Calling All Turks

Appearing with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the National Defense University, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the international community, specifically the Turks and Saudis, to pressure Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to step down. “It's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” she said alluding to Washington’s limited influence over Syria, but if others make the call, “there’s no way the Assad regime can ignore it.” The secretary of state herself avoided directly urging Assad to hand over power, saying instead that she is “a big believer in results over rhetoric.” And addressing criticisms that Washington has been to soft on Damascus, Clinton called the U.S. approach an example of “smart power,” which has international cooperation at its heart. “It’s not just brute force, it’s not just unilateralism,” as Clinton put it. She also commented that the slew of bombings yesterday in Iraq could have been the work of al-Qaeda’s arm there as it tries “to reassert itself.”

Back on the budget, Panetta took the mic and cautioned once again against cutting spending too deeply. Panetta said that the Pentagon has to make cuts but “in a way that protects our national defense and protects our national security.” Massive cuts, he said, “would have devastating effects on our national defense. It would have devastating effects on, certainly, the State Department.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice called on Sudan to let the international community in to South Kordofan to provide “humanitarian assistance and ongoing human rights monitoring.” The UN, in a report released on Monday, said that the situation there is grim, with clashes between rebels and the government in Khartoum, “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, enforced disappearances and attacks against civilians.”

And Deputy Secretary Bill Burns met yesterday with Mexico’s foreign secretary, Patricia Espinosa. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described the meeting as “very wide-ranging.” Topics discussed included “energy, climate change, North American economic competiveness, and of course, our ever increasing collaboration under the Merida Initiative.”