By Laura Koran
Syria carried out "egregious human rights violations" last year, according to a State Department assessment released on Thursday that also singled out abuses in Russia and the Ukraine.
The 2013 Human Rights Report, based on assessments from America's embassies abroad, reserved its strongest language for the Syrian government, which allegedly gassed its own people last August in an atrocity linked to the ongoing civil war.
"Hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator, who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas," Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report.
"And many more have been, unfortunately, confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons," he said.
By Chloe Sommers
In her first Sunday talk show appearance since her use of Benghazi “talking points” set off a political firestorm in 2012, National Security Adviser Susan Rice was asked point-blank whether she has any regrets about her involvement in informing the public of developments regarding the violence before, during and after the attacks on a U.S. post in Libya.
"No," Rice bluntly told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet The Press.”
He noted that many believe the controversy over the accuracy of Rice's talking points cost her a chance at becoming secretary of state.
“This information I provided, which I explained to you, which was what we had at the moment, it could change,” Rice said. “I commented this was based on what we knew on that morning was provided to me and my colleagues and Congress, by the intelligence community, and that's been well validated in many ways since.FULL STORY
By Elise Labott
The State Department will soon designate a militia led by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee as a terrorist group and connect it to the deadly 2012 Benghazi attack, U.S. officials familiar with the decision told CNN.
Officials said militants under the command Sufian bin Qumu took part in the armed assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Qumu is the leader of the group Ansar al-Sharia in the eastern Libyan city of Darnah, one of several militias believed to be responsible for the attack.
The group also has branches in Benghazi and Libya. Officials said the State Department is expected to designate all three branches as foreign terrorist organizations in coming days. FULL POST
CNN Justice Reporter Evan Perez
A senior U.S. lawmaker is pushing the State Department to take action against a group of current and former Russian diplomats who prosecutors allege ran a nine-year scheme that bilked $1.5 million from Medicaid, the U.S. health benefits program for the poor.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter on Monday to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing concern that the government may not be doing enough to ensure diplomats aren’t improperly getting taxpayer-funded benefits.
By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott
Social work and community organizing may seem unlikely career experiences for a lead negotiator to draw on in high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran.
But in an interview before she headed to Geneva this week for the negotiations, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman joked that while her caseload may be more global now, the work is similar.
“Understanding who the person is across the table from you, watching the group dynamics and knowing when to intervene, scoping out situations and seeing where the points of leverage are and how you can reach your objective, are a set of skills I was trained with earlier in my life and have used in any setting I have been in,” Sherman said. “You have to understand what you’ve come to achieve but be very cognizant of all of the other pieces. You need a 360-degree view.”
By Elise Labott
In the delicate dance of diplomacy, the word "apology" can be a misstep.
Such is the case with a proposed letter of assurances from the United States to the people of Afghanistan, which is emerging as a way to overcome remaining hurdles to allowing some U.S. troops to remain in that country post-2014.
By Chelsea J. Carter and Elise Labott
Reports the United States is on the verge of a security agreement with Afghanistan that includes a formal letter of apology for past mistakes by American troops are completely false, the National Security adviser told CNN on Tuesday.
The statements came amid claims by Afghan officials that the Obama administration offered to write the letter as part of an effort to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan well past the 2014 deadline to withdraw.
"No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan," National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN's "Situation Room."
"Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table."FULL STORY
By Bryan Koenig
Secretary of State John Kerry logged nearly enough miles on his most recent two-week trip to circumnavigate the globe.
A State Department official estimated that Kerry traveled approximately 23,000 miles on his 12-segment stint that began at the beginning of the month. During that time, Kerry traveled from the U.S. to Tokyo, then Bali and on to Brunei, Malaysia, Afghanistan and finally London before returning to the United States. The circumference of planet Earth is about 24,000 miles.
Kerry’s travel and marathon deal-making is becoming well-known as the former Senator from Massachusetts and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee fills in for President Barack Obama’s head of state duties, with Obama canceling an international trip due to the partial federal government shutdown. On Kerry's to do list: working on a military-presence deal in Afghanistan, briefing allies on efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons and negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program, and attempting to negotiate a trade deal in the Pacific.
The State Department's website counts 32 countries visited so far by Kerry since he became secretary early this year, with 93 days of travel, 190,000 miles covered and 17 days spent in the air.
By Jill Dougherty
The federal government shutdown, and Washington itself, are under the media microscope around the world.
The political meltdown is being watched with confusion, concern, disgust and even some gloating.
At Thursday’s State Department briefing, spokeswoman Marie Harf gave one example.
Citing local press commentary from Sri Lanka, she said: “The United States, and particularly many in Congress, have urged the government in Sri Lanka to more aggressively pursue reconciliation and a credible government, something we care a lot about.”
By Elise Labott
Compared to other U.S. government agencies, the State Department has been relatively lucky.
Because many of its accounts are appropriated more than a year at a time, there is money in most to keep almost all employees at work and all offices and overseas posts open for the near future.
But it isn't business as usual.
Although U.S. embassies and consulates overseas remain open now, officials say an extended government shutdown will delay augmenting embassy security abroad.