opposition delegation, and the question of whether they will talk directly or communicate through Brahimi. The role of the United States and Russia, the key sponsors of the conference, and other major powers like Britain, China, France, and Turkey remains undecided. Some of the most controversial regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, which is arming the opposition, and Iran, which is arming the Syrian government, will not likely be invited.
So far, the Syrian government has proposed some five to six names of government representatives, including Prime Minister Wael al-Halki, Information Minister Omran Zoabi, and Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar. But the opposition has yet to select their own representatives or approve the Syrian government list.
Selecting an agreed slate has been complicated by the need to identify individuals who have sufficient authority over the Syrian combatants to compel them to accept a potential political deal, but who are not associated with human rights abuses.
The diplomacy is unfolding against a backdrop of deepening violence, not only in Syria, but in neighboring countries, including Lebanon, where fighting broke out on May 19 between residents of Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods in the town of Tripoli.
The pro-Syrian militia, Hezbollah, has sent fighters to aid Assad's forces in its battle for the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East told the Security Council today. "The past month has seen repeated incidents of shelling from Syria into Lebanese territory that has caused casualties."
Serry also said that the U.N. secretary general "remains gravely concerned about the allegations of the use of chemical weapons." Citing "mounting reports on the use of chemical weapons" he urged the Syrian government to allow a U.N. team into the country to examine the allegations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, met in Amman, Jordan, today with the pro-opposition diplomatic coalition called the "Friends of Syria" -- a group that includes representatives of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Kerry said they would discuss how to help the opposition fashion a slate of representatives for the Geneva talks that constitute the "broadest base possible in Syria."
"We will discuss the framework, the structure of what we think Geneva ought to be. And obviously, that will have to be discussed with the Russians, with the United Nations, and with others in order to find the formula that moves us forward most effectively," Kerry said before the meeting. "We will listen to all voices with respect to the format, to the timing, to the agenda, and to the outcomes that should be discussed."
In the meantime, the U.S. and European powers sought to increase pressure on Syria to show flexibility in Geneva. On Monday, the European Union is expected to meet on Monday to decide whether to lift or ease an arms embargo that has limited the opposition's ability to purchase weapons. Kerry, meanwhile, warned that the United States may be prepared to provide military support to the opposition. "In the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate ... in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country."
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Courtesty of the United Nations: Jean-Marc Ferre
This, I think, needs repeating.
When it comes to Syria, the United Nations is stuck.
You could almost be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given the extraordinary number of meetings, investigations, and resolutions currently devoted to resolving a crisis that has left more than 70,000 dead and raised the specter of chemical warfare.
On March 21, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced plans to send a U.N. team to Syria to investigate claims of chemical weapons use. I haven't spoken to a single diplomat or U.N. official who believes the team will ever be let into the country.
In the U.N. General Assembly, Qatar is asking governments to support a resolution that would bolster the Syrian rebels' international legitimacy. A final-watered down version may ultimately be passed, but like previous UNGA resolutions on Syria, its impact will be largely symbolic -- another stern demonstration of Syria's diplomatic isolation.
Lakdhar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on April 19, regarding his latest efforts to persuade the warring factions to agree to a political transition. Prospects for a peaceful transition have never looked bleaker.
There's a long history of diplomatic standstills generating a flurry of diplomatic action leading nowhere. In Darfur, Sudan, the U.N. Security Council once authorized a U.N. peacekeeping mission even though it was clear Khartoum would not let it into the country. In Bosnia, the council created U.N. safe havens that it couldn't be defend.
Syria is no different.
"The UN has been entirely cut out ... and I think there is no reason to believe any of these current activities is going to make the slightest difference on the ground," said Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. "What you see at the U.N. are diplomats creating noise to conceal the fact that they are not making progress."
It's unfair to write the U.N. off entirely.
The U.N. has been at the forefront of international efforts to raise concern about human rights abuses in Syria, while organizing the world's humanitarian response and collecting a catalogue of evidence of war crimes that could ultimately be used to hold some of Syria's worst human rights violators accountable for their crimes. And Ban has been outspoken in scolding the perpetrators of violence and pushing major powers to step up to the plate.
"On Syria, this is a most troubling situation where all the leaders of the world should really take a much more strengthened leadership role," Ban said after a meeting in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama. "I have asked President Obama to demonstrate and exercise his stronger leadership in working with key partners of the Security Council."
But the council -- the only U.N. institution that has real clout -- has been paralyzed by a big power dispute between China and Russia on one side, and the United States, Europe, and Arab governments on the other. The dispute poisons virtually every discussion.
The chemical weapons investigation is a case in point.
Last month, the Syrian government asked the U.N. secretary general to investigate its claim that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in a March 19 attack that killed 26 people, including 16 Syrian soldiers. Russia quickly rallied to Syria's defense, urging Ban to carry out the investigation as swiftly as possible.
But Britain and France, citing opposition claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, subsequently urged Ban to expand the investigation to include alleged incidents in Homs and Damascus. Ban agreed to look at all cases.
Syria, meanwhile, balked, insisting that U.N. could only investigate the single case in Aleppo. Russia has largely backed Syria's position, and made it clear that it would not allow the council to be used to pressure Syria to consent.
There has been no independent confirmation that chemical weapons were used, nor has there been confirmation that such munitions were used in some other recent cases, as alleged by the opposition. But Britain and France have presented the United Nations with information indicating numerous possible incidents of chemical weapons use.
Lacking Security Council support, Ban this week sought to coax Damascus into granting visas by announcing that the inspection team had already traveled to Cyprus, and was ready to go to Syria within 24 hours. "They are now ready to go," Ban reiterated following his meeting with Obama.
But U.N. officials and diplomats say privately that Syria, which has already refused Ban's terms for the probe, is unlikely to let the team in. "We're at an impasse," said one council diplomat.. "It doesn't look good."
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It's not exactly the Cold War.
But U.S.-Russia relations have been getting pretty chilly in the U.N. Security Council lately.
On Tuesday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, traded verbal blows over a stalled U.S. initiative to endorse a recent peace deal between Sudan and South Sudan.
The big power quarrel played out in a procedural skirmish over how the 15-nation council should be used to promote political reconciliation between the two Sudans, which have been locked in their own highly contentious squabbles over the nature of their relationship in the wake of South Sudan's independence in 2011.
Rice accused Churkin of trying to thwart the council's efforts to adopt a U.S.-drafted statement pressuring both Sudans to implement of set of obligations they have undertaken on everything from security arrangements to oil exports and trade, and condemning clashes between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces, including Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of towns in the south. Churkin fired back that Rice was "not reasonable" and her decision to divulge the contents of confidential negotiations was "rather bizarre."
The dispute reflected the deepening strains between the United States and Russia on a range of issues, including Syria, where the two powers have been stalemated, and Sudan, where Moscow has repeatedly stymied American efforts to press Khartoum. But it also highlighted the testy tenor of relations between Churkin and Rice, which some colleagues have likened to emotional exchanges between high-school kids.
For weeks, Rice had been struggling to secure agreement on a U.N. Security Council presidential statement that would recognize recent progress between the former civil war rivals in negotiations touching on everything from the demarcation of the border to control of Sudanese oil, which is mostly pumped in landlocked South Sudan, but transported, refined, and exported through Sudan.
Rice had crafted the draft in a way that could maximize pressure on Khartoum to withdraw its security forces from the disputed territory of Abyei, to provide access for U.N. humanitarian workers seeking to distribute humanitarian assistance in the conflict zones of South Kordofan and Blue Nile state. But it also deplored the presence of South Sudanese national police in Abyei, and urged both sides to refrain from hostilities.
Moscow had initially blocked the U.S. initiative on the grounds that it was too tough on Khartoum, but not tough enough on South Sudan. But on Friday of last week, Russia had reached agreement in principle with Rice to support the American measure.
The deal, however, was never concluded. Over the weekend, Sudan and South Sudan reached agreement on a deal setting the stage for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the two countries and an oil pact that will allow for the resumption of oil exports for the first time since January 2012, when South Sudan halted production to protest what they believed were excessive transport fees charged by the Sudanese government.
Rice told reporters that she had intended to update the statement to reflect the latest agreement, but that Churkin abruptly introduced his own press statement welcoming the latest agreement and stripping out any language criticizing Khartoum's shortcomings on other fronts. Rice suggested that Russia, which has more limited interests in the Sudans than the United States, is performing the role of diplomatic spoiler in the council.
"We were close to agreement on that, and we were ready to update it to take account of recent events," Rice told reporters. "Unfortunately, perhaps in the interest of derailing such a PRST [Presidential statement], the Russian federation, which does not typically utilize the pen on South Sudan or Sudan, tabled a draft press statement, which only discussed a very narrow aspect of the substance of the larger ... statement and excluded language on the two areas, excluded mention of the cross border incidents, including aerial bombardment."
Churkin insisted that his intentions were pure, and that he was merely seeking to send a swift message of support to the Sudanese parties.
"Ambassador Rice chose to spill out to the media some confidential conversations we had today and actually did it in a rather bizarre way, from what I hear,' he told reporters. "I think the reaction of the U.S. delegation was not reasonable. And as a result of that we were not able to have any agreed reaction from the council today."
"This was not a constructive way to deal with the work in the Security Council," he added. "Trying to find all sorts of ulterior motives and come up with various outlandish accusations is not the best way to deal with your partners in the Security Council. I know it's not a good way to deal with the Russian delegation."
Some U.N. diplomats believe that Churkin is actually trying to provoke his American counterpart and that his tough line reflects an increasingly combative foreign policy approach being pursued by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Russia is taking on an increasingly nationalistic foreign policy and Churkin's instructions reflect that," said one council diplomat.
But others fault the Americans for refusing to compromise with Russia in order to maintain pressure on Sudan and South Sudan to comply with their commitments. They say Rice's insistence on tough denunciations of Khartoum, while merited, have resulted in the council's inability to weigh in on many key aspects of the crisis since May 2012, when the council last threatened sanctions against the two sides if they failed to live up to their commitments. The United States "has been using a bazooka when they should stick with a pistol," said one U.N. insider. "Everyone knows how bad [Sudanese President Omar] Bashir is, but does it need to be put in every statement?"
A U.S. official countered that the U.S. has been even handed. "The United States is focused on resolving critical issues that risk another war between Sudan and South Sudan and have a huge human cost," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice, noting that hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese civilians are "enduring a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. We believe the Security Council should hold the parties accountable, as appropriate for fulfilling their obligations. When Khartoum or Juba is cuplable, we think the council needs to apply pressure, as needed."
Russia, meanwhile, has been nursing its own grievances toward the government in Juba since 2011, when the South Sudanese authorities detained a Russian helicopter crew. Moscow unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for a statement criticizing the South's action. Then, to make matters worse, last year, South Sudanese army forces shot down a U.N. helicopter piloted by a 4-man Russian crew, who were all killed in the incident. In that instance, the U.S. supported a council statement deploring the shooting, and demanding that those responsible for the shooting be held accountable.
