While President Obama gets some R&R, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are holding down the fort back at home. On Friday, the two invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington in September to resume direct peace negotiations. On September 1, Obama will meet with the two leaders, as well as Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Then, on September 2, the talks—the first in almost two years—will start up, with Clinton sitting down with Abbas and Netanyahu. The parties are already trying to lower expectations. “Without a doubt we will hit more obstacles,” said Clinton on Friday, “The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks.” And on Sunday, Netanyahu commented that “achieving a peace agreement between us and the Palestinian Authority is difficult, but possible.”
In an interview that aired on the BBC today, General David Petraeus commented that NATO forces had successfully reversed Taliban momentum in the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, two strongholds for insurgents. But it’s not over, and there is still “tough fighting” to come, Petraeus said: “You not only have to reverse the momentum, you have to take away those sanctuaries and safe havens that the Taliban have been able to establish over the course of those years.” This has been the deadliest summer since the invasion nine years ago. And the general implied those difficulties would continue, stressing that “it gets harder before it gets easier.”
Washington’s diplomatic corps stationed in Iraq is getting ready to ramp up its efforts following the withdrawal of combat troops from the country. The new ambassador, James Jeffrey, arrived in Baghdad last week, taking over the reins from longtime diplomat Chris Hill. Along with some 7,000 private contractors, 50,000 U.S. troops will stay in the country to train Iraqi security forces and provide providing security for American diplomats. General Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, said on Sunday that Iraqi security forces are maturing nicely and will be ready to take over completely at the end of next year so the remaining troops can head back home as well. When that happens, the State Department will be responsible for its diplomats’ security.