An Administration Atwitter

The team has certainly hit the ground running this new year. As the internal debate about Obama administration restructuring presses onward, news has broken that former–Commerce Secretary William Daley is in the running for the chief of staff position vacated by Rahm Emanuel (and for now held by Pete Rouse). Obama of course could still ask Rouse to remain as chief of staff, but he has at least been feeling out other candidates. David Plouffe, though, is a sure add-on to the administration. Obama’s former campaign manager is to become the president’s senior adviser, replacing David Axelrod. And then there’s Larry Summers’ position—director of the National Economic Council. According to the rumor mill, Gene Sperling is emerging as the top candidate for the job (edging out i-banker Roger Altman and Richard Levin, Yale’s president). Sperling is in the administration now, serving as an adviser to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Plus, he’s already worked in the NEC—during the Clinton years, as deputy director under Robert Rubin and then director.

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, will travel to the United States next week, primarily to attend a memorial service for the late special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. Also on the schedule is a sitdown with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but other details are hard to come by. The length of his stay and other meetings are still being worked out. Zardari’s government is in quite a fragile position at the moment. While Washington is pressing Islamabd to ramp up the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, protests and political unrest are playing out on the ground in Pakistan. In the latest turn of events, Salman Taseer—the governor of Punjab, a key province in Pakistan, and one of Zardari’s close allies—was assassinated in Islamabad by one of his guards.

Special envoy for North Korea, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, is ready to get serious. He told reporters in Seoul that Washington believes “serious negotiations must be at the heart of any strategy for dealing with North Korea,” and he wants them to start at a "reasonably early time." Bosworth is in South Korea to coordinate Washington and Seoul’s positions on Pyongyang and will head to Beijing soon where he'll focus on common interests. Approaching the issue from all angles, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is in Washington this week and will meet with Secretary Clinton on Wednesday. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley was “confident that North Korea will be among the topics discussed.” And Clinton will meet with her Japanese counterpart on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, has taken to Twitter to try to sway China. A couple weeks before Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington, Gibbs said Beijing must do something with its currency, trade, North Korea and human rights. Actually, @PressSec wrote: “They must do something abt their currency -- trade, N Korea and rights on agenda.”

So, Venezuela rejected the chosen U.S. ambassador, Larry Palmer. Then Washington revoked the visa of Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States. Now it seems like the Obama administration is going to give the nomination process another go. Crowley said yesterday that though Palmer wasn’t withdrawn as a candidate, “his nomination formally expired with the end of the last Congress.” That means Washington will have to nominate a new ambassador as the new session begins. Crowley was quiet about whether Palmer would be renominated or a fresh candidate would take his place. Either way, Crowley noted, “we are interested in good relations with Venezuela,” and that requires having ambassadors in place.

And Crowley responded once again to an article in Haaretz that said both President Obama and Secretary Clinton were disappointed in and felt misled by Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak. Crowley said, “I think it was our view that yesterday's story in Haaretz was more about political mischief than real substance.”