Biden, Man on the Ground

It’s Hillary Clinton’s time to shine. Special envoy George Mitchell, whose shuttling has helped bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the bargaining table, will take a backseat to the secretary of state as negotiations move forward. But can Clinton do it? She has a tough line to walk and her negotiation skills haven’t really been tested yet. But aides say that Clinton has been very active behind the scenes as Mitchell has hopped from place to place, helping to persuade Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to get back to direct talks. She intends to play an active role going forward.

President Obama, meanwhile, is getting ready to tackle two tough issues—Iraq and the economy. On the economic front, the president is facing a dwindling recovery leading up to midterm elections and advisers under fire. House Minority Leader John Boehner is going after Obama’s economic team, calling for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and adviser Larry Summers among others to resign.

Tonight, Obama will face the nation about the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, though Afghanistan will probably sneak into the speech Obama will offer up at 8 pm this evening. Vice President Joe Biden is on the ground in Iraq, keeping an eye on the transition to training and assistance. He spoke today with Iraqi political leaders, trying to push them to reach some sort of agreement. They haven’t been able to agree on the makeup of the new government since elections back on March 7, which has made some Iraqis wary about the timing of Washington's withdrawal. Biden attempted reassurance in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: “Notwithstanding what the national press says about increased violence, the truth is, things are still very much different, things are much safer.”

In Afghanistan, General David Petraeus echoed some of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's sentiments. Karzai has recently complained that forces should focus on going after militants in Pakistan instead of in Afghanistan. And the Afghan president has said that doesn’t mean Kabul no longer supports the American war strategy. Petraeus agreed that Pakistan was a big concern but also gave the Pakistanis credit for ramping up their counterinsurgency efforts.

Despite whispers about a new bout of engagement with North Korea, the Obama administration slapped more sanctions on Pyongyang yesterday. State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control Robert Einhorn called the sanctions “an integral part of the administration’s overall approach to addressing the challenges posed by North Korea.”