Andrew Quinn http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn Andrew Quinn's Profile Thu, 24 Jan 2013 00:00:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Clinton: U.S. cannot allow northern Mali to be terrorism base http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/01/23/uk-usa-libya-clinton-mali-idUKBRE90M0XD20130123?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11708 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/23/clinton-u-s-cannot-allow-northern-mali-to-be-terrorism-base/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 23:20:52 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=671 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe-haven for Islamist rebels who could eventually pose a more direct threat to U.S. interests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Testifying to a Senate committee about the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton said the growing international campaign against Islamist fighters in northern Mali was a response to “a very serious, ongoing threat.”

“We are in for a struggle, but it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven,” she said.

Clinton’s testimony centered on the events surrounding the September 11 attack in Benghazi last year, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

However, she painted a picture of growing Islamist threats across the region, including in Algeria where jihadist fighters seized a gas plant and took dozens of foreigners hostage this month before being overwhelmed by Algerian security forces.

“If you’re focusing just on North Africa, al Qaeda is a brand name as much as an organisation. People wake up. They form these jihadist groups,” Clinton said.

“We have to take a hard look at all of them, and constantly be upping our military intelligence and diplomatic assets to deal with them.”

U.S. HELPING IN MALI

U.S. military planes have helped to ferry French soldiers and equipment to Mali after France launched air strikes and deployed some 2,150 ground forces this month to halt a surprise Islamist offensive toward the Mali capital Bamako.

The United States is also helping to train and equip African forces from the ECOWAS regional group of West African countries who are mobilizing to join the battle. U.S. officials stressed there are no plans to dispatch American combat troops.

Clinton said the security situation in northern Mali is complicated by an inflow of weapons from neighbouring Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. She said such weapons were used in the Algeria attack.

“There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya,” she said, referring to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the regional affiliate of the al Qaeda network.

The United States must prepare for the possibility that groups like AQIM could threaten direct attacks on U.S. interests as they gain power, Clinton said.

“You can’t say because they haven’t done something they’re not going to do it. This is not only a terrorist syndicate, it is a criminal enterprise. So make no mistake about it, we’ve got to have a better strategy.”

Clinton said she had no information to substantiate a report in the New York Times quoting an Algerian official as saying that some of the militants involved in the Algeria attack had also taken part in the Benghazi attack.

The United States was pressing officials in Libya and elsewhere in the region to keep up the hunt for the Benghazi attackers and improve overall security, she said.

“I have found the Libyan officials to be willing but without capacity. And part of our challenge is to help them build greater capacity because now it’s about them,” Clinton said.

“They are having leaders attacked and assassinated on a regular basis, so we have to do more to help them build up their security capacity.”

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Will Dunham and Christopher Wilson)

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U.S. cannot allow northern Mali to be terrorism base: Clinton http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/23/us-usa-libya-clinton-mali-idUSBRE90M0XL20130123?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/23/u-s-cannot-allow-northern-mali-to-be-terrorism-base-clinton/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 22:50:26 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=668 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe-haven for Islamist rebels who could eventually pose a more direct threat to U.S. interests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Testifying to a Senate committee about the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton said the growing international campaign against Islamist fighters in northern Mali was a response to “a very serious, ongoing threat.”

“We are in for a struggle, but it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven,” she said.

Clinton’s testimony centered on the events surrounding the September 11 attack in Benghazi last year, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

However, she painted a picture of growing Islamist threats across the region, including in Algeria where jihadist fighters seized a gas plant and took dozens of foreigners hostage this month before being overwhelmed by Algerian security forces.

“If you’re focusing just on North Africa, al Qaeda is a brand name as much as an organization. People wake up. They form these jihadist groups,” Clinton said.

“We have to take a hard look at all of them, and constantly be upping our military intelligence and diplomatic assets to deal with them.”

U.S. HELPING IN MALI

U.S. military planes have helped to ferry French soldiers and equipment to Mali after France launched air strikes and deployed some 2,150 ground forces this month to halt a surprise Islamist offensive toward the Mali capital Bamako.

