Energizing Europe

Secretary of State Kerry pledges U.S. help in weaning Ukraine, and Europe, off Russian energy.

Taking time out from the saga of Jonathan Pollard and the collapsing Mideast peace talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, April 2, waded into Europe's energy battle with Russia, promising U.S. assistance to help Europe find alternative sources of energy beyond Moscow's control.            

Ever since the confrontation between Kiev and Moscow heated up late last year, and especially since Russia's forcible annexation of the Crimean peninsula in February, European leaders have been fretting about their energy security and heavy reliance on supplies of Russian natural gas. Ukraine, in particular, has been hammered by Russia's use of the energy weapon; on Tuesday, Russia jacked up by about 40 percent the price it charges for natural gas exported to Ukraine, and raised the specter of further price hikes that will put more stress on an already wobbly economy.

Kerry, speaking at a U.S.-European Union Energy Council summit in Brussels, said that the U.S. wants to help ensure that Europe is able to accelerate its long-overdue energy diversification.

"It really boils down to this: No nation should use energy to stymie a people's aspirations. It should not be used as a weapon," Kerry said.

He stressed two big measures that could help Ukraine, in particular, get out from under Moscow's thumb: Bringing new sources of gas from Central Asia and sending gas from Eastern Europe back into Ukraine to undercut Russian dominance. He also nodded to the role that future exports of natural gas from the United States could play in diversifying global energy markets.

Those overtures were backed up in a joint statement by a coterie of energy and foreign-policy heavyweights, including EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, and Daniel Poneman, the U.S. deputy secretary of energy, who often serves as the Energy Department's point man on international energy issues.

Both Kerry and the joint statement also applauded Ukraine's efforts to undertake painful domestic energy reforms, including raising the domestic price of gas by about 50 percent, in order to improve its finances and reduce dependence on Russia. Kerry called the measures "critical."

In the short term, getting alternative supplies of natural gas to Europe will be difficult. One key step Europe can take is to improve the physical energy links between countries, which often act as "energy islands" despite their membership in the 28-nation economic bloc.

"Everybody agrees we are much better off than in 2009 [the last time Russia shut off gas supplies to Europe], but we are still short of having the infrastructure for a truly integrated energy market in Europe," one Central European diplomat said in an interview.

Kerry said that the United States and the EU were working in "lock step" to speed up a reverse pipeline connection that could carry gas from Central Europe into Ukraine, especially from Slovakia. While much of the gas that could be sent from Europe back to Ukraine is still ultimately sourced in Russia, prevailing prices in Europe are cheaper than the new, punitive rates that Moscow charges Kiev.

The Central European diplomat said that achieving reverse flows on pipelines between Slovakia and Ukraine would be the biggest step, because existing pipelines from Poland and Hungary to Ukraine supply only small amounts of gas. Slovakia, in contrast, could pipe significant volumes of gas to Ukraine, or the equivalent of about 40 percent of Ukraine's gas consumption. Technically, the pipelines appear ready, but political obstacles have thus far prevented full operation of the Slovak pipeline.

In the longer term, both the United States and the EU want to accelerate the development of alternative sources of gas. Kerry stressed the importance of the Southern Corridor, a collection of pipelines meant to bring gas from Central Asia, especially Azerbaijan, to southern Europe. One such conduit, the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, is already under construction and could bring modest amounts of Azeri gas to Europe by 2018. Another big project, the Trans-Anatolian pipeline, could eventually bring significant amounts of Azeri and Turkmen gas to southern Europe by way of Turkey.

Ultimately, the United States and Europe are also interested in tapping the new bounty of U.S. natural-gas production, which can be liquefied and shipped to customers overseas. European diplomats from countries in Central and Eastern Europe have blitzed Washington in recent months pleading for the United States to fast-track plans to export gas.

"Our new capacities as a gas producer and the approval of seven export licenses is going to help supply gas to global markets, and we look forward to doing that starting in 2015," Kerry said. However, it will take years, and billions of dollars in investment, before the U.S. can ship meaningful amounts of natural gas overseas. Even then, higher prices in Asia would likely limit the amount of gas that lands in Europe.

Oddly, he erroneously said, echoing comments last week from President Barack Obama, that the United States could export more gas than Europe currently consumes.

"That simply cannot be right. Somebody has clearly made a mistake in arithmetic," said Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project.

Even if the entirety of proposed U.S. LNG export terminals were approved and built, the United States could only supply about two-thirds of current European gas consumption.

Georges Gobet - AFP - Getty


I Was Against Pollard's Release Before I Was for It

John Kerry and Washington's decades-long fight over releasing Israel's controversial spy.

In January 1999, a bipartisan group of senators sent a strongly worded letter to President Bill Clinton urging him not to commute the prison sentence of Jonathan Pollard, who was then in the 12th year of a life sentence for spying for Israel. Freeing Pollard, the lawmakers said, would "imply a condonation of spying against the United States by an ally," would overlook the "enormity" of Pollard's offenses and the damage he had caused to national security, and would undermine the United States' ability to share secrets with foreign governments. Among the 60 signatories of the letter was John Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, Kerry is singing a very different tune.

