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Congress: Get Tough on Saudis

52 Congressmen from both parties pressed Obama on Saudi Arabia's human rights record

On his upcoming trip to the Gulf, President Obama should confront the leaders of Saudi Arabia about that country’s “serious human rights violations,” 52 Members of Congress and over a dozen non-governmental organizations wrote to the president Tuesday.

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Adem Altan/AFP/Getty

“The government of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly engaged in systematic human rights violations targeting women, religious minorities, and peaceful political reformers. Your meetings with King Abdullah and other officials will be an opportunity to publicly integrate human rights concerns, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, into the U.S.-Saudi relationship,” the letter stated.

The letter was signed by a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Trent Franks (R-AZ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Frank Wolf (R-VA) and John Lewis (D-GA). NGOs on the letter included Amnesty International, International Christian Concern, Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidary Worldwide – USA, and the National Organization for Women.

Here We Go Again

GOP to Reid: Sanction Iran…Or Else

Dozens of Republican senators joined Wednesday to demand that Harry Reid allow a floor vote on a new Iran sanctions bill. If he doesn’t, they are planning to make his life miserable.

The Republican Senate caucus is planning to use every parliamentary trick in the book to push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow a floor vote on a new Iran sanctions bill that the Obama administration strenuously opposes.

The Obama White House has succeeded in keeping most Democrats in line against supporting quick passage of the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,” which currently has 59 co-sponsors, including 13 Democrats. Reid has faithfully shelved the bill, pending the outcome of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers—the so-called “P5+1.”

But tomorrow, Republicans plan to respond by using an array of floor tactics—including bringing up the bill and forcing Reid to publicly oppose it—as a means of putting public pressure on Reid and Democrats who may be on the fence.

“Now we have come to a crossroads. Will the Senate allow Iran to keep its illicit nuclear infrastructure in place, rebuild its teetering economy and ultimately develop nuclear weapons at some point in the future?” 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter sent to Reid late Wednesday and obtained by The Daily Beast. “The answer to this question will be determined by whether you allow a vote on S. 1881, the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, which is cosponsored by more than half of the Senate.”

U-Turn

Kerry: Our Syria Policy Is Failing

In a closed-door meeting, two senators say, the Secretary of State admitted to them that he no longer believes the administration’s approach to the crisis in Syria is working.

Secretary of State John Kerry has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy, he told fifteen U.S. Congressmen in a private, off-the-record meeting, according to two of the senators who were in the room.

Kerry also said he believes the regime of Bashar al Assad is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule; that the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war; and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding. But according to the senators, Kerry now wants to arm Syria's rebels—in part, to block the local al Qaeda affiliates who have designs on attacking the U.S. (Kerry's spokesperson denied that he raised the issue of supplying weapons, but did not dispute the overall tenor of the conversation.)

“[Kerry] acknowledged that the chemical weapons [plan] is being slow rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms, we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended Kerry's briefing with lawmakers on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.”

The Syrian civil war is still raging, with little hope for a solution, and civilians are still suffering.

Reporting for Duty

Kerry Clears Benghazi Officials Clinton Punished

Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the September attack on U.S. diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya, during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 23. (Jason Reed/Reuters, via Landov)

Last December, Clinton’s staff told four midlevel officials to clean out their desks and hand in their badges after the release of the report of its own internal investigation into the Benghazi attack, compiled by the Administrative Review Board led by former State Department official Tom Pickering and former Joint Chiefs chairman Ret. Adm. Mike Mullen. Those four officials have been in legal and professional limbo, not fired but unable to return to their jobs, for eight months ... until today.

Former deputy assistant secretary of State Raymond Maxwell, the only official from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau to lose his job over the Benghazi attack, told The Daily Beast on Monday he received a memo from the State Department’s human-resources department informing him his administrative leave status has been lifted and he should report for duty Tuesday morning.

Following a report by a leading Argentinian prosecutor, the State Department has decided to reexamine its own assessment of Iran’s growing infrastructure to support terrorist activities in Latin America.

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President-elect Hassan Rouhani waves as he attends a press conference in Tehran on Monday. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty)

“For the first time in the Argentine and world judicial history, it has been gathered and substantiated in a judicial file, evidence that proved the steps taken by a terrorist regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to infiltrate, for decades, large regions of Latin America, through the establishment of clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents which are used to execute terrorist attacks when the Iranian regime decides so, both directly or through its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah,” wrote Alberto Nisman in his 500-page May report on Iran’s Latin America strategy.

Nisman was the original prosecutor assigned to the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which he contends was carried out by Hezbollah with Iranian government support. Iranian involvement in Latin America extended to several other plots as well, including a 2010 attempt to attack JFK airport in New York, a plot that was thwarted by U.S. law enforcement, according to his report.

As her husband is raked over the coals for sexting, a senator is calling for an investigation into the consulting fees Abedin earned while working at the State Department. Josh Rogin reports.