More recently, Russia accused the United States of blocking a Security Council statement condemning a terror bombing near the Russian embassy in Damascus.
"We believe these are double standards," Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last month. "And we see in it a very dangerous tendency by our American colleagues to depart from the fundamental principle of unconditional condemnation of any terrorist act, a principle which secures the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism," he said.
A spokeswoman for Rice, Erin Pelton, countered that assessment, saying that the United States was willing to support the Russian initiative if it included a reference to President Bashar al-Assad's government's "brutal attacks against the Syrian people. If predictably, Russia rejected the U.S. suggested language as "totally unacceptable" and withdrew its draft statement."
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When Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew her name from consideration for U.S. secretary of state in December, the consensus among many of her Security Council colleagues was that she had been unfairly denied the top American diplomatic post by Senate Republicans seeking to wound the newly reelected American president.
But one of her colleagues, Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, had a curious way of rising to her defense. (A little background: the two ambassadors have had a highly confrontational, though often affectionate relationship, that manifests itself in the kind of testy personal exchanges one might associate with a marital spat.)
In an interview broadcast on Dec. 13 on PBS, Russia's U.N. ambassador Churkin told PBS's Judy Woodruff, if the setback "means that ambassador Rice is going to spend four more years in the United Nations I'm going to have to ask for double pay. She has been one tough individual in the United Nations but we have had I think sometimes a stormy but most of the time friendly relationship with her. I would be looking forward to that, particularly if I'm given double pay for the additional effort."
Over the weekend, I wrote a piece in the Washington Post indicating that Rice was in line to become President Barack Obama's next national security advisor. The move is not imminent. Rice will likely remain in New York at least through the summer, as Thomas Donilon, the current office holder, plots his next move, either inside or outside of government.
During the reporting, I approached Amb. Churkin outside the Security Council to ask if was he was pleased to hear that they would not likely spend the next four years together. He declined to comment. Well, what about that raise? I asked.
"I didn't get it."
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An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and reportedly the favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton, asked to have her name withdrawn for consideration as the America's new secretary of state, the culmination of months of political attacks by Republican lawmakers, and intense scrutiny of her wealth, blunt diplomatic style, and relationship with African leaders.
Rice, 48, appeared destined this fall to serve as America's next top diplomat as President Barack Obama's second-term leader of Foggy Bottom. But her prospects plummeted after a trio of Republican senators -- John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- mounted a sustained attack on Rice.
They suggested that Rice may have willfully misled the public in a series of Sunday morning talk show interviews in which she characterized the September 11 attack on Benghazi, which led to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. nationals, as likely a spontaneous reaction to the broadcast of an anti-Islamic web video.
The account later proved untrue, and evidence soon emerged pointing to a more targeted strike on the U.S. consulate by Libyan Islamists linked to al Qaeda. But the GOP charges against her never stuck, because Rice's account was largely consistent with internal talking notes she had received from the Central Intelligence Agency and because she had left open the possibility that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates may have been involved in the attacks.
In November, Obama rallied to her defense, telling reporters at a White House press conference that Rice had "done exemplary work" at the United Nations. "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said with gusto. "For them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi...to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
But McCain never relented as opposition in the Republican camp widened, drawing in Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), which made it clear that Rice was headed for a contentious Senate nomination process. Rice, meanwhile, faced a flood of more critical coverage of her tenure as a young U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the 1990s, and her role in shielding a close African ally, Paul Kagame, from scrutiny at the U.N. for his government's alleged role in backing a brutal mutiny in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
"I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as Secretary of State," Rice wrote in a letter to the president. "I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."
Rice said in the letter that she looks forward to continuing to serve the president and the country as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., though rumor has it that she might be going back to the White House or National Security Council.
President Obama issued a statement from the White House praising Rice as "an extraordinary capable, patriotic and passionate public servant" who has played an "indispensable role in advancing American interests" at the United Nations.
"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks," said the statement, "her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admiral commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a reputation for diplomatic sparring. Her battles with the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and the French ambassador, Gerard Araud, have been epic.
But Rice has generally held her punches in negotiations with Li Baodong, China's reserved, formal, U.N. envoy -- a man who has shown little taste for the diplomatic joust.
That is, until now. Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea's missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea's surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang's action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that "undermines regional stability."
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
"That's ridiculous," Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
"Ridiculous?" a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. "You better watch your language."
"Well, it's in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin -- if he were in the room -- he would know how to take it," retorted Rice.
The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin's riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making "bogus claims" about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," said Churkin to Rice. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?" said Churkin, mocking Rice's alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.
Today, however, Li countered that Rice's remarks were consistent with an American foreign policy approach that seeks to impose its will on other states.
In the end, however, Rice and her council allies were able to secure a clear condemnation of Pyongyang, though they dropped the provision suggesting the test has undermined regional stability. A Security Council statement condemned the missile launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests. The council took note that it threatened last April to take action against North Korea if it launched further tests, and it vowed to "continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The United States, working with Japan and South Korea, is expected to lead efforts in the coming weeks to forge a tougher council reaction, preferably a resolution imposing sanctions. But they are expected to encounter tough resistance from China, which indicated it was not prepared to support a confrontational resolution penalizing Pyongyang, according to council diplomats.
And the man Rice will have to persuade to impose the council's will on North Korea is her new sparring partner, Li Baodong.
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Key U.N. powers said today that Mali's military's arrest and ouster of the country's transitional leader, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, would not deter the U.N. Security Council from forging ahead with plans to intervene in Mali to confront Islamists militants in the north of the country. But it did little to paper over differences between the United States and France on how to get the job done.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered a decidedly uncharitable assessment of a French- and African-backed plan to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda. "It's crap," the U.S. envoy told a gathering of U.N.-based officials, according to one of the officials. Rice's office declined to comment.
The American envoy's assessment reflected deep misgivings that the Malian army, supported by a Nigerian-led coalition of 3,300 troops from 15 Western African countries has the manpower or the skills required to contend with a battle-tested insurgency with experience fighting in the Sahel's unforgiving desert. Rice's candor also deals a setback to a long, drawn-out effort by France and West African countries to secure U.N. Security Council mandate for a regional intervention force in Mali.
The United States is not alone in having misgivings. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently issued a report that argued against an immediate military intervention in Mali, saying the international community should devote its attention to stitching together a political agreement among Mali's squabbling groups, setting force aside as a "last resort." Herve Ladsous, the head of the U.N.'s peacekeeping department and one of the U.N.'s few advocates of military intervention, said recently that even if the intervention plan is approved it would take until September or October, 2013, for the international force to be deployed.
"We should not forget that in any military intervention, even when successful, tens of thousands more people are likely to become displaced both inside the country and across borders," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Monday. "Newly arriving refugees in the neighboring countries are increasingly citing the prospect of military intervention as one of the reasons that pushed them to flee."
Despite these concerns -- and Rice's frank remark -- the United States supports military action in Mali to confront Islamist militants. Just not yet. And not without a role for some of America's most important counterterrorism allies (principally Algeria) that are not members of the West African peacekeeping coalition, and which have so far proven reluctant to sign on to a risky fight with Mali's Islamists that could provoke the group's allies inside Algeria.
The predicament has contributed to the impression of American policymaking as confused in confronting the spread of terrorism and militant Islam in Mali, where insurgents have benefited from an influx of weapons from Libya in the wake of Muammar al-Qaddafi's downfall. But some officials believe the muddled picture is more a reflection of the fact that America's counterinsurgency strategy in the region remains a work in progress.
The Obama administration is seeking broader congressional support for counterterrorism operations in Mali and other northern African countries, while U.S. military planners have been pressing Mali's neighbors with desert fighting experience, including Algeria, Chad, and Mauritania, to participate in military action. William Burns, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, traveled to Algiers over the weekend to prod the government into deepening its role in Mali.
But American diplomats in New York have been urging the Security Council to go slowly, putting off a foreign campaign to confront the Islamists until a new president is elected.
Washington favors what it calls a "two-step authorization" of military force. The first step would involve the swift approval of a resolution authorizing the deployment of an African force to train the Malian army, which put up virtually no resistance to the Islamists, and would express an intention to conduct offensive operations in the north, but only if it is satisfied with a refined military plan -- known as a concept of operations -- that would be due to the council within 45 days. A second resolution, according to the U.S. plan, would authorize offensive operations in northern Mali, as well as a follow-up effort to stabilize a reconquered northern Mali. It remains unclear what military role the United States would play in the counterterrorism operation.
America's diplomatic caution reflects misgivings about the African military plan, questions about who will participate in -- and pay for -- the mission. But it is also stems from American legal constraints. The United States is prohibited by law from providing financial support to Mali's government because the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup in March. Thus it is pressing Mali's interim government to hold presidential elections, initially scheduled for April 2013, before sending foreign armies into Mali to confront the Islamists.
"Mali needs now more than ever a strong democratic government to restore its democratic tradition and provide the strong leadership necessary to negotiate a political agreement with northern rebels, reform its security sector, and lead a military intervention in the north to restore and maintain Mali's territorial integrity," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said last week.
At the Security Council on Monday, Rice said the effort to confront al Qaeda in Mali will require a broader effort by governments in the region to combat transitional crime, including drug trafficking, and the proliferation of terror organizations. "The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali," she told the council.
Rice said there is a need to pursue a multifaceted strategy, including political, humanitarian, environmental, and military pieces, to address the crisis. "Given Mali's delicate situation, we must be careful to address the crises in Mali without further destabilizing the entire region," she said. "Any military intervention in Mali must thus be designed to minimize the operation's humanitarian impact and the impact on human rights." But she provided few insights into what role Washington would play in support of the counterinsurgency operation in Mali.
France agrees that the U.N. needs to pursue a coordinated strategy that addresses many of the country's political, humanitarian, and environmental needs. But it also believes that yesterday's ouster of Prime Minister Diarra only highlights the need for swift military action. "These developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force," France's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The crisis in Mali underscores the rising threat of anti-Western Islamic militancy in North Africa and the Sahel. But it also marks the clearest evidence of blowback from the U.S.-backed military campaign that toppled Qaddafi.
Early this year, Touareg separatists -- many of whom served as Qaddafi's mercenaries -- fighting under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, struck an alliance with Islamist groups, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Dine, to fulfill their long-held dream of establishing an independent Touareg nation. Backed by an influx of weapons from the Libyan war, they quickly defeated the national army, triggering a military coup in the capital, Bamako, by younger officers angered that the government had not supplied them with enough military equipment to meet the fight in the north. But the Touaregs were quickly forced out of the way by their Islamist allies, who had little interest in securing Touareg independence.
The movement now claims control of more than half of the country's territory, including the key northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. U.N. and African mediators are trying to persuade more moderate factions to break ranks with militants linked to al Qaeda. While there have been some statements, U.N. diplomats say it is too early to say whether those efforts are succeeding or not.
