WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama has decided to send a U.S. ambassador back to Syria, a dramatic sign of reconciliation between the two countries, senior administration officials tell CNN. The announcement is expected to be made this week.
"It's in our interests to have an ambassador in Syria, a senior administration official told CNN Tuesday night. "We have been having more and more discussions and we need to have someone there to engage."
The official said that the decision was not in any way related to the election crisis in Iran, although the Obama administration has maintained engaging the Syrian regime could weaken Syria's strategic alliance with Iran.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton canceled a planned trip to Greece and Italy this week because she is still recovering from surgery to repair her fractured elbow.
In Trieste, Italy, Clinton planned to attend meetings with her Group of Eight counterparts on Iran, the Middle East peace process and the War in Afghanistan. She also planned to take part in a gathering of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Corfu, Greece, which was expected to focus on the tensions between Russia and Georgia.
The announcement was first made by Deputy Secretary of States James Steinberg, who said he would represent the United States at the meeting in Greece, while Undersecretary of State William Burns will attend the meetings in Italy.
Clinton, who fell in the State Department garage last week, had surgery on Friday. Spokesman Ian Kelly said she was at the State Department Monday, where she made calls to the Greek and Italian foreign ministers to express her regret at having to cancel the trip.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she has ordered a review of security and vetting procedures that let a State Department employee suspected of spying for Cuba slip through the cracks.
Clinton told reporters she directed State Department security personnel to review "every possible security program we have, every form of vetting and clearance that we employ in the State Department, to determine what more we can do to guard against this kind of outrageous violation of the oaths that people take to serve our country here in the State Department."
Walter Kendall Myers, a 72-year-old former State Department employee, and his 71-year-old wife, Gwendolyn, were arrested Thursday and charged with illegally aiding the government of Cuba for almost 30 years, the Justice Department said.
The Myerses were charged with conspiracy to act as illegal agents of the Cuban government, providing classified information to that government and wire fraud, according to court documents unsealed in Washington on Friday.
"We are concerned by the announcement of the arrests and the charges against these two individuals, one of whom, as you know, was a former State Department employee, along with his wife," Clinton said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - On the eve of President Obama's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the Obama administration wants a complete halt to settlement activity by Israel, which she argued would help Washington's Mideast peace efforts.
"We think it is in the best interest of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease," she said following a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit.
Clinton spoke hours before having dinner with Abbas, who will meet with President Obama at the White House Thursday.
Last week President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, where he pressed him to commit to the creation of a Palestinian state and halt settlement activity to create a better atmosphere for peace talks.
Netanyahu has committed to removing illegal settlement "outposts," but has pledged to continue expansion, or "natural growth"of existing settlements.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama on Thursday sent a controversial civil nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates to the Senate for ratification, but its passage remains uncertain, thanks to a recently disclosed video.
Senior U.S. officials told CNN that lawmakers critical of the deal could use the video - which shows a member of the UAE government's royal family torturing a man - to argue the United States should not have such nuclear cooperation with a country where the rule of law is not respected and human rights violations are tolerated.
The senior officials said the Obama administration deliberately held off sending the deal to Congress for ratification because of fears some lawmakers would try to use the video to undermine the agreement.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday Israel must halt settlement activity and Arab nations must move toward peace with Israel as the Obama administration prepares to lay out its vision for the Mideast.
"It is clear that the settlement activity has to cease," Clinton said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Her comments come on the heels of a visit to Washington this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in advance of a visit next week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also was scheduled to visit Washington next week but postponed his trip Wednesday after the death of his grandson.
After the series of meetings, President Barack Obama is expected to lay out his vision for Mideast peace negotiations when he addresses the Muslim world in a speech in Cairo next month.
Clinton said that during Netanyahu's visit, she and Obama reaffirmed the administration's desire for a two-state solution and emphasized negotiations on a deal must must begin with an end to settlement activity.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The United States and Russia pledged Thursday not to let differences on issues such as Georgia prevent stronger ties and cooperation on nuclear reductions, proliferation and Iran.
"It is old thinking to say that we have a disagreement in one area and therefore we shouldn't work in something else that is overwhelmingly important," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after a meeting with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"We want to normalize the relationship and raise it to a new level," Clinton said.
Lavrov added that reducing both countries' nuclear stockpiles was "too important both for Russia and the United States and the rest of the world to hold hostage."
The two met to further negotiations on a nuclear reduction treaty to replace the 1991 START treaty, which expires at the end of this year, and in advance of a summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in July. Last month in London the two leaders agreed to cooperate on arms control, nuclear proliferation and Iran.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama's ambitious strategy for Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, dubbed "Afpak" by administration officials, will face its first test Wednesday when he meets with the leaders of both countries - neither of which is seen as able to maintain stability and fight strengthening Islamic insurgencies.
The president will meet separately with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari before holding a joint session with the two leaders. The leaders also will hold talks at the State Department, FBI, CIA and on Capitol Hill.
Obama will try to build an enduring regional alliance with both countries, enlisting them as full partners rather than treating them as battlefields for U.S. soldiers to fight extremists. But both leaders are seen as weak and are deeply unpopular back home.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – As Pakistani forces continue to battle an advancing Taliban, the leading senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced legislation Monday tripling aid to the country.
The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, introduced by Senators John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Dick Lugar, R-Indiana, authorizes $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years to foster economic growth and development, and another $7.5 billion for the following five years.
The $1.5 billion per year would triple U.S. non-military aid levels, currently at $500 million per year. In the past, U.S. military aid has surpassed economic and other assistance. The legislation also would separate military from non-military aid, promising that economic aid "is no longer the poor cousin to military aid."
In a statement released Monday, the senators said they aim to build "a deeper, broader, long-term strategic engagement with the people," rather than just the leaders of Pakistan, acknowledging past U.S. aid to the country had been tied to political events, "sending mixed messages and leading most Pakistanis to question both our intentions and our staying power."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Obama administration is sending two senior US envoys to Syria next week, another sign of warming ties between the two countries, according to US and Syrian officials briefed on the talks.
Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman, the top State Department official on the Middle East, and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro will be will be making their second trip to Damascus in less than two months as the United States seeks to upgrade relations with Damascus.
Since his last trip to Damascus in March, Feltman and Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador in Washington, have held several meetings aimed at nailing down areas of cooperation. The meetings have suggested the start of more regular contacts between Washington and Damascus through normal diplomatic channels since President Obama took office.
Syrian officials said the meetings in Damascus and Washington have helped the two sides develop common strategies which they now hope to put into action.
US officials briefed on the visit said the talks will focus in part on convincing Syria to seal its border with Iraq. Washington has criticized Damascus for turning a blind eye to foreign fighters traveling through Syria into Iraq.