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.
By Jill Dougherty
For Americans applying for a passport, or citizens of other countries trying to get a visa to the United States, the current government shutdown won't have any effect, the State Department says.
The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are "national security agencies," which means they have national security responsibilities such as representing the United States overseas and representing to Americans what the country's foreign interests are.
Therefore, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki told reporters, they will continue working despite the shutdown.
"Regardless of the challenges a shutdown would create, we will continue to operate to advance national interests and protect the health and safety of American citizens and those living abroad," she said at a press briefing Monday.
By Jamie Crawford
The leader of a review board that investigated the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, lacked sufficient independence to reach an objective finding of fault, a congressional committee chairman said on Thursday.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering that he failed to see how the Accountability Review Board could have come to an objective conclusion about the September 2012 attack based on Pickering's long career as a State Department official.
"You talked about 42 years in the organization you were overseeing," Issa said to Pickering, who drew on his diplomatic experience to help him lead the panel.
"If we looked at the bank failures of 2007 and brought Jamie Dimon in to head the board, some might say that there was an inherent conflict because of his experience in life," Issa said of the JPMorgan Chase chairman.
"Mr. chairman, with greatest respect, this was not, quote, a 'gotcha' investigative panel," Pickering replied.
He asked why a group looking for answers would be empaneled without understanding the specific minutiae of how diplomacy is carried out.
"I appreciate that," Issa shot back. "Obviously, this was not a 'gotcha' panel, because nobody was 'gotcha-ed.'"
The exchange between Issa and Pickering illustrated the sharp political emotion that has defined many exchanges over the Benghazi attack by armed militants, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Issa's investigation has been a partisan flashpoint as he has pushed the Obama administration hard to get a better understanding of pre-attack security at the diplomatic outpost and why no one at the State Department lost their jobs after Pickering's investigation noted shortcomings.
Earlier this week, the Republican majority staff of the committee released a report that also raised new questions. It noted the relatively short time it took the review board to investigate the attack and issue its findings, and pointed out that those interviewed by the panel were not made available to members of Congress.
The Democratic minority staff, led by its ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, released its own report just as Thursday's hearing got underway. It questioned the findings of the Republican staff report.
"Based on all of the evidence obtained by this committee, this Benghazi review was one of the most comprehensive ARB reviews ever conducted," Cummings said. "I have seen no evidence, none whatsoever, to support these reckless Republican accusations. To the contrary, witness after witness told the committee that the ARB's work was 'penetrating,' 'specific,' 'critical,' 'very tough,' and the 'opposite of a whitewash.'"
But the fireworks were just getting started as a session that ran more than four hours got underway. It examined numerous areas around how and why certain facets of the review board investigation were undertaken.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as Pickering's co-chair, was effusive in his assertions that there were no orders for any military detachments to "stand down" that had already put in motion to try and arrest the assault on the diplomatic building and a nearby CIA annex.
"This is not something you can just wish to happen instantly. There's a lot of planning, preparation, as rapidly - to do it as rapidly as one can do it," Mullen said in reference to questions of how no U.S. military assets made it to Benghazi that night.
"We are not big enough in the military to be everywhere around the world to respond to where every embassy is that might be high-risk. We have to take risks and figure that out," he said.
Questions emerged from multiple members of the committee as to why the review board did not assign any culpability for management and other shortcomings to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as head of the department.
"We had very clear evidence, full and complete to our information, that the authority - responsibility, the accountability rested with the people we identified," Pickering said in explaining why failures in the State Department structure were centered at the assistant secretary level.
"If the secretary (Clinton) wasn't involved, I must be on another planet," Rep. John Mica said in response.
In interviews with media outlets prior to her stepping down earlier this year, Clinton said she took responsibility for the security of diplomats and diplomatic outposts around the world in her role as secretary.
There have been 18 such review boards since 1986 that have investigated attacks on U.S. facilities overseas.
Many members of the panel questioned Pickering and Mullen as to why certain recommendations from the report that looked into the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa were not carried forward.
"Secretary (Madeleine) Albright as a result of that recommendation, met daily with the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security first thing in the morning. And that established a nexus, a chain, which neither her - I think none of her three successors kept. I think that may have been an error," Pickering said.
"I think that in some ways her interest - and put it this way - in no more Nairobis and no more Dar es Salaams was an important instinct. I think that that was a rather good process, and in some ways I'm sorry it wasn't repeated," he said.
The review board led by Pickering and Mullen made 29 recommendations, one of which was to establish another independent review to identify "best practices" in the public and private sectors in security intelligence, risk management and accountability - all areas where problems were identified at the State Department.
That panel, led by former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, warned that the State Department did not pay enough attention to the bureau overseeing security for 275 diplomatic posts and called for it to be elevated in its importance to deal with a growing threat.
As a result of the Benghazi attack, the State Department created a new position of deputy assistant secretary of state for high threat posts and has begun to beef up security and improve training.
But Issa contended Thursday that it was the purview of his committee and that of Congress to interview many of the same witnesses who were on the ground in Benghazi that spoke to the review board in order to get an understanding of where accountability for the attack lay.
"I am in the process of issuing subpoenas because the State Department has not made those people available, has played hide and go seek, and is now hiding behind a thinly veiled statement that there's a criminal investigation," he said of the FBI probe.
And in the next sentence, Mr. Issa laid out the roadmap for his committee in the Benghazi investigation.
"That's part of the reason that this investigation cannot end until the State Department gives us at least the same access that they gave your board," he said.
CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.
By Catherine E. Shoichet and Jamie Crawford
A new possibility for a diplomatic solution in the standoff between Syria and the United States surfaced unexpectedly Monday as the war-torn country said it supported a proposal to hand over control of its chemical weapons.
But a key question loomed: Is that a viable option or simply a stall tactic as President Bashar al-Assad's government tries to stave off U.S. military action?
"It's certainly a positive development when the Russians and Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons," President Barack Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday.
By Elise Labott
An independent panel has found the State Department has not overall paid enough attention to oversees security for diplomatic posts and called for it to be elevated in importance, several sources familiar with the matter said.
Led by former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, the panel was created as part of a broad inquiry of last September's deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
A separate assessment by the Accountability Review Board, established after the Benghazi attack, criticized the department for failing to provide adequate security and made 29 recommendations.
One was the creation of the latest analysis to identify "best practices" in the public and private sectors in security intelligence, risk management and accountability, all areas where problems were identified at the State Department.