Traore Rokiatou Guikine, Mali's minister for African integration, warned the U.N. Security Council last week that foreign Islamists are taking advantage of the security vacuum in northern Mali to consolidate their gains. "The deployment of the force is urgent," she said. "Terrorists have stepped up their activities and are seeking reinforcements to carry out jihad from Mali. Mali is on the way to becoming a breeding ground for terrorists."
The government in Bamako has received firm backing from France, South Africa, India, and other council members for a military response. "The situation in Mali requires an urgent response from the international community," South Africa's U.N. envoy Baso Sangqu said on Monday. "If left unchecked, the situation in the Sahel threatens to spread and affect the countries in the region and beyond, and pose a threat to international peace and security," said Sangqu.
France, meanwhile, favors the adoption of a single Security Council resolution authorizing a foreign intervention force by Christmas, although it could be many months before it is ever sent to Mali.
The French favor what they call a "two track" approach -- promoting a democratic political transition while training Malian security forces to conduct offensive military operations. Unlike the Americans, however, French officials believe it is illogical for the military operations to be put off until after Mali's presidential election, particularly as Malians living in territory seized by the Islamists would not be able to vote. "Do you think that al Qaeda will be securing voting booths for a fair election?" asked one Security Council diplomat.
And with Diarra now removed from office by the military officers who toppled his predeccesor, the country's political future is now even murkier.
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On October 1, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador and the president's presumptive nominee to be the next U.S. secretary of state, met at the French mission here in New York with top diplomats from Britain and France, where they discussed the crisis in eastern Congo, a sliver of territory along the Rwandan border, where mutineers were preparing a final offensive to seize the regional capital of Goma.
France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, pressed Rice and Britain's U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, to apply greater political pressure on the mutineers' chief sponsor, Rwanda, a close American ally, that stands accused by a U.N. panel of sponsoring, arming, and commanding the insurgent M23 forces. The French argued that threats of sanctions were needed urgently to pressure Kigali to halt its support for the M23 and prevent them from gobbling up more Congolese territory.
But Rice pushed back, reasoning that any move to sanction Rwandan leader Paul Kagame would backfire, and it would be better to work with him to find a long-term solution to the region's troubles than punish him. "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," she said, according to one of three U.N.-based sources who detailed the exchange. The U.S. mission declined to comment on the meeting, which was confidential.
The tense exchange reflected the role the United States has played in minimizing Rwanda's exposure to a more punitive approach by the Security Council. Since last summer, the United States has used its influence at the United Nations to delay the publication of a report denouncing Rwanda's support for the M23, to buy time for a Security Council resolution condemning foreign support for the rebellion, and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in U.N statements and resolutions on the crisis.
U.S. officials say they have delivered stern messages to top Rwandan officials in private to halt their support for the M23, and last summer they have frozen some military aid to the Rwandan army, citing the government's support for the mutineers. Rice, they say, is deeply conscious of the horrors wrought by the M23, but that she and other top American officials are pursuing a strategy in New York aimed at minimizing the chances of undercutting regional efforts, involving President Kagame, Uganda President Yoweri Musevini, and Congolese President Joseph Kabila, to bring about a durable peace.
"We want to see an end to the current military offensive. We want to see an end to the occupation of Goma," U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson told reporters in Washington last week, before the rebels began a partial retreat from Goma. "We want to see the three presidents working together to deal with the most immediate crisis and to develop and put in place architecture that will deal ... with the long term issues that affect the region."
Carson also challenged suggestions that Rice, a long time friend of President Kagame, was freelancing on Rwanda. "I too have known President Kagame for many years," he said. "There is not a shadow of a distance between myself and Ambassador Rice on the issues related to the Great Lakes crisis. We are all engaged in delicate diplomacy to get this done, but that diplomacy is carried out in close harmony and in unison."
In the end, American diplomacy did little to stop the M23's war aims. On November 17, the M23 mutineers, allegedly backed by Rwanda and Uganda, launched a major offensive against the Congolese army in eastern Congo. Within three days, the M23 had vanquished the ragged Congolese army, whose forces fled, and marched on the regional capital of Goma, triggering limited resistance from the U.N. peacekeeping forces, which initially clashed with the rebels before announcing it had no mandate to continue the fight if the Congolese army refused to resist the rebellion.
With M23 in control of Goma, the 15-nation Security Council on November 20 adopted a resolution that "strongly" condemned the M23's conduct -- including summary executions, sexual- and gender-based violence, and large-scale recruitment of child soldiers -- and voiced "deep concern" at reports of external support for the mutineers. But at the insistence of the United States, the resolution stopped short of naming Rwanda.
Rwanda has been a close ally of the United States since 1994, when extremist forces linked to the country's then French-backed, ethnic Hutu-dominated government carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 moderate Hutu and ethnic Tutsi Rwandans.
A Tutsi-dominated insurgency, led by then-General Paul Kagame, restored stability to the country, making it a model of economic prosperity and forging a reputation for the rebuilt country as a regional peacekeeper, sending Rwandan blue helmets to Sudan to protect civilians. But his government has also been the subject of U.N. investigations charging it with carrying out large-scale reprisal killings in eastern Congo and Rwanda in the 1990s, and backing a succession of armed groups in eastern Congo.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have vigorously backed the government in Kigali. In September 2007, the Bush administration supported the appointment of an alleged Rwandan war criminal as the deputy commander of the U.N. mission in Darfur, even though the appointment may have violated a U.S. law prohibiting funding for peacekeeping operations that employee rights abusers.
The latest conflict in eastern Congo began in April 2012, when Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese militia leader who stands accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, began an armed mutiny against government forces in eastern Congo. Ntaganda, once fought along the Rwanda Patriotic Front -- which toppled a pro-French government in Kigali and drove government forces responsible for genocide into eastern Congo, then known as Zaire.
An independent U.N. Security Council panel, known as the Group of Experts, claims that Rwanda military leadership, including Defense Minister James Kaberebe, have armed, trained and commanded the mutineers under Ntaganda, who goes by the grim nickname, The Terminator. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, the Group of Experts coordinator, Steve Hege, accused Rwanda of leading the overthrow of Goma.
"The Group has repeatedly concluded that the government of Rwanda (GoR), with the support of allies within the government of Uganda, has created, equipped, trained, advised, reinforced and directly commanded the M23 rebellion," Hege wrote in a November 26 letter, posted by the New York Times, to the U.N. committee overseeing sanctions in Congo. "The information initially gathered by the group regarding the recent offensive and seizure of the North Kivu Provincial town of Goma strongly upholds this conclusion."
Rwandan officials have repeatedly denied allegations that the government is supporting the M23, saying the experts are politically biased against Rwanda and that they have furnished sufficient documentary evidence to prove their case. But the Security Council's key Western governments, including the United States, Britain, and France have largely backed the Group of Experts panel in the face of Rwandan criticism.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative said that Washington should publicly acknowledge Rwanda's support for the M23 and ratchet up pressure on the government to rein them in. "The U.S. premise that private engagement is the best way to restrain Rwanda has been shown to be false, with tragic consequences," he said.
"It's puzzling that the United States continues to remain silent while Rwanda is putting weapons in the hand of notorious M23 abusers, who are using them to kill civilians, rape and recruit children. It's even more inexplicable since the M23 is attacking U.N. peacekeepers that the United States has supported and financed to protect civilians."
The United States, however, maintains that that is exactly what it is trying to do.
In Rice's public remarks, she has singled out the M23, for instance, posting a tweet condemning the actions of the M23 and "those who support them."
"Working with colleagues on the Security Council, the United States helped craft the resolution to reinforce the delicate diplomatic effort underway at the moment in Kampala to end the rebellion in eastern Congo," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for Rice.
"The Security Council's strong resolution, which the U.S. cosponsored, condemned the M23's military campaign, demanded that the M23 withdraw immediately from Goma and permanently disband and lay down its arms, and threatened swift sanctions against M23 leaders as well as their external supporters."
But while some of Washington's counterparts in the council feel the United States is protecting Kigali, Rwandan officials say they are not convinced, citing American support for last month's resolution denouncing foreign support to the M23, a thinly veiled swipe at Rwanda.
"It's impossible to say Rwanda will be in safe hands with the United States on the DRC issue," said Olivier Nduhungirehe, a U.N.-based Rwandan diplomat. "Rwanda will be on our own.
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The United Nations marked the death of U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, and two other American nationals in Benghazi, Libya, with the customary expressions of condolence invoked when a U.N. member state endures a national tragedy.
The U.N. Security Council duly condemned the "heinous" murder of the American diplomatic delegation. A "saddened" U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered his condolences to the United States government and the "bereaved Libyan and American families." And other council diplomats expressed their somber regrets at the untimely murder of colleagues.
But this time, the killing struck closer to home. U.N. Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who served until recently as the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, was a close personal friend and colleague of Stevens at the U.S. State Department.
The U.N. Security Council had played a vital role in shielding Benghazi's residents from certain slaughter at the hands of Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces. In a rare, brief show of unity, the Security Council authorized NATO to use air power against Libyan forces, a move that until led to Qaddafi's overthrow.
The U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the U.S. embassy in Cairo both came under attack from mobs that had allegedly become enraged over the circulation on the Internet of an inflammatory film produced by a man in California who claimed in an interview with the Associated Press that he was an Israeli filmmaker. (The AP has raised questions about his true nationality) But U.S. officials said that the attack in Benghazi may have been planned by extremists inspired by al Qaeda, according to a report in the Washington Post.
After the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the question that was on the minds of many of the U.N.'s Western diplomats. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?" she said. "This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be."
Speaking outside the U.N. Security Council, Libya's U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi conveyed his own government's condolences to the United States and the families of the dead, saying that Stevens had "been a real friend for the Libyan people."
Stevens, he added, "was with us during our fighting against the dictator Qaddafi and his forces. He was very brave in staying in Benghazi."
Dabbashi was at a lost to explain how the ambassador of a government that had supported Libya's liberation could become a target. "As you know, we have to state the reality: the authority of the government is still not covering the whole territory of Libya."
Dabbashi said his government would take "the necessary measures to contain those people ... and bring them to justice." He said that as many as 10 Libyan security forces were either injured or killed during the attack.
Inside the council, the mood was somber as Rosemary di Carlo, the U.S. deputy permanent representative, read out an account of the attack and requested support for a U.S.-drafted Security Council statement condemning the attack. Russia and other delegations that have frequently criticized U.S. backed initiatives on Libya were silent, according to a council diplomat. "Even the hardliners were subdued," the diplomat said. "I think nobody wanted to be in Rosemary's shoes, talking about the death of a colleague."
"The senselessness of if was striking," the official said. "This was not a war; these were people who had committed themselves to the well being of the Libyan people."
But the attack also raised concern among other diplomats about the future of their efforts in Libya, and the persistent diplomatic risks. In April, unidentified attackers targeted a convoy transporting the U.N.'s special representative, Ian Martin, with a roadside bomb. In June, armed groups attacked a British convoy carrying Britain's ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith. The British envoy was not armed, but two British bodyguards were injured.