The United States is also helping to train and equip African forces from the ECOWAS regional group of West African countries who are mobilizing to join the battle. U.S. officials stressed there are no plans to dispatch American combat troops.

Clinton said the security situation in northern Mali is complicated by an inflow of weapons from neighboring Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. She said such weapons were used in the Algeria attack.

“There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya,” she said, referring to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the regional affiliate of the al Qaeda network.

The United States must prepare for the possibility that groups like AQIM could threaten direct attacks on U.S. interests as they gain power, Clinton said.

“You can’t say because they haven’t done something they’re not going to do it. This is not only a terrorist syndicate, it is a criminal enterprise. So make no mistake about it, we’ve got to have a better strategy.”

Clinton said she had no information to substantiate a report in the New York Times quoting an Algerian official as saying that some of the militants involved in the Algeria attack had also taken part in the Benghazi attack.

The United States was pressing officials in Libya and elsewhere in the region to keep up the hunt for the Benghazi attackers and improve overall security, she said.

“I have found the Libyan officials to be willing but without capacity. And part of our challenge is to help them build greater capacity because now it’s about them,” Clinton said.

“They are having leaders attacked and assassinated on a regular basis, so we have to do more to help them build up their security capacity.”

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Will Dunham and Christopher Wilson)

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Clinton chokes up as she defends handling of Benghazi attack http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/23/us-usa-libya-clinton-idUSBRE90M0SM20130123?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/23/clinton-chokes-up-as-she-defends-handling-of-benghazi-attack/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 15:41:49 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=666 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton choked up on Wednesday as she defended her handling of the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi, an event that threatens to stain her legacy and any presidential hopes she may still harbor.

By turns emotional and feisty, Clinton told U.S. lawmakers that she took responsibility for the incident in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, but also defended herself.

She interrupted one senator to contradict him and stressed that she did not see requests for additional security to protect the Benghazi mission.

Clinton cast the incident as part of a long history of such violence as well as the result of regional instability since the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011.

Senator Bob Corker, a senior Republican, kept up the criticism of the Obama administration, saying the Benghazi attack and the U.S. response displayed “woeful unpreparedness” for the events sweeping the region.

Speaking in congressional testimony delayed by more than a month because of her ill health, Clinton’s voice cracked as she spoke of comforting families who lost loved ones in the attack, the first since 1988 in which a U.S. ambassador was killed.

“For me, this is not just a matter of policy – it’s personal,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on what is likely to be the last day that she will testify before Congress before stepping down as secretary of state.

“I stood next to President (Barack) Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews,” she added, her voice breaking as she described the ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base when the men’s remains were brought home.

“I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she said.

The attack could haunt Clinton – who is expected to step down in the coming days once her designated successor, Senator John Kerry, is confirmed by the U.S. Senate – should she decide to run again for president in 2016, a possibility she has played down.

Militants attacked and overwhelmed the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 in a sustained assault.

The official inquiry concluded that the State Department was completely unprepared to deal with the attack, citing “leadership and management” deficiencies, poor coordination and unclear lines of authority in Washington. The inquiry did not find Clinton personally at fault.

‘I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY’

“I take responsibility,” Clinton said, echoing comments she first made in a TV interview on October 15 and stressing that she has accepted all of the recommendations of an independent review panel that ultimately held lower-level officials responsible.

“Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure,” she added.

Four State Department officials were put on administrative leave following the board’s report.

A separate Senate committee report said the State Department made a “grievous mistake” in keeping the Benghazi mission open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before the attack.

Clinton was due to testify later in the day before a House of Representatives committee.

Clinton was originally due to appear before the committee on December 20 but had to cancel after she suffered a concussion when she fainted due to dehydration. Doctors later found she had a blood clot in her head and hospitalized her for several days.

The controversy over the Benghazi attack also cost Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, her chance to succeed Clinton as secretary of state.

