By Paul Courson
Secretary of State John Kerry tried to reassure diplomatic workers on Monday that security improvements are underway at American missions around the world where they are likely to be deployed.
The measures include plans for a rapid evacuation contingency if conditions turn deadly, as they did last September during a terror attack on the U.S. post in Benghazi, Libya.
In opening remarks at a "Security Overseas Seminar" at the Foreign Service Institute, Kerry said there's a balance between making contact with the local populations the United States is trying to serve, and protecting Americans working in hostile regions.
"Diplomacy and security needs do not have to be trade-offs," he said, declaring that "if we are going to bring light to the world, we have to go where it is dark."
By CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott
A review board responsible for investigating the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya is now getting its own review.
The office of the State Department's inspector general is doing a special review of the "effectiveness and accountability" of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) process, according to Doug Welty, a spokesman for the IG's office.
By Jethro Mullen and K.J. Kwon, CNN
A North Korean court has sentenced a U.S. citizen to 15 years of hard labor, saying he committed "hostile acts" against the secretive state.
The country's Supreme Court delivered the sentence against Pae Jun Ho, known as Kenneth Bae by U.S. authorities, on Tuesday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Thursday.
The KCNA article said Bae a Korean-American, was arrested November 3 after arriving as a tourist in Rason City, a port in the northeastern corner of North Korea. It didn't provide any details about the "hostile acts" he is alleged to have committed.
Following the sentence, his case could get caught up in the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, which spiked recently after the North carried out its latest underground nuclear test in February and as the United States and South Korea held joint military drills in the region.
The intensity of the menacing rhetoric from North Korea appears to have subsided recently, and the U.S.-South Korean drills finished this week, removing one source of friction. But Kim Jong Un's regime, which has demanded that North Korea be recognized as a nuclear power, remains unpredictable.
The United States has seen the reports of Bae's sentencing, a State Department official said, and is working to confirm them through the Swedish Embassy.FULL STORY
By Pam Benson and Chris Lawrence
Despite the uproar over a disclosure this week of Pentagon intelligence concluding North Korea may be able to deliver a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, it's not the first time the Defense Intelligence Agency has suggested Pyongyang had that capability.
Since 2005, two former DIA chiefs have raised the possibility during congressional testimony.
At a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing in April 2005, then-DIA director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby acknowledged the possibility in response to a question about whether North Korea had the capability to put a nuclear device on a missile.
"The assessment is that they have the capability to do that," Jacoby said.
By Elise Labott
A greatly reduced role in Iraq and Afghanistan after more than a decade of war means the State Department can shift financial resources to priorities in the Mideast and Asia and enhance security at high-threat diplomatic posts.
President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for $47.8 billion for the State Department and international programs in fiscal 2014, a 6 percent budget decrease from fiscal 2013 levels.
The most dramatic reduction would come from the Iraq and Afghanistan accounts, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The new budget for that line item requests $3.8 billion, a 67 percent reduction from what was received last year.
Although U.S. forces left the country in 2011, Iraq is home to the largest American embassy in the world.
By Elise Labott
(CNN) - Anne Smedinghoff’s idea of fun wasn’t what most people would consider a good time. In January 2012 while in Venezuela as a Foreign Service officer, she wrote to her friends about a holiday to the Delta del Orinoco, one of the world’s great river deltas.
“Two Belgians, four Germans, a Swiss-Venezuela, a Norwegian and I trekked into the jungle on Saturday,” Smedinghoff wrote. “Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but in fact it's how I spent my Martin Luther King Day weekend. We lived in huts built over the river on stilts, fished for and ate piranhas, paddled around the delta in canoes made from tree trunks, cut down a palm tree and ate the fresh heart-of-palm from the inside, visited an indigenous family who kept a crocodile on a leash as a pet, saw anacondas and macaws and monkeys, used machetes to cut our way through the jungle, ate termites that tasted like menthol, and watched the sunset while drinking rum and Tang in a boat.”
Overcome with grief at her death in a suicide bombing Saturday while delivering books to an Afghan school, her family and friends are celebrating the life of what they describe as a fearless and positive woman with an infectious smile who was devoted to helping others. And they are trying to find solace in the fact that she died doing what she loved.
“She was a woman who loved life, who was adventuresome, really wanted to make a difference in the world,” says her father, Thomas Smedinghoff. “She was someone that really embraced life to the fullest.”
By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday detailed what it called an "intricate Iranian scheme" helped by a Greek shipping magnate in an effort to avoid oil export sanctions.
Dimitris Cambis established a network of front companies to purchase multiple oil tankers in an elaborate scheme to disguise the origin of Iranian oil, the Treasury Department said.
"Today we are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions," David S. Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a written statement. "We will continue to expose deceptive Iranian practices, and to sanction those individuals and entities who participate in these schemes."
By Allison Brennan and Elise Labott
The decision by the Obama administration to provide nonlethal aid to Syrian rebel forces seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad is drawing fire from some in the aid community, saying it politicizes aid and violates principles of neutrality which governs aid delivery.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday announced the United States would give aid to armed opposition, including medical supplies and meals. The aid marks the first signs of direct and vocal American support for the rebels in the nearly two-year bloody conflict, which the UN estimates has claimed more than 70,000 lives and forced millions more from their homes.
Washington hopes the aid will bolster the credibility of the Syrian opposition, peel away supporters from al-Assad and curb a growing allegiance to radical Islamic groups gaining favor among the population by providing basic services to citizens in rebel-controlled areas.
But some aid workers worry al-Assad’s regime could punish all humanitarian groups for the U.S. decision, thus hampering efforts to deliver aid. FULL POST
By Pam Benson
The White House has agreed to turn over to the Senate Intelligence Committee additional e-mails and intelligence reports related to the lethal attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, according to a congressional source.
The source said some of the materials have already been received by the panel and others "will be provided shortly."
Republican senators have threatened to hold up the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director until they receive e-mails exchanged between the White House and the spy agency concerning public talking points about the deadly attack last September 11.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice relied on those talking points to explain the Obama administration's version of events several days after the armed assault. Her televised comments ignited an election-year controversy, fueled by Republicans, over whether the administration was being truthful about the nature of the attack.
By Jill Dougherty
Secretary of State John Kerry has asked his "old communicator and colleague," Jen Psaki, to be his chief spokeswoman, a senior agency official confirmed Wednesday.
Psaki is only in her 30s but she is an old hand at Democratic message-shaping. She worked with then-Senator Kerry on his 2004 presidential election bid and was President Barack Obama's deputy communications director.
Most recently, she has been senior vice president and managing director with the Global Strategy Group, a Democratic communications company.
Diplomats usually measure their words; Psaki doesn't mince words.