For now, it remains unclear what impact, if any, Stevens' death will have on the future of the U.N. mission in Libya. "It is too soon to assess the implications for our future posture -- our policy has been to keep a low profile," said one senior U.N. official. Restoring stability in Libya, the official said, will depend on the effectiveness of the country's new prime minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, who won by a slim margin in a vote today. "The events in Benghazi showed everybody that there are still a lot of challenges out there," said the council diplomat.
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Who says the United States doesn't wield influence in the world?
With all the clamor about the limits of American power in shaping a tougher response in the Security Council to Syria's excesses, a couple of recent cases demonstrates that when the U.S. acts others follow suit, just not always the countries you would expect.
On Friday morning, July 27, the United States announced that it needed more time to consider the thorny details of the landmark arms trade treaty. The request, made on the last day of a nearly month-long session, effectively brought the process to a crushing halt. It also made it clear that the United States had no intention of negotiation the pact until next year, after the U.S. presidential election.
The action was criticized by America's allies and denounced by arms control activists as a monumental abdication of U.S. leadership on the world stage, one that threatened the fate of the first international treaty regulating the international sale of conventional weapons.
"This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International and formerly the Obama administration's deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
But for countries that were never enthusiastic about supporting a treaty that could potentially constrain their military exports, the U.S. move was a rallying cry. Before the day was out, Russia, China, India, and Indonesia had lined up squarely behind the United States.
But this isn't the kind of leadership the State Department likes to brag about.
After the conference ended without agreement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement that glossed over the role it played in the delay, saying simply that "more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue."
She said the United States still favored a U.N. arms treaty, but that negotiations would have to wait till next year, placing the politically charged issued off the table in the run up to the election.
"The illicit trafficking of conventional arms is an important national security concern for the United States.... The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement," Nuland said in a statement. "With that in mind, we will continue to work towards an Arms Trade Treaty that will contribute to international security, protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade, and meet the objectives and concerns that we have been articulating, including not infringing on the constitutional rights of our citizens to bear arms."
On another front, the United States clearly demonstrated the enduring power of America's example on the world stage.
For years, critics have accused the State Department of shielding the predominantly ethnic Tutsi Rwandan government from allegations that it had committed large-scale massacres of ethnic Hutus in Rwanda and eastern Congo following the 1994 genocide. The killings, according to human rights advocates and U.N. investigators, were in retaliation for the role of the Hutu-led government in the slaughter of more than 800,000 people.
In her book, Madame Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte said that State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre Prosper, tried to blackmail her into dropping an investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal into alleged crimes by Paul Kagame's forces.
Del Ponte claimed that Prosper, who is now advising Mitt Romney, pressed her to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing the Rwandan government to prosecute alleged war crimes against its own forces. When she refused, the United States launched a successful campaign to assign a new prosecutor to oversee the Rwandan war crimes.
The State Department, which has long shielded the Rwandan government from war crimes charges, announced that it was withdrawing $200,000 in funding for Rwanda, citing claims in a U.N. report that Rwandan has organized, armed, and funded a military rebellion in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Within days, Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany announced that they were planning, or at least considering, suspending funding for Rwanda's budget, citing its alleged support for the mutineers. Rwanda responded angrily, characterizing the aid cut as another example of Western paternalism. "This child-to-parent relationship has to end ... there has to be a minimum respect," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told business leaders in Kenya, according to a Reuters report. "As long as countries wave check books over our heads, we can never be equal."
For now, that reality is perhaps a small sign that the era of American world dominance has not entirely faded.
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The United States upended a major international treaty negotiation, telling foreign delegates at the final session today that they needed more time to consider the pact. Some diplomats said that Washington is seeking another six months, pushing off any decision on the politically sensitive treaty until after the U.S. election. Russia, Indonesia, and India also asked for more time.
Thomas Countryman, U.S. deputy secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, informed representatives of the U.N.'s 193 member states that the United States still needed time to consider the text.
Arms controls advocates expressed dismay over the American move, saying it could undercut momentum that has been building to establish the world's first international treaty government the export of weapons. Before the U.S. speech, they were convinced that the United States and other big powers were on board.
We are "extremely disappointed about this outcome," said Daryl Kimball, the director of the Arms Control Association. The failure of this treaty is "in large part due to the failure of leadership by President Obama."
"Today the U.S. did not grab the golden ring: an international arms treaty that would have bolstered our country's reputation as a elader on human rights," said Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor for Oxfam. "Moving forward, President Obama must show the political courage required to make a strong treaty that contains strong rules on human rights a reality."
The United States told delegates that it did not have "core" objections to the draft treaty under consideration, but that it needed more time, saying that while the U.N. negotiations have been playing out since July 2, they only received the final text in the past 24 hours.
The U.S. mission to the United Nations was preparing a statement.
Kofi Annan, casting around for fresh ideas to stem the violence in Syria, last week proposed inviting Iran to join the United States, Russia, and other world and regional powers seeking to craft a plan for the country's political transition.
The initiative was quickly embraced by Moscow, which proposed hosting this "contact group" for an international conference, and was just as quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, which claimed that Tehran is part of the problem in Syria, not a reliable peace partner.
But why did Annan want Iran inside the peace tent while it is purportedly supporting the Syrian government crackdown, and what impact might Tehran's involvement have on the outcome of the Syrian crisis?
Annan's negotiating team has argued that it would be best to have Iran on its side, rather than seeking to undermine it. "Iran is a key player in this crisis and if you're going to have a group that talks about what can be done to pressure the parties in Syria then you can't neglect the fact that Iran has influence on the Syrian government," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told Turtle Bay.
The decision to try to include Iran was driven by an old-fashioned diplomatic dictum: you need to make peace with your enemy, not your friend. For Annan, that means inviting anyone with the power and influence to spoil the negotiating process into the peace camp, according to U.N. officials.
The United States -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has accepted the need to sit down at the table with the Iranians to address regional conflicts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. And U.S. policy makers have entertained talks with the Taliban to pave the way for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the prospects for talks in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election may prove awkward, particularly at a time when high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program appear stalled again. On Monday, the United States expressed its frustration by announcing yet another round of sanctions against Tehran. While the administration has not ruled out the possibility of an Iranian role in the Syrian peace process it has reacted coolly too it.
"There is no question that [Iran] is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday. "So we think Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution."
The United States and other critics say that Iran's interests run contrary to the U.N.'s goals and that Iran will not support a peace effort that threatens to jeopardize its own interests. "No country in the world stands to lose more from an Assad collapse than Iran. They would lose their only regional ally and their key thoroughfare to Hezbollah," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Iran's position on Syria is to publicly call for reform and conciliation, while privately financing and arming the Assads to the teeth."
"This is an exercise that is designed to avoid confrontation on everybody's part," Brett Schaefer, who tracks the U.N. for the Heritage Foundation, told Turtle Bay. "I think the Russians, the Chinese, and Iran are going to use every opportunity they can to extend this process out, and that a number of Western countries, including the United States, are willing to go along with this because they are unwilling to step outside the U.N.-centric approach."
For China and Russia, the fate of Syria is inextricably linked to that of Iran, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. They fear that the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad will embolden the West to step up pressure to topple the mullahs in Tehran.
"This is about the strategic position of China and Russia writ large," said Landis. "Syria is the canary in the mineshaft. If Syria is taken down, all eyes will turn to Iran."
By bringing Iran to the peace table, however, Russia would be reassuring Iran that its interests will be taken on board in any peace process. Richard Gowan, a scholar at New York University Center for International Cooperation, said that Annan is right to keep channels open to the Iranians, but that Annan has been too deferential to Syria's foreign backers.
"Annan had already made it known that he was talking to Iran on Syria: emphasizing Tehran's importance at this stage was a tactical public relations error,' he said. "It reinforced the impression that Annan is too reliant on Assad's friends in Moscow and Tehran," he told Turtle Bay. "Annan has arguably not been bold enough in challenging the regime's remaining friends."
For months, U.S. and European officials have accused Iran and Russia of supplying Damascus with weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have reportedly funneled arms to opposition fighters.
An April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan, and backed up by a team of about 300 U.N. monitors, is now in tatters. Syrian government forces continue to shell residential neighborhoods, while government-backed militia are suspected of carrying out mass killings in opposition towns. The Free Syrian Army, emboldened by fresh supplies of weapons, has vowed to fight on, saying the U.N.-brokered cease fire has been routinely violated by the government.
"Part of the problem with Syria is that both the Saudis and the Iranians see this as a proxy war for their relative regional ambitions and you can't have one in [the peace process] and the other out without creating a party motivated to subvert the concerted international action," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. expert at the Century Foundation.
For the United States, sitting down with the Iranians on an election year "is politically awkward, but a wider war around Syria is also a problem. It's not very palatable to Washington but sometimes you swallow hard in order to get a job done."
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Richard Grenell, the foreign policy and national security spokesman for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, announced his resignation yesterday, giving up the kind of high-profile political job he had coveted through much of his professional life.
Here at the United Nations, where he served for 8 years as the Bush administration's press spokesman, Grenell's political fall set off some reflexive expressions of glee from insiders, who had been stunned by Grenell's appointment and initially thought he'd been ousted for posting inflammatory and derisive tweets targeting everyone from Michelle Obama to Calista Gingrigh.
But as people began to realize that Grenell may have been forced out of his job because of opposition from social and religious conservatives -- not on his merits or lack thereof but because of his sexuality -- a twinge of guilt set in. "I take back the snarky comment," said one U.N. insider, who initially hailed news of Grenell's political demise with a laugh. "He had to resign ... because he is openly gay!"
In a statement posted on Jennifer Rubin's Right Turn Blog, which broke the news, Grenell said he decided to resign because "my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He thanked Governor Romney "for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."
R. Clark Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Grenell made his decision because it is "best for the Romney campaign" if it was unfortunate that "the hyper-partisan discussion of issues unrelated to Ric's national security qualifications threatened to compromise his effectiveness on the campaign trail...."
"Ric was essentially hounded by the far right and far left," he said. "The Romney campaign has lost a well-known advocate of conservative ideas and a talented spokesman, and I am certain he will remain an active voice for a confident U.S. foreign policy."
Grenell is a well-known, if not terribly popular figure at the United Nations, where he served as spokesman for every one of President George W. Bush's U.N. envoys, including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad. The son of Christian missionaries from the Church of God, Grenell preferred the role of political enforcer to that of the foreign policy wonk, routinely accusing reporters of anti-Republican bias.
Grenell regarded his famously combative relationship with the press -- detailed in this Village Voice article -- as a badge of honor, and Bolton and other foreign policy conservatives rallied to his defense when his tweets -- he once accused Vice President Joe Biden of using botox -- raised questions about his judgment and maturity.
"During his time at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., he showed discretion and good judgment, and did an excellent job representing our country during often very difficult circumstances," Bolton said in a statement. The Washington Post reported that Bolton sought to persuade Grenell not to resign. Romney's campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, meanwhile, said "We are disappointed that Ric decided to resign from the campaign for his own personal reasons. We wanted him to stay because he had superior qualifications for the position he was hired to fill."
