Heavyweight Huddle on Iraq

President Obama is huddling with his national-security heavyweights to talk Iraq. With combat troops supposed to be out of the country by the end of the month, officials are feeling the pressure. Present in the situation room: new DNI James Clapper, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security adviser Jim Jones.

Meanwhile, former ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill is positive about the prospects for Baghdad’s success, even though nearly half a year after elections, a new government has still not been formed. Things may be moving slowly, but Hill says: “in the last couple of weeks, the pace has really quickened. And there's a feeling that things may be heading in the right direction.” Hill will take over as dean of the University of Denver’s School of International Studies come the beginning of September. Hill’s successor is James Jeffrey.

September 1 is fast approaching yet there’s no sign that the Israelis and Palestinians will begin direct talks before then, a date the administration had hoped face-to-face discussions would kick off. George Mitchell had a meeting today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reiterated that Israel would only enter into talks without conditions. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants Israel to completely cease settlement building before talks can begin. Some remain, at least publicly, very cautiously optimistic. Israeli President Shimon Peres commented on some “positive advancements” toward negotiations, adding that “I hope it will happen as early as possible and as soon as I hope.”

In Afghanistan, General David Petraeus was pleased to see the Afghan Ministry of Defense meet its training quota two months early. Kabul has trained 134,000 soldiers. U.S. troops will start to leave the country in July of next year.