The Last Shuttle

Have the rounds of shuttle diplomacy finally come to an end? The world just might be on the verge of a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton penned a letter to European officials on Friday that said Abbas might be ready to commit to direct talks. And the announcement could come in the next few days.

The indirect-talks process had reached a loggerheads, and the administration decided to bring out the big guns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Jordanian and Egyptian officials, a call late Thursday night. Earlier in the week special envoy George Mitchell had made yet another effort to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the direct-talk table, but came up empty handed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has long stuck to his position that the Palestinians won’t engage in direct talks unless the two sides can agree on an agenda.

General David Petraeus had a lot to say on Meet the Press this weekend. First off, no presidency for him. Chuckling, he said, “I am not a politician, and I will never be.” He had harsher words for Wikileaks, whose founder Julian Assange said he would release the remainder of the leaked U.S. military documents in a couple of weeks. The documents are full of raw information that is not considered top secret, but still, Petraeus said, “this is a betrayal of trust.” And the fact that releasing the first batch of documents exposed some U.S. sources is “reprehensible.”

And does the team disagree about when to pull out of Afghanistan? Defense Secretary Robert Gates said unequivocally that troop withdrawal would start in July of 2011. Petraeus on the other hand has said that withdrawal will depend on the conditions on the ground. In an interview with the Washington Post, Petraeus reiterated his support for the July drawdown but said it was too early to determine its size.

Gates at least is confident that those conditions are looking pretty good. According to the secretary of defense, Afghan forces have made great progress and will be ready to take over for NATO troops in less violent areas sooner than expected. That success, Gates said, “bodes well for in fact beginning to have some transitions maybe as early as this spring, but certainly beginning in the summer.”