Bombings and Bills

After discussing Libya in Geneva on Monday, globetrotter Hillary Clinton was on the Hill yesterday defending the State Department’s budget before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Citing the changes playing out in the Middle East, the secretary of state said now is the time for a “strong strategic American response” to “protect our interests and advance our values” in the wake of the upheaval. And of course that will take money. The president is asking for $47 billion for State and USAID.

Clinton also went after Libyan Colonel Muammar Qaddafi directly, calling for the leader to be brought before the ICC for his involvement in the Lockerbie bombing. “Now former members of the Libyan government,” Clinton said, referring to people like the recently resigned Libyan justice minister, have evidence that “the order came from the very top.” The bomber in the case has already been convicted, but the international community has shied away from going up against the regime directly. CNN meanwhile is reporting that the Obama administration is thinking about cutting off diplomatic ties with Tripoli. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates said four hundred Marines and two ships are headed to the Mediterranean Sea. “No decisions have been made on any other actions,” Gates said, and the forces heading to Libya's neighborhood will help with humanitarian issues and evacuations.

At a joint press conference yesterday with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Gates said that the protests against autocracy throughout the Middle East are “an extraordinary setback for al Qaeda” because they give “the lie to al Qaeda's claims that the only way to get rid of authoritarian governments is through extremist violence.” He also noted that the peaceful revolutions and the restraint shown by some governments in the region show that Iran’s violent repression methods aren’t the best way to do business.

Meanwhile, as protests rage in Yemen, the government there accused Washington of stirring up trouble in Arab countries. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded that Yemeni President Ali Abdula Saleh should be less concerned with “scapegoating” and more concerned with political reform.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, U.S. special envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth said that Washington might resume sending food aid to Pyongyang. The country asked for aid after a bad winter that left many hungry. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said no official decision has been made. Aid was suspended after North Korea expelled those monitoring its nuclear program, something Bosworth also touched on. He reiterated that Washington has no intention to hold direct negotiations with Pyongyang until the regime stops being belligerent: “We do not regard regime change as the outcome of our policy, but we do regard a change in regime behavior as necessary to any fundamental improvement in the overall relationship.”

In London yesterday, the new U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the first meeting he’s held since he got the job. Kabul released a statement on the visit that implied the sitdown was a get-to-know-you kind of thing: “The president wished Mr Grossman success in his new position and said that the government of Afghanistan hopes that cooperation between Afghanistan, America and Pakistan will further expand.”