Republicans in Congress harshly criticized Rice for her comments days after the attack in which she said the incident appeared to be the result of a spontaneous demonstration rather than a planned assault. Rice eventually withdrew her name from consideration for the top U.S. diplomatic job.

Clinton implicitly sought to defend herself against similar attacks, saying that “the very next morning I told the American people that ‘heavily armed militants assaulted our compound’ and vowed to bring them to justice.”

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Will Dunham)

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State Department delays Keystone pipeline decision http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/22/us-usa-keystone-nebraska-idUSBRE90L0X220130122?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/22/state-department-delays-keystone-pipeline-decision/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 19:49:33 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=664 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration has delayed a decision on TransCanada Corp’s rerouted Keystone XL oil pipeline until after March, even though Nebraska’s governor said on Tuesday he approved a plan for a section of the line.

“We don’t anticipate being able to conclude our own review before the end of the first quarter of this year,” said Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman at the State Department, which had previously said it would make a decision before the end of March.

The State Department will rule on a final permit for the $5.3 billion northern section of the line being planned by TransCanada because it would cross the national border.

Work has already begun on the Texas to Oklahoma section of the pipeline that TransCanada has rebranded the Gulf Coast Project. President Barack Obama threw his support behind that section of the line, which would help drain a glut of crude in the nation’s midsection resulting from new oil drilling in North Dakota.

The State Department expects to issue a draft environmental assessment of the pipeline project in the near future and before the end of March, a second official at the department said. That report will have a public comment period before it is finalized and the department can make a final decision on the line.

NEBRASKA APPROVES PIPELINE SECTION

Nuland’s comments came shortly after Nebraska’s governor approved a revised route in his state for the Keystone XL pipeline that would link production from Canadian oil sands to refineries in Texas.

Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, sent a letter to President Obama that said TransCanada would adhere to 57 safety conditions. Those include rigorous pipeline design, testing, and the reporting of leaks on the line.

TransCanada had submitted a new route for the northern pipeline, expected to transport 830,000 barrels per day of oil, after the Obama administration had rejected an initial plan after environmentalists had complained it would cross ecologically sensitive regions in Nebraska.

Heineman approved the line even though his state’s environmental regulator said it would still cross a section of the massive Ogallala aquifer, an important source of irrigation and fresh water to the Great Plains states.

Environmentalists have also opposed the line because oil sands crude is carbon-intensive to produce. But the State Department said in a previous environmental review that the line would not result in additional emissions because the oil would find its way to market if Keystone was not built.

Earlier this month Nebraska’s environmental regulator said in a report that the line would avoid the sensitive Sandhills region. The report also said TransCanada would pay for cleaning up any leaks.

Nuland said the State Department would consider Heineman’s approval. “Our processes move in parallel,” she told reporters. But had Nebraska changed the route or done something else that certainly would have been complicating … we obviously want to take the Nebraska environmental study, we want to compare it with the work that we’ve done.”

Heineman said in the letter that TransCanada would provide evidence that it is carrying $200 million in third party insurances to cover any cleanup costs from leaks.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Bob Burgdorfer)

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Clinton assures Japan on islands, invites Abe to U.S. in February http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/18/us-japan-usa-idUSBRE90H1AX20130118?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/18/clinton-assures-japan-on-islands-invites-abe-to-u-s-in-february/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2013 21:43:43 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=662 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Japan on Friday of U.S. support in Tokyo’s dispute with Beijing over a string of islands and invited new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Washington in late February for a meeting with President Barack Obama.

Clinton held a working lunch with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and both emerged pledging that U.S.-Japan security and economic ties would remain strong following Abe’s landslide election victory last month.

“Our alliance with Japan remains the cornerstone of American engagement with the region,” Clinton told reporters, noting a wide range of cooperation on everything from disaster relief to the stand-off over nuclear North Korea.

Clinton, due to step down in coming weeks, again affirmed that the United States would stand by its longtime ally in its territorial dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

Tensions over the tiny islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have flared in recent months, one of several maritime territorial disputes involving China that have worsened as Washington seeks to shift its security focus to Asia.