But Grenell's foreign policy tenure was not without controversy.
In February 2003, a Mexican reporter at the U.N. published a story claiming that Grenell had pushed Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to "hurry up" his remarks to the press so that Negroponte, who was waiting in the wings for a chance to address the media, could speak. "Who cares what Mexico has to say?" he reportedly said.
The report set off a diplomatic storm in Mexico, where it was widely reported, and Negroponte, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico seeking the country's backing for the Iraq war, had to smooth things over with the Mexican envoy. At the time, there were rumors that the comments had been picked up on a reporter's tape recorder. But a recording never materialized, Grenell categorically denied it, and the U.S. State Department issued a statement defending him.
After leaving government, Grenell continued to monitor events at the U.N., tweeting and writing an occasional op-ed piece for Fox News or the Huffington Post that savaged Susan Rice's tenure at the United Nations and mocked the press as going to soft on her. "If she won't voluntarily resign then she should be fired," he wrote in one Fox News op-ed.
He even found time to take an occasional pot shot at me. After I retweeted a story by my colleague Glenn Kessler taking issue with Romney's characterization of Russia as America's principal geostrategic foe, Grenell fired back with a tweet comparing us to Sergeant Shultz in the 1960's sitcom Hogan's Heroes, and linking to a YouTube video with him relaying his classic line "I know nothing."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
As Kofi Annan pursues a cease-fire to end the violence in Syria, the U.N.'s peacekeeping department has been developing plans for a mission of about 250 unarmed, international observers to monitor the peace and hopefully to buy some time for political talks to forge a lasting settlement.
But what can U.N. monitors achieve in a country like Syria, where a recent experiment involving roughly 150 poorly equipped, ill-trained Arab League monitors ended in failure? Observers say there are few precedents for the deployment of U.N. observers in the middle of an internal conflict, particularly one like Syria where the armed opposition does not operate under a single chain of command.
The experience of the Arab League monitors, who withdrew in January, provides some clues as to the challenges. In the initial stages of that observation mission, Syria erected a series of bureaucratic hurdles, preventing the outside observers from importing their own communications equipment and limiting their travel within the country.
Even if U.N. observers are able to overcome these hurdles, how would a small group of unarmed foreign observers ensure their independence from government security forces and its own protection from spoilers, including a resurgent al Qaeda?
The British government has begun exploring a series of ideas with the U.N. peacekeeping department about the shape of the new mission, which would likely draw staff from existing U.N. missions in the Middle East, including the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, the U.N. Truce Supervision Force, and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.
A small team of U.N. peacekeeping planners are headed to Damascus in the coming days to begin preliminary discussions with the government, although a date has not been set.
U.N. officials and outside observers say they expect a long protracted negotiation with the Syrian government over the mission's terms. Both Annan, a former U.N. peacekeeping chief, and one of his principle deputies, Jean-Marie Guehenno, who succeeded Annan as the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, know better than most the perils of deploying U.N. missions that lack resources or a firm enough mandate to succeed.
In Geneva, Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, meanwhile, expressed concern that there has been no halt to the fighting in Syria, and called on Assad to take the first step. "We expect him to implement this plan immediately," Fawzi told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "Clearly, we have not seen a cessation of hostilities and this is of great concern."
"The government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side," Fawzi added. "We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith.... The deadline is now."
Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University's Center for International Cooperation, said that there will be an "unstoppable pressure" from key powers to deploy foreign monitors in order to show that the world is responding to the violence.
"It will be really tempting to get some observers into the country and say this is a sign of progress. I would urge caution because you could be setting yourself up for another failure," Gowan said. "The Syrians are well placed to manipulate the monitors as they come in."
The U.N. has a long history of deploying observer missions, but they have traditionally been used to monitor cease-fire agreements, or border disputes between states, not internal conflicts. However, there are some precedents.
In 1998, Richard Holbrooke, President Bill Clinton's chief Balkans envoy, negotiated an agreement with the Serbs to deploy the Kosovo Verification Mission in Kosovo, a team of 1,400 observers that enjoyed considerable freedom to monitor violence in the former Serb territory. But the mission, which was established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was unable to stem the violence, and was withdrawn the following year when NATO decided to bomb Serbia into compliance. In 2007, the U.N. sent about 180 unarmed U.N. monitors to Nepal, to ensure that Maoist insurgents remained in a set of military cantonments through the country's election. And last year, the U.N. planned to send a couple of hundred monitors to Libya, to support efforts to broker a cease-fire between the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi and the insurgents. The plan was ditched after Qaddafi's government collapsed last fall.
Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday, April 2, by video conference from Geneva on the latest diplomatic development on Syria, and may broach discussions of a monitoring mission. Security Council members say that a new monitoring mission will require the adoption of a new Security Council resolution, but that no one is expected to table one until receiving a request from Annan.
In the meantime, council diplomats have been putting a series of questions on the mandate of a new mission before Annan and the U.N. peacekeeping department. Most importantly, European officials are seeking assurance that U.N. monitors are used to bolster a political transition, not simply to enforce a stand off that favors the Syrian government.
Gowan offers his own recommendations. For a new monitoring mission in Syria to be a success, six basic operational criteria must be fulfilled:
1. Freedom of movement: The Arab League observer mission was under constant supervision by Syrian security personnel, and could not travel to trouble-spots without their minders. To have even minimal credibility, the U.N. mission would need to be able to make monitoring visits on their own initiative. The team would need their own vehicles (probably armored 4x4s) and independent close-protection officers. The Syrian authorities will argue that the observers should notify them in advance of trips for safety's sake. Nonetheless, the U.N, should insist on the right on to make spot-checks with 2-3 hours notice at most.
2. A secure HQ and communications: The Arab observers were headquartered in a hotel, and had use Syrian communications systems to contact the Arab League in Cairo, inevitably compromising their reporting. A credible U.N. mission would need an independent base -- off-limits to Syrian authorities -- and the ability to send encrypted communications to New York. A neutral government such as Switzerland could provide military communications experts to support the mission. It might not take long for the Syrians (with Russian and Iranian help) to crack the codes, but this would at least signal the observers' autonomy.
3. Access to Syrian artillery and armor: The use of big guns and tanks against civilians has been a defining dimension of the conflict. While the Arab observers were meant to oversee the removal of heavy weapons from urban areas, the Syrian Army only made cosmetic withdrawals. Annan and the Security Council have now called for the "end the use of heavy weapons in population centers, and [to] begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers." U.N. monitors would need to prioritize tracking artillery and armored units, possibly even embedding personnel in their bases away from cities.
4. Satellites and drones: Heavy weapons can also be tracked by drones and satellites -- which the United States has done already -- and the observer mission should make use of these sources. Damascus will object to the U.N. turning to the United States for aerial or satellite intelligence, but the U.N. can get imagery from other sources and has its own satellite imagery analysts. The EU also has a satellite center that could be put at the U.N.'s disposal, and Belgium has a small fleet of drones that it has previously deployed in European peace operations.
5. Special investigators: While "observing" and "monitoring" sound like passive activities, the U.N. could also deploy investigative teams to gain more detailed information on specific incidents -- including bombings and raids by rebel forces. While it's very hard to gather reliable evidence in war zones, small teams of forensic and ballistics specialists may be able to piece together basic facts on new massacres. Although not much of a deterrent in the short term, the presence of these teams may make it possible to hold killers from both sides accountable later, as drawn-out prosecutions in the Balkans have shown.
6. An emergency exit strategy: However effectively the U.N. monitors might perform, there will still be a risk that the situation in Syria will deteriorate again -- and either the government or opposition could try to seize some observers as hostages. There will need to be a military plan to get the monitors out at short notice. Russia, with its base at Tartus, is best-placed to arrange such a plan and could offer to do so as a sign of goodwill towards Kofi Annan. The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon and the Turkish armed forces -- and possibly Britain, which has forces stationed nearby in Cyprus -- could lend a helping hand.
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The U.N. Security Council's five big powers, plus Morocco, began negotiations today on a U.S.-authored draft resolution demanding that Syria end its violent crackdown on protesters and opposition groups and allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The U.S. draft would throw the Security Council's weight behind an effort by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is serving as a joint U.N./Arab League envoy to Syria, to mediate and end the crisis. It would also threaten to consider "further measures" against Syria if it fails to comply with the council's demands.
"We have just begun today preliminary discussions among the permanent five members of the Security Council plus Morocco about whether there is any possibility of reaching agreement around a potential text that would demand an end to the violence in Syria and demand immediate humanitarian access," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said in a statement after the first round of talks. "These discussions are just beginning and will continue. If and when, it seems there is a basis for a meaningful and viable text, we will propose one to the full Security Council."
The American push at the U.N. follows more than a week of discrete efforts by Rice and other U.S. officials to persuade their Russian counterparts to support a tougher approach to Syria at the United Nations. Russia, backed by China, has already vetoed two resolutions condemning Syria's conduct during an 11-month-long campaign to crush a popular uprising. More than 7,500 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of Syrian security forces.
The U.S. draft -- which was posted by Al Hurra's reporter Nabil Abi-Saab -- "condemns the continued widespread, systematic, and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations." It also demands that Syrian authorities "immediately allow unhindered humanitarian access for all populations in need of assistance." And it calls for perpetrators of human rights violations to be held accountable.
The draft also calls on all armed elements in Syria, including the opposition forces from the Free Syria Army, to refrain from violence -- but only after the Syrian military withdraws its military and armed forces from Syrian cities and towns.
The text seeks to place the Security Council behind an Arab League initiative that demands Syria cease all violence, protect its population, release political prisoners, and agree to the establishment of a transitional government of national unity headed by an individual selected by the government and the opposition.
Russia and China vetoed a resolution making similar demands on the grounds that the Arab League had no authority to impose a political solution on Syria, and insisting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad play a role in any political reform plan.
In an effort to overcome Russian objections, the United States included language stating that the 15-nation council "fully supports" a U.N. African Union effort, led by Kofi Annan, to facilitate a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic pluralistic political system." In the event that Syria refuses to comply with the council's demands, the draft states that the Security Council will meet within 14 days of the resolution's passage to "consider swiftly further measures."
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Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), today pulled out of the race to run the world's leading food agency for another five years, announcing she would accept a job in April at the World Economic Forum, which organizes the annual diplomatic retreat in Davos, Switzerland.
Sheeran's campaign to keep her job at the Rome-based food agency for a second term collapsed last month, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notified U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the Obama administration preferred another candidate for the job, Ertharin Cousin.
The World Food Program receives most of its funding from the United States and the top job has gone to an American candidate since 1992, when Catherine Bertini was appointed at the request of George H.W. Bush. Cousin, a former public relations and food industry executive and anti-hunger crusader who currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies in Rome, is expected to be named WFP chief in the coming days or weeks.
Before taking up her diplomatic post, she served as the president of the Polk Street Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm. Turtle Bay first reported the Obama administration had recommended her for the top WFP job in November.