Now, as the secretary of state, Kerry has supported using Pollard's potential release as a bargaining chip in the Obama administration's attempts to salvage the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The outcome of those talks was in doubt Tuesday as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority opted to press for statehood through the United Nations, a move that Israel has long said would as a deal-breaker. A planned meeting between Kerry and Abbas was canceled as a result. Abbas said he'd made the move because Israel hadn't released a fourth round of Palestinian prisoners. The Obama administration had envisioned potentially releasing Pollard -- who is seen as a national hero by many Israelis -- to help persuade Jerusalem to let those Palestinian prisoners go.

Kerry wasn't alone in opposing Pollard's release in 1999, when the issue was similarly under consideration as a possible sweetener for Israel during its on-again, off-again talks with the Palestinians. Kerry's allies at the time included then-Sen. Chuck Hagel, now the secretary of defense, as well as Dianne Feinstein, the current chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee; Mitch McConnell, the current Senate minority leader; John McCain, a former Republican nominee for president; and Patrick Leahy, now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kerry and Hagel in particular now find themselves in the awkward position of serving in an administration that is considering letting Pollard go, exactly the outcome they once railed against. A spokesperson for Hagel said, "The secretary will keep private his counsel for the president." A spokesperson for Kerry wouldn't discuss details of any negotiations. Neither Hagel's nor Kerry's spokesperson addressed the positions they'd taken in 1999. White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama, who has the sole authority to commute Pollard's sentence or grant him a pardon, "has not made a decision" on the question.

The signatories largely had strong pro-Israel voting records, but their contempt for Pollard crossed party lines and was striking in its ferocity. "Any grant of clemency would now be viewed as an acquiescence to external political pressures and a vindication of Pollard's specious claims of unfairness and victimization.... This would send the wrong signal to employees within the Intelligence Community. It is an inviolable principle that those entrusted with America's secrets must protect them, without exception, irrespective of their own personal views or sympathies."

Pollard has long maintained that he gave Israel classified intelligence in order to help the country protect itself from surprise attacks by other countries in the Middle East. But intelligence officials have dismissed those claims and said Pollard also tried to sell classified information to at least four other governments. A former U.S. intelligence official who was involved in the government's damage assessment of Pollard's spying said in an interview he was motivated largely by money to pay for an alleged cocaine habit.

"It was all about money, and he put most of it up his nose. He was known in Washington as the 'candy man' for God's sake," the former official said. "He's reinvented himself as someone else, and a large number of Israelis have fallen for it and a large number of Americans and stupid politicians have fallen for it."

Pollard is seen very differently in Israel, where every prime minister since the time of his arrest in 1985 has called for his release. In the late 1990s, the presidents of 55 major American Jewish organizations jointly called for Pollard to be set free. And for decades, there've been mass protests in both Israel and the United States calling on a succession of American presidents to free Pollard, both on humanitarian grounds and, his supporters say, because he gave information to a close U.S. ally and was unjustly accused of betraying the United States. Many of those protests are organized by Pollard's wife, whom he married while in prison and who remains one of his staunchest defenders.

The potential release of Pollard in 1999 wasn't the first time Clinton had considered letting Israel's most notorious spy go free. Clinton had previously denied Pollard's request for commutation, citing "his lack of remorse" and "the continuing threat to national security that he pose[s]." The former intelligence official said that the government feared if Pollard were ever released, he would continue to spy for Israel or other governments. Clinton ultimately declined to commute Pollard's sentence in 1999, under pressure from lawmakers and his own director of central intelligence, George Tenet, who said he'd resign if Pollard were released.

For his part, Pollard on Tuesday passed up on the opportunity to apply for parole -- he would be eligible for early release in 2015 -- and appears insistent on being granted commutation.

Some of the signatories to the 1999 letter have since changed their minds. Joe Lieberman, then a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said in a statement Tuesday that Pollard "has served a very long time in jail and paid a heavy price for his crimes. Based on that fact, and my understanding that Pollard's health is apparently bad, I believe there is justification for his release from prison at this time." McCain has likewise softened his stance; he said in 2011 that he also supports releasing Pollard.

A person familiar with Kerry, speaking on backgound, disputed the relevance of the letter that the secretary signed. "We're not going to speculate on a 15-year-old letter signed by 60 United States senators back with Y2K was a front-page story and George Clooney was just a doctor on 'E.R.' ... Kerry's focus is on how we can make progress in the peace process today," this person said. 

But the heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, along with lawmakers from both parties, roundly opposed releasing Pollard in various remarks to journalists on Tuesday. Feinstein, who'd been among the 60 signatories on the 1999 letter, told reporters, "It's hard for me to see how [freeing Pollard] would jump-start" the rocky peace talks. "It's one thing after an agreement. It's totally another thing before an agreement."

Pollard was working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he was arrested in 1985. He supplied Israel with a huge cache of classified Defense Department documents, including a 10-volume manual that spelled out how the National Security Agency intercepted Soviet communications, as well as technical details of military spy satellites. Retired Adm. Thomas Brooks, the former director of naval intelligence and Pollard's onetime boss, said in an interview that the amount of highly classified material the confessed spy disclosed "is exceeded only by Edward Snowden," the former NSA contractor who gave millions of pages of classified documents about eavesdropping systems to journalists.

This article has been updated to include comments from a person familiar with Kerry.

Pollard Letter