“Although the United States does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan,” Clinton said, repeating the long-standing U.S. position on the dispute.

“We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration, and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means.”

Kishida signaled that Abe, who had taken a tough stance on the dispute during his election campaign, was not eager to escalate the conflict.

“While Japan will not concede and will uphold our fundamental position that the Senkaku islands are an inherent territory of Japan, we intend to respond calmly so as not to provoke China,” he said through an interpreter.

Clinton announced that Abe had been invited to Washington in the third week of February to hold his first meeting with Obama.

FACING CHINA

Abe had hoped to make the United States his first overseas visit following his election last month on a platform that called for both reviving Japan’s struggling economy and coping with China’s rising power in the region.

But the visit was postponed due to Obama’s tight schedule, and Abe traveled instead to Southeast Asia before cutting the trip short this week to return home after Japanese workers were caught up in the hostage crisis in Algeria.

U.S. officials describe a generally healthy relationship with Tokyo, albeit one hampered by frequent changes in the Japanese leadership. Kishida is the sixth Japanese foreign minister to hold office during the four years that Clinton has been America’s top diplomat.

Abe came to power partly on a nationalist platform and wants to revise Japan’s U.S.-drafted constitution adopted after World War Two. U.S. officials have indicated they would like to see Japan loosen constitutional restraints on its military to enable a bigger global security role.

The United States and Japan have also sought to cooperate on plans to streamline the U.S. military presence in the southern Japanese island of Okinawa including proposals to move the Futenma air base to a new site.

Clinton said she was confident that the two sides could make further progress on the issue, while Kishida said the Abe administration was committed to working through a framework deal the two sides announced last year.

(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert. Editing by Warren Strobel and Cynthia Osterman)

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With no end-game in sight U.S. moves cautiously on Mali http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/17/us-mali-rebels-usa-idUSBRE90G1E520130117?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/17/with-no-end-game-in-sight-u-s-moves-cautiously-on-mali/#comments Thu, 17 Jan 2013 22:59:35 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=660 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is responding cautiously to Mali’s widening civil war, hoping to limit U.S. exposure even as French troops go on the offensive against Islamist rebels in the African country and U.S. citizens are caught up in a hostage crisis unfolding in neighboring Algeria.

The escalation of fighting in northern Mali, where West African troops are joining French soldiers battling al Qaeda-inspired rebels, has emerged as the first foreign policy flashpoint facing U.S. President Barack Obama as he begins his second term next week.

True to form, the Obama administration’s approach has been measured and wary, promising U.S. logistical assistance but ruling out direct U.S. military involvement in an unpredictable conflict.

“What we are seeing in Mali, in Algeria, reflects the broader strategic challenge, first and foremost for the countries in North Africa and for the United States and the broader international community,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday.

“Instability in Mali has created the opportunity for a staging base and safe haven for terrorists.”

Despite those concerns, however, analysts say the cautious U.S. approach demonstrates that Washington sees few immediate security implications for the United States itself and big risks in a French-led military action without accompanying political progress on the ground.

A U.S. official on Thursday said the United States has agreed to a French request for airlift capacity to help France move its troops and equipment to Mali – a relatively modest expansion of U.S. assistance.

“I think the administration is going to be very wary of getting involved in any direct military operations. That will be an absolute last resort,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It doesn’t want the political aspect of this — which is vital — to get lost.”

The United States has said it stands behind France’s decision last week to launch air strikes and send ground troops to its former colony, where Islamist rebels were pressing southwards after seizing the north of the country following a military coup in March.

But the French move leap-frogged U.S.-backed proposals to concentrate on returning a legitimate government to the capital Bamako, which Washington had long insisted was an essential first step toward restoring order to the country.

“You’d have to ask the French what their exit plan is,” said one senior State Department official.

WORSENING CONFLICT

France argued that intervention was essential to prevent a worsening of Mali’s conflict, which has displaced an estimated 30,000 people as fighters from groups including al Qaeda’s North Africa branch, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and the local Tuareg Islamist group Ansar Dine seized Timbuktu and other towns. They imposed a harsh version of Islamic law, including public amputations and beheadings.