Huma Abedin, the wife of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, a.k.a. Carlos Danger, is facing an ongoing Senate investigation into the consulting fees she earned while also working as a State Department employee for then-secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Susan Walsh / AP Photos

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has been investigating Abedin’s activities as a paid consultant while she was still working for Clinton toward the end of her tenure. In June 2012, Abedin changed her employment status at the State Department from being a full-time employee with the title of deputy chief of staff to being a “special government employee,” a type of contractor that allowed her to take on private clients in addition to her government job that included Hillary Clinton’s post–State Department transition team, the William J. Clinton Foundation, and Teneo Holdings, a firm run by Clinton confidant Doug Band.

Abedin’s change in employment status was exposed in a June article in Politico, which reported that Abedin and Weiner reported income of $490,000 in calendar year 2012, $360,000 of which represented a combination of both of their consulting incomes.

Exclusive

Inside the Obama-McCain Meeting

The president met with his 2008 rival Thursday for their most in-depth meeting in years. The senator tells Josh Rogin about Obama’s plans for Syria—and the region’s frustration with U.S. inaction on the war.

Following his role in avoiding a nuclear war over filibuster reform, Sen. John McCain was invited with his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham to meet with President Obama in the White House on Thursday to talk about foreign policy, the most in-depth meeting in years between Obama and his fiercest critics on the issue.

Senator John McCain

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is surrounded by reporters as he and other lawmakers walk to a closed-door meeting July 15 in the Old Senate Chamber for a showdown between Republican and Democratic leaders over presidential nominees who have been blocked by a GOP filibuster. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

McCain sat down with The Daily Beast on Friday for a long interview about his White House meeting and his multicountry tour around the Middle East earlier this month, which included stops in Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Obama meeting lasted two hours, and attendees included Vice President Joe Biden and new National Security Adviser Susan Rice, although Obama did most of the talking on the administration side.

“The president’s invitation indicates that the president realizes that there is a very serious implosion of events ranging from across northern Africa and well into the Middle East,” McCain said. “He gave us many of his views, and we exchanged thoughts on these various situations.”

Chris Deedy

From Benghazi to ‘Murder’

A diplomatic security agent on trial for murder in Honolulu was previously part of the ill-fated U.S. mission in Benghazi. Josh Rogin reports.

A State Department diplomatic security agent on trial for allegedly murdering an unarmed man in Hawaii was part of the original security detail for Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed last year when Islamic militants attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

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Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters, via Landov

Chris Deedy is standing trial in Hawaii on second-degree murder charges related to the November 2011 killing of Hawaiian local Kollin Elderts during a 3 a.m. dispute in a Honolulu McDonald’s. Deedy was in Hawaii as part of the team protecting Hillary Clinton at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, but was off duty when the shooting occurred. Much like the case of George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Deedy is claiming self-defense, and the details of the brawl are in dispute. Also, Deedy claims he was acting in a pseudo law enforcement capacity and says he can’t receive a fair trial in Hawaii due to racial tensions surrounding the case.

Before Deedy was assigned to Hawaii, he was part of a small group of diplomatic security agents that accompanied Ambassador Stevens into Benghazi to establish the U.S. mission there during the most tense period of the Libyan revolution.

President Obama's nominee to be ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is a late convert to the pro-Israel cause, but today she promised to fiercely advocate for the Jewish state, including fighting to help Israel obtain a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Samantha Power

Charles Dharapak / AP Photos

Power, a close confidante of President Barack Obama and a former top White House official, received a warm welcome today at her confirmation hearing to replace Susan Rice as the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. But senators pressed Power on her previous statements that caused a rift between her and elements of the pro-Israel community. Her answers showed that she has come around to the view that America’s role at the U.N. is to staunchly defend its top Middle East ally and to oppose Palestinian efforts to seek greater international recognition.

“The United States has no greater friend in the world than the state of Israel,” Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. “We share security interests, we share core values, and we have a special relationship with Israel.”

Homeland Security

Lute, Allen Top Congressional Wish List for DHS

Top senators endorsed two candidates Tuesday to replace Janet Napolitano as secretary of Homeland Security: former DHS deputy secretary Jane Holl Lute and former Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen.

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Napolitano announced July 12 that she would resign her position to become the next president of the University of California. While several names have been floated for her replacement, on Capitol Hill, Lute and Allen have the most senior level support.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he and committee ranking Republican Tom Coburn (R-OK), would like to see Lute get the job.

Stand Your Ground

Syrian Rebels Side With Trayvon

Anger over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin has stretched all the way from Sanford, Florida, to Syria, where residents of a besieged town weighed in on the verdict Monday.

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Raed Fares Facebook page

“Martin family!,” reads a sign drawn up by the rebels in the Syrian town of Kafr Anbel, part of the Syrian city of Idlib. “The Syrians are the best who know what it’s like to lose loved ones by immune criminals.”