The Obama administration was infuriated that Sheeran, who was appointed for the top food job at the request of President George W. Bush, had launched her own campaign to serve out a second term, despite U.S. opposition. But today, in a press release posted on the World Food Program's website, Sheeran said she would take on a job as vice chairman of the World Economic Forum.
"There are no words to describe the respect, admiration and love I have for WFP, its people and mission," Sheeran said in a statement. "It has been a deep honor to serve the world in this role and to help not only save lives but to transform the face of food aid, to empower lasting hunger solutions."
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On Monday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in New York that a U.N. report detailing atrocities by Syrian security forces underscored the need for the U.N. Security Council to take action to stop a campaign of repression that has left more than 4,000 dead, most of them peaceful protesters.
But over the following days, U.S. diplomats in Geneva worked behind the scenes to eliminate a European Union proposal to have the U.N. Human Rights Council recommend that the Security Council consider the U.N. report on Syrian abuses and to "take appropriate action" to stop it, according to senior Western diplomats and human rights advocates.
Western diplomats said that U.S. officials had informed them this week that they are reluctant to see the Human Rights Council resolution refer the matter to the Security Council -- because it would reinforce a precedent that could be used in the future against Israel.
In Oct. 2009, the rights council called on the U.N. Security Council to consider the Goldstone Report, which sharply criticized Israel's conduct during the 2008-2009 Gaza offensive, called Operation Cast Lead. The resolution was adopted over the objections of the United States, but the Security Council's membership showed little interest in taking up the matter.
European diplomats were hoping to use the rights council this week as a political lever to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar Al-Assad with the one threat they believe he fears: a deeper Security Council role in addressing the crisis. "It would be disappointing but not surprising if United States policy on Israel was skewing their policy towards the strongest possible action on Syria," said a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But U.S. officials challenged that account, saying that while they don't believe it's appropriate for the Human Rights Council to tell the Security Council what to do, Washington does favor the toughest possible action against Syria. They also maintain that the United States has lead international efforts at the United Nations to ensure that Syrian officials are ultimately held accountable for their crimes.
They cited U.S. support for a Security Council statement in August demanding that Syrian perpetrators of violence face justice for their crimes, the move to rally support to prevent Syria from getting elected to the Human Rights Council, and the convening of a series of three special sessions there to condemn and investigate Syria's crimes.
"For months now, the United States has been at the forefront pressing for Security Council action against the Syrian regime, as well as action and condemnation through other U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Council," Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, told Turtle Bay. "However, the Human Rights Council simply cannot refer matters to the Security Council because it's a subsidiary of the General Assembly ... the Security Council decides which issues of international peace and security it will take up."
The debate follows the publication on Monday of a damning account by a U.N. commission of inquiry into Syria's conduct. It is playing out as the U.N. Human Rights Council prepares to vote on a resolution condemning Syria's action.
A confidential draft, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, "strongly condemns the continued widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities." It accuses the government of committing "arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters, human rights defenders and journalists."
The draft also calls on Syria to immediately halt its security crackdown, investigate rights abusers in the police and army, allow U.N. human rights monitors into Syria, and urges the Arab League and other U.N. members to support international efforts to "protect the population of the Syrian Arab Republic."
An earlier draft statement included a reference to the International Criminal Court. ( A preambular paragraph reiterated "the importance of accountability and the need to end impunity and hold to account those responsible for human rights, violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity [that may warrant the attention of the ICC]."
While the call for accountability remains in the latest draft, the bracketed reference to the ICC has been dropped at the insistence of the United States, which is not a member of the Hague-based court. The U.S. spokesman, Mark Kornblau, did not confirm the United States had blocked the language, but he said that "we continue to press for accountability -- and again this is not the in the purview of the Human Rights Council, it's the responsibility of the Security Council."
Human Rights advocates criticized the U.S. approach to the negotiations. "The U.S. should be leading the charge to include this kind of language rather than trying to block it," said Peggy Hicks, who is monitoring the negotiations in Geneva for Human Rights Watch.
"We think it's very important that the current draft resolution recommends that the General Assembly and the Security Council consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry, which found that crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria," said Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's U.N. representative. "The members of the [Human Rights Council] that believe in international justice should stick up for this."
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up a U.S. campaign to persuade the United Nations to appoint Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, to the top job at the World Food Program. But WFP's current leader, Josette Sheeran, is continuing to make her own case to donors and the U.N. leadership that she should lead the organization for a second five-year term, according to U.N. officials.
In a confidential Nov. 18 letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Clinton said she was writing "to nominate" Cousin as the U.S. candidate to be the next Executive Director of the World Food Program. "The United States believes Ambassador Cousin is eminently qualified to lead the World Food Program as it confronts challenges both old and new.... She would bring new energy to the organization's work," Clinton wrote.
Cousin, formerly president of the Polk Street Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm, has served in various corporate and non-profit jobs, including a stint at Albertsons, the food giant, and served as chief operating officer for America's Second Harvest, a national anti-hunger organization. Turtle Bay first reported earlier this month that the Obama administration wanted the job to go to Cousin.
The United States has long been the largest contributor to WFP, providing more than 40 percent of its budget in cash and surplus food supplies. The program has been a favorite of the U.S. food industry, which has benefited from a stable market of international crises. It has been politically popular in Washington because it helps project an image of the United States as a charitable nation, committed to feeding the world's poorest.
"This is good for the American farmer and producers because a lot of our food goes over seas," said Tony P. Hall, a former Democratic representative from Ohio who served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies. The United States, he said, also "gets a lot of credit" for feeding the world's most needy. "I think people like the fact that the United States is helping."
As chief donor, the United States has also claimed a special right to appoint its own citizens to the organization's top job. If appointed, Cousin would be the fifth American to lead the world's largest humanitarian aid organization since it was founded in 1961.
She would replace Sheeran, a Bush administration nominee for the post, whose five-year term expires in April. However, Sheeran is still in the running. Dan Glickman, a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during the Clinton administration, and previously a candidate for the job, has pulled out of the race, according to a U.N.-based diplomat.
The WFP's executive director is formally selected by the U.N. secretary general and the director general of the Food and Agricultural Organization, in consultation with the World Food Program's Executive Board.
But the U.N. chief traditionally has the last word, and officials said it would be uncharacteristic for Ban, who values his close relationship with the United States, to reject the Obama administration's official candidate.
Martin Nesirky, Ban's top spokesman, declined to comment on Cousin's prospects at WFP. "The Secretary-General is seeking nominations for the post from Member States, without prejudice to the incumbent," Nesirky said.
The U.N.'s top food job is theoretically open to nationals from any country.
It has been held in the past by Australian, Canadian, El Salvadoran, and Dutch nationals. But it has gone only to Americans since 1992, when Catherine Bertini, who was nominated for the job by President George H. W. Bush, took over the top job at WFP.
She served a second term with the support of the Clinton administration, making her the only WFP chief who received backing of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Bertini was succeeded by James T. Morris, a Republican nominee who served a single term, and then Sheeran. In recent months, Sheeran has sought to secure the support from the U.N. leadership for a second term.
In her annual address to WFP's Executive Board on Nov. 11, Sheeran touted her achievements at the food organization, including a policy aimed at increasing private sector contributions to the U.N. agency, and outlined her vision for its future. She announced plans to improve the internal financial controls and audit functions -- and to appoint a new monitoring and evaluation chief to improve financial oversight.
"She's determined to fight this out," said one U.N. official. "She's not acting like a person who is ready to leave at the end of the next quarter."
In her letter to Ban, Clinton made no direct reference to Sheeran, instead crediting Cousin for promoting reforms at WFP, and included a veiled swipe at the current leadership, speaking of the need for change.
She says Cousin "will bring a unique ability to inject fresh energy atop the organization as well as an intimate understanding of the World Food Program and its partners."
"The United States is deeply committed to the World Food Program and its remarkable work saving lives and protecting the livelihoods of billions around the world," Clinton wrote. "We are proud to be the organization's largest supporter, and we are confident it will thrive under Ambassador Cousin's leadership."
Clinton said the administration selected Cousin following an exhaustive interagency search. She described Cousin as "a central driver of the Obama Administration's global food security policy and its implementation, as well as a leading figure in efforts to eradicate world hunger."
Clinton said Cousin's priorities would include ensuring the food agencies "policies and programs are fully transparent" and she would "focus attention on administrative and internal management reform to promote greater accountability and operational effectiveness."
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The Obama administration has been pressing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome, as the new head of the World Food Program (WFP), the premier international agency responsible for feeding the world's poor and distressed.
Cousin, formerly president of the Polk Street Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm, has served in various corporate and non-profit jobs, including a stint at Albertsons, the food giant, and served as chief operating officer for America's Second Harvest, a national anti-hunger organization.
The Obama administration wants her to replace Josette Sheeran, the Bush administration choice for the job, when her five-year term expires in April 2012.
Officials say the administration had expected a decision to have been made by now and have grown concerned that Ban may not select their favored candidate. Dan Glickman, a former Democratic lawmaker from Kansas and Secretary of Agricultural under former President Bill Clinton, is also said to be on the U.N.'s short list of candidates. Sheeran is said to be pursuing a second term.
The United States is the world's largest financial contributor to the World Food Program, providing more than $1.5 billion worth of assistance and food in 2010, which accounts for more than 36 percent of all international giving to the U.N. food agency. The World Food Program's executive director has been an American since 1992, when Catherine Bertini was appointed to the post. The WPF director is selected by the U.N. secretary general and the director general of the FAO, generally on the basis of a recommendation from the United States.
The Rome-based FAO is responsible for feeding more than 105 million people in 75 countries, and employs about 10,000 people.
The eventual winner of the WFP job, though, could potentially be forced to grapple with a Palestinian bid to join the organization's executive board, which is composed of 18 U.N. members and 18 members of FAO. The Palestinians can join FAO if they can get a two-third vote of the membership, which would allow them to mount a bid for membership on WFP's executive board.
So far, the Palestinians -- which have already been admitted as UNESCO members -- have said they are exploring membership bids in some 16 additional U.N. agencies, at some point in the future. They have not yet said, however, whether they would mount a campaign for membership in the U.N.'s food agencies at the next major membership meeting in June, 2013.
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Update: This post has been corrected to reflect an error regarding the nationality of WFP executive directors. The director has been from the United States since 1992, not throughout the entirety of the organization's history.
So, what does Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, really think of the so-called doctrine "leading from behind."
"That's just a whacked out phrase," Rice told Turtle Bay after the Security Council voted on Oct. 27 to end the U.N.-sanctioned military mission in Libya.
In a lengthy exclusive interview, Rice joined a chorus of U.S. officials, from President Barack Obama on down, who have sought to distance the administration from the slogan, which has been used by supporters and critics alike to credit or discredit the U.S. role in toppling Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government. White House officials and Rice's own aides have recoiled at its very utterance.