But the United States, already accelerating plans to pull troops out of Afghanistan and fending off pressure for more robust action on Syria, shows little appetite for stepping into a more direct role in Mali.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other U.S. officials say the United States already has boosted intelligence sharing with France.

Other potential areas of U.S. support could include refueling and surveillance including drones, although these are already in high demand in Afghanistan as well as other parts of Africa.

“If we move one to Mali, for example, we take it from somewhere else, where it is also needed,” a U.S. defense official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But with U.S. law barring direct support to governments produced by coups such as the fragile interim administration in Bamako, the United States is concentrating on the ECOWAS group of West African nations which on Thursday sent its first deployment of troops into the conflict.

“We do best if we are in a strong supporting and sustaining role, and not in a role in which we are taking the lead,” the senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday. “This is primarily an African problem.”

The United States has offered training and non-lethal supplies, ranging from boots and medical kits to maps, to the African forces. It also stands ready to help transport them into Mali, although U.S. officials say this could be done through paying for third countries to airlift the troops rather than using U.S. military personnel or equipment.

HOSTAGE FEARS

Western fears that the al Qaeda-linked insurgents are expanding operations across Northern Africa were underscored on Wednesday when Islamist militants attacked a gas field in neighboring Algeria, taking dozens of foreigners hostage, including some Americans.

While the attack illustrated that U.S. interests remain exposed across an unstable region, few analysts expect it to force a change in Washington’s overall approach.

Republican U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the parallel crises in Mali and Algeria, like the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, showed the need for a broad and sustained push to bolster unraveling security in the region.

“You can’t just handle Mali. You can’t just handle the Tuareg. You can’t just handle Benghazi. You have to have an overarching plan that puts pressure on these groups from all of it,” Rogers told CNN on Wednesday.

“And you can’t just fire a few missiles and pack up and go home and hope for the best. It’s not going to work.”

Some analysts expect the United States will continue to try to buy time, giving notional support to France while at the same time pressing for a more durable political solution for Mali.

“Fundamentally we have to face the reality that what we have here is an insurgency, and we have to fight a counterinsurgency,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.

“You cannot fight a counterinsurgency unless you have a legitimate government to rally around, and that is what we do not have in Mali right now.”

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart. Editing by Warren Strobel and Doina Chiacu)

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U.S. to recognize Somali government, opening door to new aid http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-somalia-usa-idUSBRE90F1CX20130116?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2013/01/16/u-s-to-recognize-somali-government-opening-door-to-new-aid/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 20:07:18 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=658 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will on Thursday officially recognize the Somali government in Mogadishu, ending a hiatus of more than 20 years and opening the door to increased U.S. and international economic help for the violence-plagued African nation, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the shift during a meeting with visiting Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose election last year marked the first vote of its kind since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told reporters.

“When the secretary meets with Hassan Sheikh tomorrow, she will exchange diplomatic notes with him and recognize the Somali government in Mogadishu for the first time in 20 years,” Carson told a news briefing.

The United States never formally severed diplomatic ties with Somalia, whose slide into anarchy was highlighted by the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident which saw militia fighters shoot down two U.S. military helicopters over Mogadishu.

In subsequent years, al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents seized control of large areas in the south and central parts of the country before Ethiopian, Kenyan and African peacekeeping (AMISOM) troops began a long, U.S.-supported counter offensive aimed at restoring order.

The formation of the new government led by Mohamud is the culmination of a regionally brokered, U.N.-backed effort to end close to two decades of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Carson said the U.S. decision to formally recognize the new government underscored the progress toward political stability that Somalia has made over the past year, including “breaking the back” of the al Shabaab insurgency.

“We are a long way from where we were on Oct 3, 1993 when Black Hawk Down occurred in Mogadishu,” Carson said.

“Significant progress has been made in stabilizing the country, in helping to break up and defeat al Shabaab. Much more needs to be done, but we think enormous progress has been made and we have been at the very center of this in our support for AMISOM.”