The northwestern Syrian town, known as the “the creative center of the revolt,” has been making sardonic signs mocking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for years. Other signs have lashed out at the U.N. for failing to stop the bloodshed in Syria, as well as the foreign countries aiding Assad, such as Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

The Surveillance State

U.S.-China Snowden fight

Hundreds of U.S. and Chinese officials met for two days in Washington last week but couldn’t come to terms over who was responsible for NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong late last month.

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Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (L) and US Ambassador to China Gary Locke (C) listen while US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns speaks during an eco-partnership Event at the US Department of State July 11, 2013. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

The U.S. dispute with the government of Hong Kong over Snowden, who was allowed to board a flight to Moscow in late June despite a provisional arrest request issued by the U.S. Justice Department, has never been resolved. Hong Kong officials claimed that the U.S. government failed to respond to requests for additional information and identified Snowden’s middle name as “Joseph,” not James. But U.S. officials have said repeatedly the request was valid on its face and should have been honored.

At a July 12 press conference with senior U.S. and Chinese government officials, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns criticized Beijing, as well as Hong Kong, for letting Snowden go to Russia, where he still sits in an airport transit terminal weighing various Latin American asylum offers.

International Relations

America’s Face In Egypt Takes Hit

A career diplomat takes on what may be a higher profile than she’d like. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report.

U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson has become the public face in Egypt of America’s policy failure there. Now, she is charged with restoring not only U.S. relations with the world’s most populous Arab nation, but her own reputation as well.

US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson

A photograph of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson is burned outside the Ministry of Defense in Cairo, Egypt, on June 28, 2013. (Keith Lane/MCT, via Getty)

On paper, Patterson seemed like the ideal diplomat to guide U.S. involvement in Egypt during its transition from six decades of military rule to democracy, given her experience in politically volatile countries such as Colombia and Pakistan. An unusually influential ambassador, she played a major role in forming the U.S. approach to the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party led by Mohamed Morsi, the elected president who was arrested and removed from office by the Egyptian Army a week ago after tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest his rule.

But while her American defenders credit Patterson with taking a realistic approach to a volatile situation, many in the Egyptian opposition regard her as the person responsible for America’s close embrace of Islamists in Egypt. During the protests that led to the fall of Morsi’s government, her face, crossed out with a red X, became the symbol for many Egyptians of what they saw as U.S. discouragement of their efforts.

Last-Minute Reversal

New Syrian Ambassador Deported

The move is “a prime example of our dysfunctional Syria policy,” a senior aide to a Senate Republican tells Josh Rogin.

The State Department approved a visa for a new Syrian diplomat sent to Washington by the Assad regime several weeks ago and then revoked it today—but not before the diplomat had boarded his plane to Washington. He is being deported now in what lawmakers and opposition figures see as the latest debacle in the Obama administration’s handling of the Syria crisis.

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The Harry S. Truman Building, headquarters for the State Department. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“I cannot comment on an individual visa case beyond confirming that Ali Daghman’s visa has been revoked,” a State Department official told The Daily Beast Tuesday, referring to the incoming Syrian diplomat. “As a matter of policy and given the Syrian regime’s continuing assault on its own people, we have taken steps to further restrict entry of even the few remaining Syrian officials staffing the Embassy in Washington.”

Sources told The Daily Beast that Daghman’s visa was not revoked until after Daghman had already departed for D.C. and after Congressional offices and Syria opposition groups protested to the State Department, urging them not to let a regime loyalist diplomat into the country. The State Department was also considering approving the visas for two more diplomats being sent to Washington by the regime, but those visa applications have not been granted or denied and sit in bureaucratic limbo, these sources said.

Message to Russia

Congress to Russia: Give Up Snowden

With Obama still unable to get Putin to give up leaker Edward Snowden, members of Congress are stepping up—and preparing punitive measures of their own, reports Josh Rogin.

If the Obama administration can’t force Russia to turn over NSA leaker Edward Snowden, leaders on Capitol Hill from both parties say they are preparing punitive measures of their own to try and force Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop Snowden from fleeing to a country outside of America’s reach.

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Supporters hold pictures of President Barack Obama and Edward Snowden at a demonstration in Hong Kong earlier this month. (Kin Cheung/AP)

“We are exploring what are the leverage points. I’m trying to put together a package to let the Russians know how serious we are,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Daily Beast in an interview. “We have to respond, this is a defining moment in the relationship.”

Graham declined to elaborate on what his “package” of items to pressure Russia might include. For some Republicans, such as Graham and his cohort Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Putin’s handling of the Snowden issue is only the latest sign that Russia is backsliding when it comes to democracy and the rule of law.

About the Author

Author headshot

Josh Rogin

Josh Rogin is senior correspondent for national security and politics for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He previously worked at Foreign Policy magazine, Congressional Quarterly, Federal Computer Week magazine, and Japan’s leading daily newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.

Josh Rogin on Dual Track Process in Syria

After breaking news about President Obama asking the Pentagon for no-fly-zone plans, Josh Rogin joins CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper to explain how the administration is approaching Syria with a dual track process.

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