From CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott
Secretary of State John Kerry had a message for lawmakers he suggested were harping on the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi: let’s move on.
“Let’s get this done with, folks,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in his first appearance before Congress since taking office. “"I do not want to spend the next year coming up here talking about Benghazi."
Seven months after the attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Kerry faced sharp questions from Republican lawmakers over security at the Benghazi facility leading up to the attack and in the immediate aftermath.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California suggested the Obama administration lied to Congress about details related to the attack and is “attempting to stonewall progress” on a Congressional investigation by withholding requested documents.
Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican from California who is the chairman of the committee, took issue that officials who have been criticized for their handling of the issue remained on the State Department payroll, while Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, spoke about “false statements” about the attack by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
By Elise Labott
In the days before North Korea’s latest round of threats and provocations, US and North Korean officials met in New York, although nothing came of the meeting, said a source familiar with what transpired. The source described the meeting as part of regular backchannel exchanges between the countries.
Clifford Hart, the US envoy for six party talks aimed at North Korean denuclearization, met with North Korea’s Deputy UN Ambassador Han Song-ryol in mid March, according to the source.
Hart repeated the Obama administration’s call for North Korea to avoid provocative actions and urged a return to diplomacy. Han promised to communicate the message back to Pyongyang, the source said.
The meeting was held as part of the so-called “New York channel,” a backchannel typically used to communicate and pass messages between Washington and Pyongyang in the absence of normal relations. In February, North Korea used the New York channel to warn the State Department about its third nuclear test.
The meeting was first reported by the Foreign Policy magazine blog, The Cable.
As tensions mount on the Korean Peninsula, Wolf Blitzer explains what's behind the threats and what's at stake in a special edition of "The Situation Room," Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on CNN.
Are you from South or North Korea? Concerned about the latest crisis? Send us your thoughts.
Senior U.S. officials tell CNN that at the State Department briefing Thursday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland is going to try and take the focus on North Korea in a different direction toward diplomacy, as part of an administration-wide effort to calm tensions with North Korea.
The U.S. has been saying its military actions have all been defensive in nature and focused on the U.S. protecting its allies and its homeland. Now Nuland is going to send the message “this is time for diplomacy” and urge North Korea to stop threats and get back on the peace train, one official said.
Nuland is going to be setting up the fact Kerry is in Asia next week and will be talking about “finding a diplomatic way forward,” the official said.
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
CNN's Elise Labott looks at how U.S. foreign aid could be affected by the forced spending cuts.
By Elise Labott
The Obama administration is moving toward increasing aid to the Syrian opposition, including providing nonlethal military equipment and possibly strategic military training, sources told CNN Tuesday.
The changes are under discussion with allies as well, as part Secretary of State John Kerry's meetings this week in Europe, a senior administration official said.
The sources said the United States is not considering providing weapons.
The administration is also moving toward giving humanitarian aid directly to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the official said, adding that this was already happening in limited amounts.
The consideration was first reported on Tuesday by The Washington Post.
By Elise Labott
Expectations are low for a breakthrough with Iran in the latest round of nuclear negotiations in Kazakhstan, but relations between the Unites States and the Iranian people are proving much more promising.
U.S. wrestlers visited Tehran last week to compete in the World Cup, where they received a warm welcome by Iranian fans at the capital's Azadi Stadium.
And now, CNN has learned, eight Iranian museum specialists on Monday began a three-week visit to the United States as part of a State Department cultural exchange program.
The five-city tour includes stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, where the group will learn about best practices in securing and displaying art exhibits from curators and archeologists at some of the most popular American museums including the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. They will also visit universities and meet with other art-related organizations.
The U.S. does not have government-to-government exchanges with Iran, so the visitors will not meet with any American officials.
By Elise Labott
Incoming Secretary of State John Kerry plans to include stops in the Middle East as his first official trip, according to a US official. The trip, which is expected as early as mid-February, is likely to include stops in Israel and Egypt, the official said.
A western diplomat said Kerry has already been invited by some European capitals to visit later this month. Kerry indicated interest in going, but did not commit given he has not been sworn in yet.
By Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott
We have one confession to make right off the top: we have never seen Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sleeping. Informed sources say she does sleep and in her visits to 112 countries, logging nearly one million miles in the air during her four years in office, presumably she did catch a wink or two.
But travel with Clinton is a time warp where clocks and watches showing 24 hours seem inadequate to capture a full day with America’s top diplomat.
You’re simply on “Clinton time” and if you want to survive, you must forget Eastern Standard Time, local time or any other time. Just stick with eternal present time and you’ll survive. But bring your vitamins along.
When we interviewed Secretary Clinton in her last week in office, she described it as a “flying circus” and that’s a good a description as we’ve heard. When you are “in the bubble,” as it is called, it’s a maelstrom of diplomatic security officers with earpieces, dogs sniffing for explosives, handlers and motorcades. You will be jet lagged and sleep deprived but so is she.
By Elise Labott and Jethro Mullen
The United States will push for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for launching a rocket Wednesday, senior administration officials told CNN.
"We will go to New York with a full head of steam and work hard with our partners on the council to get a tough, swift reaction," one official said.
Washington may push for sanctions similar to those imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, the officials said. The measures would target financial institutions and would designate specific members of the North Korean government for sanctions as well.
"There is a pretty strong commitment to go with a seriousness of purpose," one official said.
It is unclear whether such tough measures would be approved by the Security Council. North Korean allies China and Russia, two of the council's permanent members, could exercise their veto power.