Continued security concerns in Somalia were highlighted over the weekend when French commandos failed to win the release of a French agent held by militants since 2009 during a helicopter raid in southern Somalia.

STEPS TOWARD MORE AID

Clinton does not intend to announce any specific new aid packages for Somalia, which already receives significant U.S. humanitarian assistance for drought, famine and refugee relief, one senior U.S. official said.

But formal U.S. recognition of the new government paves the way for new flows of assistance both from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other U.S. agencies as well as from international actors such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The fact that we recognize a government there will allow us to do things through USAID that we have not been able to do before. The fact that we recognize them as a legitimate government will allow the World Bank and the IMF to do things that they would not have been able to do before. This is major and it is significant,” the official said.

Mohamud and his team met with senior USAID officials as well as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim during their trip to Washington, U.S. officials said.

The senior U.S. official said the United States did not have any immediate plan to reopen an embassy in Mogadishu but indicated that this could also eventually follow Thursday’s announcement. U.S. policy on Somalia is currently handled by a special envoy based out of Nairobi.

(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Secretary of State Clinton hospitalized with blood clot http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/31/us-usa-clinton-idUSBRE8BU00Z20121231?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2012/12/31/secretary-of-state-clinton-hospitalized-with-blood-clot/#comments Mon, 31 Dec 2012 02:27:07 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=656 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was admitted to a New York hospital on Sunday with a blood clot linked to a concussion she suffered earlier this month, the State Department said in an announcement that looked sure to stir up speculation over the health of one of America’s best-known political figures.

Clinton, 65, has been out of the public spotlight since mid-December, when officials said she suffered a concussion after fainting due to a stomach virus.

“In the course of a follow-up exam today, Secretary Clinton’s doctors discovered a blood clot had formed, stemming from the concussion she sustained several weeks ago,” State Department spokesman Philippe Reines said in a statement.

“She is being treated with anti-coagulants and is at New York-Presbyterian Hospital so that they can monitor the medication over the next 48 hours,” Reines said. “They will determine if any further action is required.”

U.S. officials said on December 15 that Clinton, who canceled an overseas trip because of the stomach virus, suffered a concussion after fainting due to dehydration.

They have since described her condition as improving and played down suggestions that it was more serious. She had been expected to return to work this week.

Clinton’s illness forced her to cancel planned testimony to Congress on December 20 in connection with a report on the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. The attack became the subject of heated political debate in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November.

Clinton’s two top deputies testified in her place on the September 11 attack in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans and raised questions about security at far-flung diplomatic posts.

Clinton indicated that she remained ready to testify and was expected to appear before lawmakers this month before she steps down, as planned, around the time of Obama’s inauguration for his second term in late January.

After narrowly losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Obama in 2008, Clinton has been consistently rated as the most popular member of his Cabinet and is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

PRESIDENTIAL CREDENTIALS

Clinton has said she wants to take a break from public life and has laughed off suggestions that she may mount another bid to become the first woman president of the United States.

Her stint as secretary of state has further burnished the credentials she earned as a political partner to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and later as a Democratic senator from New York.

In the four years since she became Obama’s surprise choice as the top U.S. diplomat, Clinton has broken travel records as she dealt with immediate crises, including Libya and Syria, and sought to manage longer-term challenges, including U.S. relations with China and Russia.

She has repeatedly said that she only intended to serve one term, and aides said she was on track to leave office within the next few weeks, once a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

Her last months in office have been overshadowed by the Benghazi attack, the first to kill a U.S. ambassador in the line of duty since 1979, which brought sharp criticism of the State Department.

An independent inquiry this month found widespread failures in both security planning and internal management in the department.

It did not find Clinton personally responsible for any security failures, although she publicly took overall responsibility for Benghazi and the safety and security of U.S. diplomats overseas.

The State Department’s top security officer resigned from his post under pressure and three other mid-level employees were relieved of their duties after the inquiry released its report.

