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Briefing Skipper: Russia, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Israel

Your humble Cable guy is just getting back from some well earned vacation, so until we start pounding the pavement again tomorrow, here are the highlights of Monday’s briefing by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland: President Barack Obama Monday nominated Brett H. McGurk to be ambassador to Iraq and Michele Sison to be ambassador to Sri Lanka ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Your humble Cable guy is just getting back from some well earned vacation, so until we start pounding the pavement again tomorrow, here are the highlights of Monday's briefing by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

President Barack Obama Monday nominated Brett H. McGurk to be ambassador to Iraq and Michele Sison to be ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives. From the announcement: "Brett H. McGurk is currently senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Christopher Hill in Baghdad. From 2005 to 2009, Mr. McGurk served on the National Security Council, initially as Director for Iraq and later as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to 2005, he was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." Nuland started out Monday's press briefing by declaring that the United States does not recognize the de facto elections held in the Abkhazia region of Georgia on March 24 or in South Ossetia on March 25. "We reiterate our support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders," she said. "We further urge Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance to Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Nuland then proceeded to bat down questions about Obama's hot mic comments on missile defense during his bilateral meeting with lame duck Russia President Dmitry Medvedev. "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for [Vladimir Putin] to give me space...This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said. Medvedev responded, "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir." Nuland referred to the comments after the meeting by the NSC's Ben Rhodes, who said, "I think their point was that that shouldn't disrupt work that can be done at the technical level to build confidence, to gain understanding over a period of time so that we can continue to pursue some type of agreement on this in the future." Obama also met in Seoul with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately after which Turkey announced they were closing their embassy in Syria, but Nuland said the two events were unrelated. "I think that the Turkish Government has made clear that, as we had some time ago, they have security concerns about being able to keep their embassy open. So my understanding is that this was based on security," she said. The next Friends of Syria meeting is Sunday in Turkey. Nuland called it the Friends of the Syrian People meeting. "I've seen it both ways. We'll see what the Turks call it," she said. Don't expect a lot of surprises at the Turkey meeting, Nuland indicated. She said the U.S. was talking to its friends about communications and technical equipment for the opposition but that the focus was still on the diplomatic and economic track. "(The U.S. and Turkey) are both very committed, not only to the Arab League plan but to the Kofi Annan plan and to do doing what we can to tighten the screws on Assad to come into compliance with Kofi's proposals, starting with an end to the violence," she said. Obama will meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani tomorrow in Seoul, two days after Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Dushabe. Zardari was there to meet with the heads of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan and reportedly told Grossman that Pakistan was almost done with its parliamentary review of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and they are almost ready to be frenemies again. "They discussed primarily the importance of regional stability and security," Nuland said. "Ambassador Grossman highlighted the United States respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan, and he expressed respect for Pakistan's ongoing parliamentary review and our desire for consultations after it's concluded because we have many shared interests to work on together." One reporter at the briefing gave Nuland some grief on Pakistan. "I just want to check on one thing.  You said that Ambassador Grossman told Zardari that the U.S. has the highest respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan?" the reporter asked. "Was that before or after the latest drone strike?" Nuland ignored the question. "I'm assuming you're not going to answer my last question," the reporter said. "Definitely not," Nuland responded. Grossman also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Dushanbe and made a quick stop in Kabul to meet with the High Peace Council. No confirmation that the next P5+1 meeting with Iran is set to happen on April 13. Nuland said any announcement would come from the office of EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. "My understanding is they're continuing to talk about the venue in particular before they make an announcement," she said. In two weeks, ministers from the Middle East Quartet will meet in Washington April 11 "to take stock of where we are, and to consider steps that we can take to try to get through the current impasse, and to discuss ways that we can support the implementation of the proposals that they made way back in September," Nuland said. Special Envoy for the Middle East David Hale will travel to the region next week to prepare. He was in Brussels last week and met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. "With regard to the Israelis and Palestinians, we don't expect that they will be represented at this meeting," she said. As for the Jordanians, that's still being worked out.

