The Envoy
  • UN envoy Susan Rice spoke to AJC's David Harris Monday. (AJC)UN ambassador Susan Rice, a top Obama foreign policy adviser, has been stepping up her outreach to key domestic constituencies and deepening her relationships with influential interest groups lately. Such outreach is of course essential to advance domestic support for the U.S. foreign policy agenda. But observers note it's also smart politics for someone widely rumored to be in the mix to be a possible Secretary of State if Obama wins a second term.

    (If you're wondering about current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she has repeatedly said she intends to step down after the end of Obama's first term—despite her enjoying high popularity numbers. ("There's so many things I'm interested in, I mean, really going back to private life and spending time reading, and writing, and maybe teaching, doing some personal travel, not the kind of travel where you bring along a couple of hundred people with you," Clinton told Tavis Smiley last year.)

    Take, for example, Rice's key role in the Obama administration's high profile diplomatic lobbying against the Palestinian UN statehood recognition bid, in the run up and aftermath to Obama's speech at the UN last September vowing to wield the United States' UN Security Council veto if needed to block the measure. The Palestinian UN bid was and is fiercely opposed by Israel; the Obama administration's position that Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was a relief to Jerusalem as well as to several American pro-Israel groups.

    Unsurprisingly, then, the reception was particularly warm when Rice addressed the American Jewish Committee National Board of Governors meeting in New York Monday afternoon--though it was in fact Rice's third address to the group the past three years.

    "Let me begin by saying that from the United States' point of view, the achievement of an independent Palestinian state can only come through direct negotiations and a negotiated two-state solution," Rice said in a conversation with AJC President David Harris before the group. "We very much want to see that day come, and we very much want to see the outcome of that two-state solution realized. But it's not going to happen through a shortcut at the United Nations and that's what we have been arguing."

    Her AJC appearance Monday came on the heels of Rice being awarded the National Service Award from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last month. ("Let me say a few words about our extraordinary partnership with Israel, starting by affirming an essential truth that will never change: the United States remains fully and firmly committed to the peace and security of the Jewish state of Israel," Rice said upon receiving the Conference award.)

    Both recent appearances have given Rice an opportunity to offer a "great defense of the administration's achievements," one aide told Yahoo News last week, enthusiastically referencing her receiving the Conference of Presidents' award. They have also given Rice an opportunity to develop her rapport with a key and highly engaged Democratic foreign policy constituency.

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  • John Kiriakou (ABC News)The Justice Department has charged a former CIA counter-terrorism analyst with revealing classified information to journalists, including the identity of a covert U.S. intelligence interrogator.

    "John Kiriakou, a CIA intelligence officer from 1999 to 2004, illegally divulged information about two CIA employees and their involvement in classified operations between 2007 and 2009, the Justice Department said in a statement," CNN reported.

    Kiriakou, 47, is being charged on two counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protect Act, "for allegedly illegally disclosing the identity of a covert officer," the Justice Department statement said, according to CNN. The covert officer whose identity was allegedly divulged was described in this report.

    Kiriakou made headlines when he claimed in a 2007 interview that the controversial simulated drowning interrogation technique known as "water-boarding" had gotten a senior al-Qaida operative to break in 35 seconds.

    "From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou told ABC News' Brian Ross in December 2007, referring to Abu Zubaydah. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

    But formerly classified Justice Department memos released in 2009 showed that Zubaydah was in fact subjected to water-boarding 83 times in August 2002, as first noted by the  New York Times. And it further emerged that Kiriakou was not actually present during the water-boarding of Zubaydah, as he implied. The controversial interrogation technique has since been banned by the Obama administration.

    "In return for the secrecy we need to do our work, the American people and our elected representatives expect us to uphold our nation's laws and values," CIA Director David Petraeus said in a statement to CIA employees about the case, that was sent to Yahoo News. While he was unable to discuss the specifics of the case, Petraeus added, he could say, "however, that the CIA fully supported the investigation from the beginning and will continue to do so."

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  • EU bans Iran oil imports

    USS Abraham Lincoln, in the Indian Ocean in July, entered Strait of Hormuz Sunday. (US Navy handout/Reuters)

    The 27-member European Union voted Monday to ban imports of Iranian oil, and to sanction some transactions with Iran's Central Bank.

    The action, passed at a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, immediately bars EU member states from signing any new oil contracts with Iran, and orders the phasing out of existing contracts by July 1.  The EU-bloc previously constituted the second largest customer for Iranian oil after China.

    "I hope Iran will respond positively and will come back to the negotiating table," European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton said in announcing the action.

    But "given the EU's serious and deepening concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme, the Council today broadened the EU's restrictive measures against that country," the European Union said in an accompanying statement (.pdf).

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner welcomed the European action. The measures "are another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran," they said in a joint statement Monday.

    Clinton last week had urged Iran to respond to a proposal for new international talks on curbing its nuclear program, or face mounting pressure.

    "We all are seeking clarity about the meaning behind Iran's public statements that they are willing to engage, but we have to see a seriousness and sincerity of purpose coming from them," she said at a news conference with her German counterpart Guido Westerwelle at the State Department Friday.

    A U.S. official briefed on the effort to execute the Iran oil sanctions told Yahoo News Sunday that the measures are being implemented as world demand for oil is going down, and thus should be able to be phased in without a spike in oil prices. But markets do not always act logically, he noted.

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