The controversy also cost U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice her chance to succeed Clinton as secretary of state.

Rice drew heavy Republican criticism for comments on several television talk shows in which she said the attack appeared to be the result of a spontaneous demonstration rather than a planned assault. She ultimately withdrew her name for consideration for the top diplomatic job.

Obama on December 21 nominated Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to fill the position of secretary of state.

(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Walsh and Christopher Wilson)

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As U.S. grapples with Benghazi report, Clinton absent http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/20/us-usa-benghazi-clinton-idUSBRE8BJ1B220121220?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2012/12/20/as-u-s-grapples-with-benghazi-report-clinton-absent/#comments Thu, 20 Dec 2012 21:33:04 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=654 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not known for avoiding controversy.

But as Washington reviews an independent inquiry that slammed Clinton’s State Department for failures related to the fatal September attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, Clinton herself remains sidelined by illness and out of the public eye.

“All of you who know Hillary know that she would rather be here today,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry – tipped as Clinton’s likely replacement to head the State Department when she steps down next month – told a hearing on Thursday devoted to the Benghazi attack.

“I know how deeply she feels the importance of the discussion that we’re having today, and I assure you it is not her choice that she is not here today and she looks forward to appearing before the committee in January.”

Clinton, one of President Barack Obama’s most popular and most visible Cabinet secretaries, frequently mentioned as a potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender, suffered a concussion last week in a fall due to dehydration caused by a stomach virus, doctors say.

Clinton’s illness has removed her from the spotlight during discussion of the inquiry into Benghazi, where militants stormed the U.S. mission on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The attack – the first to kill a U.S. ambassador in the line of duty since 1979 – has sparked criticism of her State Department, and the inquiry found widespread failures in both security planning and internal management.

The report did not find Clinton personally responsible for any security failures, and she accepted overall responsibility for Benghazi and the safety and security of U.S. diplomats overseas.

But official repercussions appeared limited to four mid-level State Department employees, including its top security officer, who resigned under pressure this week. The other three were relieved of their duties in the department’s Diplomatic Security and Near Eastern Affairs bureaus.

Clinton, who officials say is working from home, released a letter this week to lawmakers in which she accepted the conclusions of the inquiry and outlined steps the State Department is taking to address the shortcomings it identified.

SURROGATES UNDER FIRE

But critics say Clinton has left much of the public explanation of Benghazi to surrogates such as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. It was Rice, not Clinton, who went on five television talk shows on September 16, the Sunday after the attack, and said it appeared to be the result of a spontaneous demonstration rather than a planned assault.

There was no protest, it turned out, and Rice was blasted by Republicans for months. She became a political casualty of the incident, withdrawing last week from consideration as Obama’s secretary of state.

Republicans, who cross-examined Clinton’s top two deputies at Thursday’s hearings, have said they still look forward to the chance to grill Clinton herself before she steps down next month at the start of Obama’s second term.

“I think it’s imperative that she come before this committee,” Senator Bob Corker said at Thursday’s hearing.

“I think it would be really a shame to turn the page on this, and go to a new regime, without her being here. So I do look forward to that happening whenever her health permits.”

A handful of conservative firebrands have gone so far to suggest that Clinton’s absence this week may be a convenient way to avoid the Benghazi hotseat.

“I’m not a doctor, but it seems as though the secretary of state has come down with a case of Benghazi flu,” Republican Rep. Allen West, who lost his bid for re-election in November, told Fox News on Thursday.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland this week rejected “wild speculation based on no information.”

“On doctor’s orders, she is working at home this week. That’s all we’ve got going on,” she said.

Some Democrats have come out fighting, saying insinuations that Clinton has not fully shouldered responsibility over Benghazi were part of a broader partisan effort to attack the administration.

Outgoing Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman reacted angrily on Thursday after Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Clinton’s State Department should not ask for more security funds while it wastes money on “global climate change, culinary diplomacy programs and other favored projects”.

“Derogatorily looking at the secretary of state, who has worked herself to the bone – to the point of dehydration and exhaustion – as traversing the globe and teaching cooking classes or some nonsense rather than doing things that are serious does a disservice,” Ackerman said.

