White House’s Syria phone call list omits national security adviser Rice

Olivier Knox
Yahoo News

There’s a maddening omission in the White House’s list of Syria-themed telephone calls by top American officials to their foreign counterparts over the past week: National security adviser Susan Rice’s outreach.

Rice has been at the very center of the American response and has been placing calls to foreign officials, an aide confirmed. They just aren’t being cataloged and released to the press.

It’s nothing sinister: The administration just generally doesn’t read out her calls, much as they did not read out predecessor Tom Donilon’s calls.

But the decision to leave her outreach out of a White House-released list of calls that President Barack Obama and senior national security aides placed to their foreign counterparts is one reason it’s impossible to use the list to get a clear picture of the U.S. response. The other reason is that the National Security Council quite forthrightly described the list as accurate, but incomplete — that there have been other phone calls "at all levels" that are not included.

The list, which the NSC made public on Tuesday, suggests that the first high-level conversation after Bashar Assad’s forces allegedly slaughtered civilians in a chemical weapons attack was an exchange between Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar. The list shows they spoke twice on Aug. 21, the day of the alleged attack.

That would make sense. The Syrian civil war can partly be seen as a proxy fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And Bandar has played a central role in coordinating the regional response to the conflict, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It would also serve the White House need to show that it is not rushing into a military confrontation with no clear end game, a message reinforced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's first appearance on the list, which doesn’t come until Tuesday. It's also buttressed by the lack of dates for Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey’s calls, which makes it impossible to tell how many times he has spoken to his foreign counterparts.

Even with those omissions, it's a fascinating list.

While the White House released the list by official (Obama’s calls, Vice President Joe Biden’s calls, etc.), it’s more interesting to look at them by date, starting with Aug. 21.

Aug. 21

Kerry speaks to Bandar twice.

Aug. 22

Kerry speaks to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, France, Britain, Syria, and Russia. He also speaks to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Syrian Opposition Coalition President Ahmad al-Jarba.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks to Ban.

Aug. 23

Kerry speaks to the foreign ministers of Egypt, Italy, Britain, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates.

Aug. 24

Obama speaks to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Kerry speaks to the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan (twice), and Turkey. He also speaks to the secretary-general of the Arab League.

Power speaks to the South Korean ambassador to the United Nations. She also speaks to Ban, and U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, as well as the deputy U.N. ambassadors from Britain and France.

Aug. 25

Obama speaks to French President François Hollande

Kerry speaks to the foreign ministers of Turkey, Britain, Canada, France, and Russia.

Power speaks to the U.N. ambassadors from Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea, Morocco, and deputy envoys from France and Britain. She also speaks to Eliasson and Ban.

Aug. 26

Obama speaks to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Kerry speaks to the Arab League secretary-general (twice), to NATO’s secretary general, to Ban, and to Ashton. He also speaks to the foreign ministers of Britain, Jordan (twice), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt.

Power speaks to the U.N. ambassadors from Britain, Germany, Togo, Rwanda, Pakistan, Argentina, and South Africa, and the deputy envoy from France.

Aug. 27

Obama speaks to Cameron and to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Vice President Joe Biden speaks to British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Hagel speaks to the defense ministers of Britain and France.

Kerry speaks to Ashton as well as the foreign ministers of Russia (twice), Morocco, and Britain, as well as to the Arab League secretary-general.

Power speaks to the U.N. ambassadors from Azerbaijian, China, Britain, and Australia, and the deputy envoy from France. She also speaks to Eliasson, U.N. Under Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, and the Acting Head of the UN Department of Safety and Security, Kevin Kennedy.

Aug. 28

Hagel speaks to Germany's defense minister.

There are no dates for Dempsey’s calls, but he has spoken to top British, French, and Israeli military officials.

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