Washington Insider -- Tuesday

US Diplomatic Corps Problems and Concerns

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

US, China Both Say Progress Being Made In Talks

Officials from both the U.S. and China are indicating there has been progress on the phase one agreement between the two sides.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He offered positive signals that talks with the U.S. are making “concrete progress” and both sides are working toward a partial trade deal, but he added negotiations must be on an equal basis. “China and the U.S. have made substantial progress in many aspects and laid an important foundation for a phase one agreement,” Liu said at a virtual reality conference in Nanchang Saturday.

He reiterated that China is “willing to work in concert with the U.S. to address each other’s core concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump Friday said he thinks a trade deal between the two countries will be signed by the time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings take place in Chile on November 16-17. "I think it will get signed quite easily, hopefully by the summit in Chile, where President Xi and I will both be," Trump told reporters at the White House, without providing details. “We are working with China very well," Trump also said.

Deputy-level talks have taken place already this week and top-level talks are expected later this week as the two sides keep working toward finalizing the phase one deal.

Questions Continue On USDA Pork Export Sales Data

USDA’s Weekly Export Sales report for the week ended October 10 included huge pork export sales figures, but USDA cautioned the data did not reflect purchases made just during the reporting week covered by the update.

“The information in the export sales report for the week ending Oct. 10, 2019, accurately reflects what was reported to USDA by U.S. exporters. This week’s report includes a significant quantity of pork sales for the current marketing year that may have occurred in previous weeks but were not previously reported.”

The agency has since said that if it happens again in the future, it will put a notation in the report explaining the situation.

Washington Insider: US Diplomatic Corps Problems and Concerns

Usually there is not a great deal of sympathy in Washington for the State Department’s diplomats who are often seen as detached and sometimes condescending. However, in a somewhat unusual take on current Washington goings on, The Hill is reporting this week that the administration's perennial push for steep budget cuts has led to a large exodus of experienced senior staffers and assertions of mistrust there that have has sent morale to an unprecedented low.

For example, the President fired a senior diplomat “after a whisper campaign mounted by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani” – and abandoned steadfast allies in the Middle East at the behest of Turkey's government, The Hill said.

The “weight of those events is taking a startling and measurable toll” on American foreign relations and on the diplomats’ ability to carry out policy.

The diplomats themselves are increasingly concerned that the White House and senior State Department leadership “do not have their backs,” particularly after the “whisper campaign” that ended in the recall of Marie Yovanovitch as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, The Hill said.

In interviews, half a dozen current and former senior foreign service officers told The Hill that experiences over the last few weeks have undermined what little faith they had left in the Secretary of State.

Secretary Pompeo arrived in Foggy Bottom after “a trying year under his predecessor who tried to slash his own budget and let senior civil and foreign service members walk out the door,” The Hill sources said. Former Secretary Rex Tillerson’s proposed cuts were so dramatic that Congress refused to allow them.

Secretary Pompeo and his top deputy held several town-hall meetings and distributed videos of his foreign trips in an effort to rebuild the State Department’s “swagger.” When he came in, “people were absolutely willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Laura Kennedy, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan and deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs in the George Bush administration.

Now, however, the Secretary’s alliance with the President is increasingly seen as having come at the cost of his ties with career officials. He participated in the July 25 phone call between the President and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – when President Trump promised that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.”

Last Wednesday, Secretary Pompeo’s former top aide, Michael McKinley, told House lawmakers that Pompeo “did nothing” when McKinley urged him to offer Yovanovitch a show of public support.

Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, the Secretary said on TV and when a president loses confidence in an ambassador it's not in the best interests of that ambassador, the State Department or America for them to continue to stay in their post.

Still, current and former officials have panned Pompeo's handling of the situation, The Hill said.

“The irony of the White House phone call was that rooting out corruption has been at the heart of American policy toward Ukraine for years – and Ambassador Yovanovitch had made fighting corruption a cornerstone of her years in Kiev,” The Hill said.

Now, some foreign service officers who pride themselves on carrying out orders from Washington, regardless of whether those orders are given by a Democratic or Republican administration, worry that “they serve at the pleasure of a president who views them as members of a so-called deep state.”

Also, internal State Department tensions between political and career appointees are rising, The Hill said. Yovanovitch’s firing has underscored the tensions and a lack of trust between career officials and political appointees. Sources told The Hill, they “felt they were being scrutinized by political appointees who could report disloyalty to senior officials.”

The staff reductions that began under Tillerson have left gaping holes that remain today, The Hill said. Eight of the 28 assistant secretary positions are headed by acting secretaries who have not been confirmed by the Senate. Two more are vacant. One of six undersecretaries is acting, and two more posts – overseeing public diplomacy and civilian security, democracy and human rights – are vacant.

A number of bureaus are being run by career people, who have not been nominated to those jobs. “It sends a very strong signal of lack of trust and respect,” The Hill said.

Amid the departure of experienced senior officers, and further White House efforts to slash the State Department's budget, The Hill found “worrying signs that the ranks of the foreign service are not being replenished.” The number of applicants who took the Foreign Service exam, the first step toward becoming a career foreign service officer, has fallen every year since 2009 – but the recent drops have been even more precipitous.

In 2018, the number of people taking the FSO test was less than half the number who applied in 2013, according to the American Foreign Service Association.

The ag attaches who play strong and continuing roles in support of U.S. ag product trade are very senior Foreign Service officials in many cases, and many operate very large programs – so the ag stake in a strong U.S. diplomatic corps is large. Any policy changes that could weaken that role, or the active presence of those officials in far flung foreign embassies should be watched closely by producers as this debate continues, Washington Insider believes.

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