“Certainly she’s a qualified individual who can both cook and talk policy at the same time.”

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Todd Eastham)

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U.S. State Dept seeks more money, vows reforms after Benghazi http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/20/usa-benghazi-idUSL1E8NK45F20121220?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/2012/12/20/u-s-state-dept-seeks-more-money-vows-reforms-after-benghazi/#comments Thu, 20 Dec 2012 16:27:56 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/andrew-quinn/?p=652 WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department
will seek billions of dollars in new funds and revamp security
procedures around the globe in response to a critical
independent probe into the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission
in Benghazi, Libya, senior State Department officials said on
Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s two top deputies
appeared at a Senate hearing and conceded that U.S. officials
had failed to “connect the dots” ahead of the attack, which
killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three
other Americans.

“We learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi.
We are already acting on them. We have to do better,” Deputy
Secretary of State William Burns said.

The State Department announced on Wednesday that its
security chief had resigned and three other officials have been
relieved of their posts following the report, which cited
leadership and management deficiencies, poor coordination among
officials and confusion over who had the authority to make
decisions..

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry,
tipped to be President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Clinton
when she steps down next month, chaired the session and led the
call for increased funding.

“We need to make certain that we are not penny wise and
pound foolish when it comes to supporting America’s vital
interest overseas,” Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told the
hearing.

SECURITY SPENDING EYED

Officials say Clinton, unable to appear at the hearing
herself due to illness, has already asked for $1.3 billion in
funds for the 2013 fiscal year to be re-allocated to improve
security at U.S. diplomatic missions.

Additionally, the State Department will request $2.3 billion
per year over the next 10 years to further this work.

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides said the department
had also formed a task force to implement 29 specific
recommendations in the panel’s report and sent security
assessment teams to 19 U.S. missions in 13 countries.

The department, in cooperation with the Pentagon, intends to
send 35 additional Marine detachments, or about 225 uniformed
personnel, to beef up security at medium- and high-threat posts
and to boost staffing of its own Bureau of Diplomatic Security
by about 5 percent, or 150 additional agents, Nides said.

“Implementation of each and every recommendation will be
under way by the time the next secretary of state takes office,”
Nides said.

The Benghazi incident could tarnish Clinton’s four-year
tenure as secretary of state. But the report does not fault her
specifically, and the officials who led the review stopped short
of blaming her.

U.S. officials say the assault, which occurred on the
anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on New York and
Washington, was the work of Islamist extremists and have pledged
to bring those responsible to justice.

“We are absolutely committed to bringing every resource of
the U.S. government to bear to accomplish that,” Burns said. “We
don’t have all the answers yet, but we are working this
relentlessly and I think we are making some progress.”

“SCLEROTIC” DEPARTMENT

Republican Senator Bob Corker, an outspoken critic of the
Obama administration’s response to Benghazi, said the panel
report revealed a “sclerotic” State Department that has failed
to make good use of the resources already at its disposal.

“I am dismayed that this hearing has already focused on the
need for additional money,” Corker said. “We have no idea
whether the State Department is using its money wisely or not,
and I think that’s a shame.”

Nides said the department was still coming to terms with
widespread changes across the Middle East, and defended the
department’s overall track record.

“We get this right about 99 percent of the time. We would
like to be at 100 percent without question,” he said.

Republicans have focused much of their firepower on U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who appeared on TV
talk shows after the attack and suggested it was the result of a
spontaneous protest rather than a planned attack.

The report concluded that there was no such protest and Rice,
who had been widely seen as Obama’s top pick to succeed Clinton,
withdrew her name from consideration last week.

Burns said the assault highlighted the need to take a
broader look at security rather than focus on “specific and
credible” threats – which officials insist were absent in the
case of Benghazi.

“What happened in Benghazi was clearly a terrorist attack,”
Burns said. “We did not do a good enough job, as the report
highlights, in trying to connect the dots.”

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