Seven months after the U.N. Security Council voted to authorize the use of military force, a decision that in hindsight appears to have been decisive in toppling Qaddafi, Rice is making the case that the former Libyan's leader downfall was the product of U.S. diplomatic leadership, Libyan resistance, and United Nations legitimacy. "We led this thing," she said. "We put teeth in this mandate."
But it didn't always seem that way.
Back in March, as pro-Qaddafi forces advanced on Benghazi, preparing to deliver a decisive blow that could have crushed the nascent armed resistance, Britain and France, with the backing of Lebanon, labored in solitude behind the scenes in New York to rally support for a resolution that would have imposed a no-fly zone over Libya.
"The Americans haven't yet defined their position on Libya," the frustrated French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told a French parliamentary foreign affairs committee days before the council acted. "Never mind that there's European impotence, but what about American power? What about Russian power? What's China's power over Libya?"
In Washington, the United States appeared divided over the wisdom of committing American military assets to the anti-Qaddafi campaign.
Rice, who lacked instructions from Washington to rally support for a military response, was not prepared to support her European allies, according to council diplomats.
But the winds shifted after the Arab League threw its support behind the no-fly zone and the prospects of a mass killing in eastern Libya grew, placing the United States in the position of having to chose whether to back a military response, or step aside.
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Russia and China today cast a rare double veto to block a U.S. and European-backed draft resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown on protesters, exposing the first major rift in the U.N. Security Council over its response to the wave of popular uprisings that has spread across North Africa and the Middle East.
The draft garnered a paltry 9 votes in the 15-member council, the bare minimum required for adoption of a resolution, as Brazil, India, Lebanon, and South Africa expressed their unease with the Western press for sanctions by abstaining on the vote.
The Russian and Chinese actions marked the defeat of months of European-led diplomatic efforts to impose sanctions on Damascus for unleashing a violent response to the demonstrations. Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Al Jafaari, reacted to the veto with a smile, and later thanked the "voices of the wise" on the council who confronted what he characterized as the colonial and military aspirations of a bloc of Western powers that is "doomed to failure."
Speaking after the vote, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and China's U.N. ambassador, Li Boadong, expressed concern that the resolution would serve to exacerbate tensions in Syria and could serve as a pretext for possible regime change.
Churkin blasted the Western initiative as reflecting a "philosophy of confrontation" with Syria that would undermine any efforts to pursue a political settlement between the government and the opposition.
The vote triggered an angry reaction from Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, and France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, who vowed that this "veto will not stop us" from continuing to press for the Bashar al-Assad government to end a crackdown that has killed nearly 3,000 people.
"The United States is outraged that this council has utterly failed to address an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security," said Rice, expressing unusual emotion. "Several members have sought for weeks to weaken and strip bare any text that would have defended the lives of innocent civilians from Assad's brutality."
Rice said that the council's split provided a stark illustration of which countries supported the aspirations of pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria and the rest of the Arab world. "During this season of change, the people of the Middle East can now see clearly which nations have chosen to ignore their calls for democracy and instead prop up desperate, cruel dictators," she said. "Let there be no doubt: this is not about military intervention. This is not about Libya. That is a cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people."
The clash comes weeks after the U.N. Security Council reached agreement on a statement, generally considered less forceful than a resolution, condemning Syria's conduct.
The council's European members had initially pressed for a resolution that would have imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and targeted President Assad and more than 20 of his closest associates with a series of sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on financial assets.
The watered-down draft resolution blocked by Russia and China today "strongly condemned the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities." It accused the regime of carrying out "arbitrary executions," torture, and enforced disappearances to end the protests.
The resolution demanded that the Syrian government immediately "cease the use of force against civilians," release political prisoners and detained protesters, and grant a range of other "fundamental freedoms" to its people. Had the resolution passed, it would have stipulated that had Syria failed to comply with the demands, within 30 days the council would have met to consider "other options" against Syria, a veiled reference to sanctions.
But the compromise was not enough to thwart the Russian veto, according to diplomats.
It was the first time one of the council's five veto-wielding powers has cast a no vote since February, when the Obama administration blocked a Palestinian-backed draft resolution denouncing Israel's settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to the Middle East peace process. It was also the first time China and Russia have cast a joint veto since July 2008, when they both vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning Zimbabwe's human rights record.
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First the good news: U.S. President Barack Obama is more than twice as popular in Egypt as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Now, the bad news: the American president's standing has never been worse in Egypt, plummeting since 2008, when he received a 25 percent favorability rating, to 12 percent in 2011. Even Osama Bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, was more popular this year, with a 21 percent favorability ranking. The Iranian leader fared worse, dropping from 21 percent favorability rating in 2008 to a miserable 5 percent.
The findings are drawn from a public poll of Egyptian views in the aftermath of the public uprising that brought about the resignation of Egypt's fallen leader Hosni Mubarak. The poll was commissioned by the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank with close ties to the United Nations and Arab governments.
The poll seeks to capture the mood of the country in the lead up to the Egypt's first post-Mubarak election, and to handicap the presidential campaign. It shows that Egyptians currently fret over issues like the economy, stability, and government corruption more than they worry about the course of the country's democratic transition.
According to the poll, conducted by Charney Research and based on interviews with 800 Egyptians, Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief, has emerged as an early frontrunner. Thirty-two percent of respondents say they would vote for Moussa, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Essam Sharraf, an engineering professor who is serving as the country's interim prime minister, finished second with 16 percent of votes ( though his favorability ranking is higher than Moussa's). And Mohammed Tantawi, the army chief, finished third with 8 percent of those questioned saying they would vote for him. Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who emerged from retirement to serve as Egypt's best known pro-democracy advocate, finished seventh, with only 2 percent of respondents pledging to vote for him.
The poll shows that the Egyptian army, which refused orders to fire on public demonstrators during the country's popular uprising, remains "extremely popular" with 90 percent of Egyptian respondents expressing a favorable view. Egypt's various secular parties also did well, garning 25 precent of respondents' votes, while Islamist parties gained 19 percent. The best-known political parties, the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, received respectively 40 percent and 31 percent favorability ratings. The Brotherhood's unfavorability rating, at 29 percent, was 10 points higher.
"The military right now is riding a wave of popularity because it is seen as playing two key roles [in Egypt's popular revolution]," Craig Charney, the pollster, told Turtle Bay. "It delivered the coup de grace to Mubarak and did it in a way that maintained a substantial degree of stability."
Charney said that the findings also demonstrated that fears of a religious take over by Islamists are overblown. "The much feared green-tide just isn't there, with the Muslim Brotherhood receiving 12 percent while the Salafists for all their sound and fury came away with only 4 percent," Charney said.
While an exiled Egyptian national, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been selected as the new leader of Al Qaeda, the poll suggested that the terror organization would have been better at influencing events in Egypt under the leadership of their late Saudi leader, Osama Bin laden, who was killed by elite U.S. commandos in Pakistan.
According to the poll, bin Laden's favorability ratings rose from 18 percent of those questioned in 2008 to 21 percent in 2011. In contrast, Zawahiri scored a favorability rating of only 11 percent this year.
Charney said that while other polls have found somewhat higher support for President Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising, he has suffered from a generally dim view of American policy throughout the region.
"Despite President Obama's words and measures in support of Egypt's revolution, he only narrowly edges out the leaders of al Qaeda and Iran in popular regard there," Charney said in a statement. "But our findings do clearly show that Egyptians have little regard for the likes of al-Zawahiri and Ahmadinejad."
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France and Britain will press for the passage of a U.N. Security Council vote on a mild, but legally-binding, resolution condemning Syria for its bloody repression of anti-government protesters, and demanding Damascus show restraint and provide access to U.N. humanitarian aid workers, according to U.N. diplomats.
The decision sets the council's Western powers on possible collision course with China and especially Russia. Moscow has signaled it may be prepared to veto a Security Council resolution on Syria, diplomats say. The standoff is coming to a head as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators entered its ninth week with little sign of an end to the violence. The Syrian uprising represents the greatest threat to the Assad dynasty's control over the country since it came to power in a 1963 military coup.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron will make one last effort at a G-8 Summit in Deauville, France, Thursday and Friday, to persuade Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to veto the resolution, according to council diplomats. Diplomats are confident that China will not veto the resolution if Russia doesn't.
After weeks of behind the scenes lobbying, Britain and France say they are confident that they have secured the minimum nine votes required for passage of the resolution in the 15-nation council. They are hoping to increase that number. But they said they intend to press for a vote later this week even if Russia threatens to block the vote.
On Twitter, Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague wrote today that the "rising death toll in Syria is worrying and unacceptable." He said Britain "is calling for more international pressure on Syrian authorities, including at [the] UN."
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently that the "threat of a Russian veto" looms over the council deliberations on Syria but that prospects for a majority of supporters for council action is improving.
The United States had been initially reluctant to support the European initiative on the grounds that a blocked resolution would strengthen the Syrian government's hand by showing the council is politically divided.
But American diplomats have assured their European counterparts that they will support the push for a resolution. Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, and Portugal have also assured the Europeans they will vote in favor of the resolution.
The Security Council's Western powers have already encountered stiff resistance from China, Russia and Lebanon to criticizing Syria in the Security Council. Last month, the three countries helped block a French and British initiative to adopt a non-binding council statement condemning Syria's conduct.
Russia is concerned that once the council weighs in on the Syrian crisis it will be only a matter of time before the council's Western powers begin to demand tougher action, including sanctions and possibly even the use of force. Moscow has already expressed concern that the West exceeded its mandate to protect civilians in Libya by taking sides in the country's civil war. The United States and its coalition allies maintain that they are faithfully implementing their mandate to protection civilians. And none of the Western powers have threatened the use of force against Damascus.
Brazil, India, and South Africa have also voiced concern about a new resolution, though New Dehli has indicated to some colleagues that it would be prepared to support a modest resolution that criticizes Syria's conduct. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, appealed to South Africa to rally behind the resolution.
"South Africa has said behind closed doors in the Security Council that they would not support Security Council action on Syria because they feel NATO abused the mandate the council gave it on libya," said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, who is visiting South Africa. "Wwhat we are teling them is do not punish Syrian civialins for what NATO is doing in Libya."
He also challenged the U.S. rationale for not pressing more aggressively for action on Syria. "The argument that a Russian veto would somehow expose the divisions of the Security Council cuts both ways," he said. "You could also argue that the complete silence is emboldening the Syrian regime."
As the Europeans sought to build greater support for the resolution the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement today saying that it was "very likely" that a Syrian facility bombed by Israeli war planes in 2007 was "very likely" a nuclear reactor.
U.N. diplomats said the Europeans were unlikely to immediately raise concerns about the development in the Security Council, saying they fear it might complicate ongoing efforts to secure adoption of its resolution condemning Syria for its bloody crackdown.
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The White House today announced it would impose unilateral sanctions against Syria, signaling its desire to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al Assad to halt his crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. action drew rare praise from foreign policy conservatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who said the move "should mark the end of the failed policy of engagement and accommodation with Damascus."