Your humble Cable guy is just getting back from some well earned vacation, so until we start pounding the pavement again tomorrow, here are the highlights of Monday’s briefing by spokeswoman Victoria Nuland:

  • President Barack Obama Monday nominated Brett H. McGurk to be ambassador to Iraq and Michele Sison to be ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives. From the announcement: "Brett H. McGurk is currently senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker and Christopher Hill in Baghdad. From 2005 to 2009, Mr. McGurk served on the National Security Council, initially as Director for Iraq and later as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to 2005, he was a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."
  • Nuland started out Monday’s press briefing by declaring that the United States does not recognize the de facto elections held in the Abkhazia region of Georgia on March 24 or in South Ossetia on March 25. "We reiterate our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders," she said. "We further urge Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of forces to pre-conflict positions and free access for humanitarian assistance to Abkhazia and South Ossetia."
  • Nuland then proceeded to bat down questions about Obama’s hot mic comments on missile defense during his bilateral meeting with lame duck Russia President Dmitry Medvedev. "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for [Vladimir Putin] to give me space…This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," Obama said. Medvedev responded, "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir." Nuland referred to the comments after the meeting by the NSC’s Ben Rhodes, who said, "I think their point was that that shouldn’t disrupt work that can be done at the technical level to build confidence, to gain understanding over a period of time so that we can continue to pursue some type of agreement on this in the future."
  • Obama also met in Seoul with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, immediately after which Turkey announced they were closing their embassy in Syria, but Nuland said the two events were unrelated. "I think that the Turkish Government has made clear that, as we had some time ago, they have security concerns about being able to keep their embassy open. So my understanding is that this was based on security," she said. The next Friends of Syria meeting is Sunday in Turkey. Nuland called it the Friends of the Syrian People meeting. "I’ve seen it both ways. We’ll see what the Turks call it," she said.
  • Don’t expect a lot of surprises at the Turkey meeting, Nuland indicated. She said the U.S. was talking to its friends about communications and technical equipment for the opposition but that the focus was still on the diplomatic and economic track. "(The U.S. and Turkey) are both very committed, not only to the Arab League plan but to the Kofi Annan plan and to do doing what we can to tighten the screws on Assad to come into compliance with Kofi’s proposals, starting with an end to the violence," she said.
  • Obama will meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani tomorrow in Seoul, two days after Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Dushabe. Zardari was there to meet with the heads of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan and reportedly told Grossman that Pakistan was almost done with its parliamentary review of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and they are almost ready to be frenemies again. "They discussed primarily the importance of regional stability and security," Nuland said. "Ambassador Grossman highlighted the United States respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan, and he expressed respect for Pakistan’s ongoing parliamentary review and our desire for consultations after it’s concluded because we have many shared interests to work on together."
  • One reporter at the briefing gave Nuland some grief on Pakistan. "I just want to check on one thing.  You said that Ambassador Grossman told Zardari that the U.S. has the highest respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan?" the reporter asked. "Was that before or after the latest drone strike?" Nuland ignored the question. "I’m assuming you’re not going to answer my last question," the reporter said. "Definitely not," Nuland responded. Grossman also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Dushanbe and made a quick stop in Kabul to meet with the High Peace Council.
  • No confirmation that the next P5+1 meeting with Iran is set to happen on April 13. Nuland said any announcement would come from the office of EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. "My understanding is they’re continuing to talk about the venue in particular before they make an announcement," she said.
  • In two weeks, ministers from the Middle East Quartet will meet in Washington April 11 "to take stock of where we are, and to consider steps that we can take to try to get through the current impasse, and to discuss ways that we can support the implementation of the proposals that they made way back in September," Nuland said. Special Envoy for the Middle East David Hale will travel to the region next week to prepare. He was in Brussels last week and met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. "With regard to the Israelis and Palestinians, we don’t expect that they will be represented at this meeting," she said. As for the Jordanians, that’s still being worked out.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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