The Envoy
  • shahramamiriRemember the strange case of the Iranian nuclear scientist who allegedly defected to the United States -- only to decide to return to Iran last summer, claiming that he had been kidnapped and missed his family?

    U.S. officials said at the time that they would not prevent Shahram Amiri from returning to Iran if he wished, but suggested that authorities back home may not treat him very well.

    Now, the Times of London's Hugh Tomlinson reports, despite initially giving him a hero's welcome, Iranian authorities have arrested Amiri and are investigating him for possible treason:

    Shahram Amiri, who returned to Iran in July after apparently defecting to the US, is under investigation for divulging secrets about Iran's clandestine uranium-enrichment program, The Times has learnt.

    Sources inside Iran have confirmed Mr Amiri's arrest. [...] The arrest adds a twist to this mysterious tale of claim and counterclaim. Mr Amiri, 33, was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Iran last year, with the regime claiming he had been a double agent leaking false information to the U.S.

    Read More »from Report: Iran arrests scientist who re-defected from U.S
  • libyanrebeltraining

    Not long into the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya, a military stalemate appears to be taking shape. Forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi continue to hold key towns against incursions by Libyan rebels--and the fragile international coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes over the past 11 days in order to protect Libyan civilians from attack is now at odds over whether the Libyan rebels require more direct military assistance.

    Coalition members are discussing a range of options, including increased NATO close air support to aid the rebels engaged in direct combat with Gadhafi's forces and efforts--in all likelihood carried out covertly--to arm and train the rebels. In an exclusive report for Reuters, Mark Hosenball writes that Obama has issued a secret presidential finding authorizing covert U.S. support for the Libyan rebels--a move that will almost certainly raise the stakes in Libya for the United States and its coalition partners, while making it harder to assure the ambivalent U.S. public that the conflict in Libya will produce a quick resolution.

    Despite the reported finding, the White House, for its part, insisted that "no decision" on arming the rebels had yet been made.

    "We're not ruling it out or ruling it in," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Wednesday. "We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people," in consultation, Carney added, with "international partners."

    And talk of direct military assistance to the rebels has some Washington lawmakers and policymakers uneasy. They are leery of wading directly into a Libyan civil war, as opposed to the more limited kind of humanitarian intervention that President Barack Obama outlined in his speech to the nation on Monday. Then, the president stressed that the United States was intervening in order to avert a massacre of Libyan civilians that would have "stained the conscience of the world."

    But now statements from the administration seem to signal a shift in thinking. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a conference on Libya in London Tuesday, said her reading of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 on Libya allowed for the arming of the Libyan rebels. At the same time, she insisted that the United States had not yet made any decision to do so.

    A senior European diplomat, who spoke anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing discussions, said Wednesday that his country endorses a similar interpretation of the UN resolution--but added that his government favors "tipping the balance" decisively in favor of the Libyan opposition.

    Former U.S. officials who have worked on Libya said they suspect that any plan to arm and train the rebels would be carried out covertly. Such initiatives would likely take shape via neighboring Egypt, the officials said—thereby bypassing the consensus-driven command structure of the NATO-led coalition that assumed command of Libya military operations Wednesday.

    Read More »from Questions loom about possibility of arming Libyan rebels
  • State Department shuffle

    officialAmbBurns_2002Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg is leaving his post as Hillary Clinton's second-in-command to become the dean of the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University, Obama administration officials announced Wednesday.

    Veteran U.S. diplomat and current Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns will be nominated to succeed Steinberg as Deputy Secretary of State, officials said.

    Burns—a former U.S envoy to Russia and Jordan who speaks Russian, Arabic, and French—is one of the State Department's most highly respected and well-liked diplomats. For the past four years, he has led U.S. diplomatic efforts in concert with the members of the so-called P5+1 group that's been seeking to curtail Iran's nuclear program. (P5+1 stands for the "permanent five" members of the UN Security Council—the United States, the UK, France, Russia and China—plus Germany.) Burns has also been the State Department's key liaison in managing U.S. strategic relationships with countries such as India.

    As deputy secretary of state, Burns would represent the State Department and Secretary Clinton at the key deputies committee meetings at the White House—the inter-agency meetings held several times a week at the National Security Council where the U.S. government weighs and executes its most crucial policy decisions.

    State Department officials said the fact Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promoted the well-liked career diplomat Burns to the key deputy spot "is a huge crowd-pleasing move," as one official put it. "Burns has managed to be both loved and respected for his savvy, intelligence, etc. Couldn't have happened to a better guy."

    With Burns moving up the State hierarchy, the big speculative question within the diplomatic community is who will succeed Burns. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs—or "P," as it's known in State bureaucrat-ese -- is the top professional diplomatic post in the U.S. government. 

    Read More »from State Department shuffle

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