But at the United Nations, the American delegation has been hesitant to press for an equally hard-line approach, fearing an aggressive push to penalize Syria in the U.N. Security Council might provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.
In late April, Chinese, Russian, Lebanese and other diplomats effectively blocked an effort by the Europeans to push through a mild, non-binding, Security Council statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown on mostly unarmed protesters.
The United States is concerned that another failed push for Security Council action on Syria would give comfort to President Assad, exposing the deep international rift over the right approach to restraining Syria.
In the absence of an American push, Britain and France have taken the lead in seeking a tougher approach. In recent days, the two European powers have sounded out other Security Council members about the prospects for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn Syria and urge it to halt further violence.
Britain and France are confident that they can muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a modest resolution that would condemn Syria, ask it to show restraint, and encourage political reform. Britain and France also believe it may be worth risking a Russian or Chinese veto, and exposing them as defenders of a brutal Middle East regime that is resistant to democratic change sweeping the region. "There is a real risk that the council, by failing to act, is sending the signal that what Assad is doing is within the bounds of international tolerance," said one council diplomat. "We need to change that."
The United Nations maintains that more than 850 people have been killed in Syria in recent months, most of them civilian targets of a bloody government crackdown. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has charged Assad with ignoring a recent call for restraint by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which condemned Syria's conduct
While the U.S. worries that forcing a losing vote may play to Assad's advantage, they are likely to support Britain and France if they decide to move ahead with a vote on a resolution, according to diplomats.
The deadlock over Syria contrasts starkly with the council's response to a Libyan crackdown on protesters in February. In a remarkable show of unity, the 15-nation council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose sanctions on President Moammar Qadaffi's regime, and authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into allegations that the regime committed crimes against humanity. On Monday, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested arrest warrants for President Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
But the unity has frayed since the council passed a subsequent resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians by a vote of only 10-0, with five abstentions. Since, then China, India, Russia, and other council members have accused the United States, Britain and France of exceeding the authority granted by the council to protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war.
The effort to squeeze Syria has also been complicated by the role of the council's lone Arab state Lebanon, which lead previous efforts at the United Nations to condemn Libya and to address allegations of government repression in Yemen. But Lebanon is unwilling to back any measures against Syria, which exerts enormous influence over Lebanese affairs. And there is no sign that other Arab governments will challenge Lebanon's approach.
The current dispute over Syria "is the hang over from Libya," one council diplomat told Turtle Bay. "China and Russia feel a bit betrayed because the coalition went further than what was in the resolution. It diminished the possibility of replicating the Libya model in Yemen and Syria," where Russia and China have blocked action.
"There is a negative vibe post-Libya in the council," the diplomat said. "you did this in Libya and now you're going to pay for it. It's a pity. There is this political game of power in the council while people are being hurt on the ground."
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On Wednesday, Turtle Bay posted a story, based on a previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cable obtained through WikiLeaks, claiming that an official from the European Commission, Yves Horent, passed on information suggesting that high level U.N. and EU officials predicted that Pakistan's foreign minister was destined to become U.N. secretary-general in 2007.
According to the cable, Horent told the Americans that Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and Louis Michel, the former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, predicted that Kurshid Mehmood Kurasi, was certain to get the job. The prediction turned out, of course, to be flat wrong. The then U.N. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was already well on his way to firming up support for top U.N. job, and the Pakistani never even emerged as a candidate.
But Horent, who didn't initially respond to an email request late Tuesday for comment, since sent me an email this morning insisting that the American drafter of the cable is dead wrong, and that he couldn't even name the former Pakistan diplomat until he received my email and read the story on my blog.
"I am rather surprised by this information that is plainly wrong," said Horent. "Whoever wrote the cable you are referring to was obviously misinformed and /or confused."
"I never gave any briefing to the U.S. Embassy of this kind of political or diplomatic issues," Horent wrote. "My dialogue with the U.S. Embassy in Dar Es Salaam was sporadic and strictly limited to refugee matters in Tanzania, which was then part of my work. I do not recognize the name of the person I am supposed to have communicated with the U.S. Embassy, where my contacts were limited to the refugee coordinator."
Horent said that Guterres and Michel, who did not respond to requests for comment this week, had indeed visited Tanzania at the time, but that their visit "was entirely focused on humanitarian issues. U.N. appointment matters were not discussed. I did not even know who was Mr. Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri until a few minutes ago when I carried out a quick internet search!"
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The U.N. has appointed a World Bank investigator with experience probing war crimes and fraud abuses from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Balkans as head of the U.N.'s premier internal anti-fraud unit, filling a personnel vacuum that has dampened morale and severely hampered the U.N.'s ability to combat corruption within its own ranks, according to internal U.N. memos obtained by Turtle Bay.
Carmen La-Pointe, a Canadian auditor who heads the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), announced the hiring of Australian investigator, Michael Stefanovic, in an internal memo obtained by Turtle Bay. She also announced the hiring of an American national, Dr. Deborah L. Rugg, to head up another Inspection and Evaluation division. Stefanovic will start up the job in August.
U.N. and U.S. officials hope the arrival of new team will bring stability and purpose to a department that has been plagued leadership gaps and severe staff shortages that have hampered the U.N.'s ability to police a far flung empire of political, humanitarian, and peacekeeping missions. The breakdown in the U.N.'s investigations division has posed political risks for the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki moon, who has faced criticism for doing too little to rein in corruption and reform the global instution, and the United States, which had faced criticism for moving too slowly to appoint a high-level U.S. management official to oversee U.N. reform efforts.
"The United States had previously raised concerns about the performance of the investigations division in particular, and we had urged it to more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct," Joseph Torsella, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform, said in a statement that was provided to Turtle Bay. "OIOS is poised to become the strong and independent watchdog it was intended to be."
A former Australian policeman, Stefanovic has served since 2006 at the World Bank, where he is currently manager of the External Investigations Unit, which investigates cases of fraud and corruption in the organization's global operations.
He previously worked as OIOS's chief resident investigator in Ivory Coast, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before that, between 1999 and 2003, Stefanovic was employed as a war-crimes investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. He also participated in a 2004 U.S. State Department mission that traveled to Chad, near the Sudanese border, to document allegations of genocide arising from the conflict in Darfur.
The U.N. internal investigations division has been hobbled by leadership lapses almost since OIOS was established in 1994 as a kind of inspector general's office. In 2007, an outside consultant claimed that the management culture in the investigations division was so dysfunctional that it should be shut down. The investigations unit has not had a permanent director since 2006, when its American chief, Barbara Dixon, stepped down.
Inga-Brit Ahlenius, a Swedish auditor who previously headed OIOS, sought to hire a highly regarded former U.S. District Attorney, Robert Appleton, for the post. Appleton, who served as the temporary head of a U.N. procurement task force, carried out some of the most aggressive anti-corruption probes in the U.N.'s history. But he also provoked the ire of influential governments, including Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by the task force.
Appleton's appointment was blocked by Ban's office on the grounds that Ahlenius had violated recruitment procedures that required female candidates be included on a short list of prospective candidates. Ahlenius countered that Ban has interfered in the independence of her office by preventing her from selecting her top deputies. Appleton has since gone on to file a discrimination grievance against the U.N. for blocking his appointment.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council today that there is another good reason to confront Libyan forces. Moammar Qaddafi has reportedly been passing out tablets of Viagra to his front line troops to help them rape women.
Rice made the allegation in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council after facing criticism from council members that the Western-backed coalition has effectively sided with Libya's rebels in the country's ongoing civil war. China, Russia, India and other have expressed concern that the NATO-backed military coalition has exceeded its mandate to protect civilians, and had become a party to the country's conflict.
Rice countered that it is "ridiculous" to describe the conflict in Libya as an ordinary civil war, or to draw moral equivalence between Qaddafi's forces and the rebels. She said the opposition only took up arms after Qaddafi's forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrators.
She also cited reports of Qaddafi's forces shooting at mosques, targeting children and "issuing Viagra to his soldiers so they go out and rape," according to an account by a U.N. diplomat present in the room.
U.N. council diplomats said that Rice provided no evidence to support her claim, which appeared earlier this week in the British tabloid, the Daily Mail. Human rights advocates say the allegation first surfaced publicly last month when a doctor in Ajdabiya, Suleiman Refadi, claimed in an interview with Al Jazeera English that Qaddafi's force's had received packets of Viagra and condoms as part of a campaign of sexual violence. "I have seen Viagra, I have seen condoms," Refadi told Al Jazeera.
Human Rights Watch had interviewed the same doctor previously, and determined that he had no direct evidence to support the claims, and they were not able to identify victims and witnesses in Adjabiya who confirmed such reports. Though they also had no evidence to refute the claims.
Fred Abrahams, a special advisor for Human Rights Watch, said the organization takes reports of sexual attacks seriously, and "we are actively investigating" allegations of the use of sexual violence by Qaddafi's forces in the conflict. "We have a few credible cases of gender based violence and rape, but the evidence is not there at this point to suggest it is of a systematic nature, or an official policy. On Viagra and condom distribution we have nothing so far. It's not to dismiss it, but we do not have" the evidence.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Despite repeated talk about the possible establishment of a U.N.-authorized no fly zone, Britain, France and the United States have yet to table a no-fly resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The caution reflects reservations over the plan in Washington, D.C. and African and Arab capitals and the reluctance of Western powers to intervene in the Libyan crisis without broad regional backing.
On Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined three requirements for the imposition of a no-fly zone: there must be a clear trigger, possible a bloody crackdown on civilians; there must regional support from African and Arab governments; and there must be a legal basis for pressing ahead. (It was unclear whether today's reports of civilians casualties, including women and children, in Zawiyah would constitute such a trigger.)
Many council members believe a Security Council vote is legally required for the creation of a no-fly-zone. But Britain, France and the United States have previously enforced a no-fly zone over Iraq without Security Council approval, citing the overwhelming humanitarian demands of intervening to protect civilians.
For the time being, Britain and France, who have taken the lead in negotiating the draft resolution establishing a no fly zone, are expected to await the outcome of high-level meetings of the Arab League and the African Union later this week before deciding to introduce their draft to the 15-nation council.
Still, in a closed-door session of the council this morning, Britain and France sought to prod the council into preparing for action, saying that a week old resolution calling for an end to government violence has not succeeded.
Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant expressed concern about the "risk of a civil war" in Libya and said the council needs to "consider further steps" to rein in Col. Moammar Qadaffi's government," council sources told Turtle Bay. France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the council needs to consider "all options, including a no fly zone," according to the sources, who provided a detailed account of the meeting.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, took a slightly more cautious approach, saying that while the council may have to consider range of options, including "strengthening sanctions...no one option is the silver bullet." Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, also raised the prospect of tightening sanctions, proposing possible new restrictions on the Libyan financial sector.
The council's other members, including China and Russia, pushed back, saying it is too early to consider stepping up pressure on Qaddafi's regime. Libyans, they argue, should sort out their own problems. Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said that it was not the right time to consider further "coercive measures" against Libya.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.