Full Steam Ahead

Gene Sperling will be named director of the National Economic Council this morning, replacing Larry Summers. Sperling has been serving as a senior counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. And yesterday it was officially announced that William Daley would take over the spot vacated by Rahm Emanuel. Currently at JP Morgan and serving on various companies’ boards, Daley will be President Obama’s new chief of staff. Some hope that he will give Obama a bit of insight into the business community.

And Obama is being criticized for a comment about outgoing press secretary Robert Gibbs’ salary. The president explained that Gibbs has been working hard (“basically he’s been going 24/7”) for about six years now on a “relatively modest” salary. The problem for some is that Gibbs is making $172,200 a year.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced serious cuts to the military budget. Citing “extreme fiscal duress” Gates, who appeared with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, unveiled the biggest cuts since before September 11. The plan includes measures like reducing force size by about 47,000 troops, or 6 percent of current totals, and increasing health insurance costs for retired veterans under 65. Gates is making the cuts in the face of a growing Chinese military. He will travel to China over the weekend—the first visit by a current defense secretary since 2000—arriving on Sunday for a five-day trip that will restore military ties between Washington and Beijing.

Wrapping up a week of discussions about the Korean peninsula, the typically tight-lipped special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth thought talks were productive. His last meetings were in Japan today, and he told reporters, “I think we are talking about and moving forward together in our attempt to address the questions of the Korean peninsula.” He was in Beijing yesterday speaking with the Chinese vice foreign minister, a face-to-face that he labeled “useful.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a busy woman. Yesterday, she commented on Pakistan’s decision to reverse a raise in fuel prices that was intended to help build up the country’s economy. “We have made it clear... that we think it is a mistake to reverse the progress that was being made to provide a stronger economic base for Pakistan and we will continue to express that opinion,” Clinton said. She met with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani on Tuesday and told him as much.

Today in New York, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri will be meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Secretary Clinton. The group is set to talk about an ongoing political crisis in Lebanon—the result of a UN-led investigation into the murder of Saad’s father and former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Members of Hezbollah are set to be indicted as a result of the probe. The group has said it will not accept that decision and is pushing Hariri to reject the tribunal. Saudi Arabia has been mediating to help bring an end to the crisis.

Clinton is also gearing up to head overseas again, leaving on Saturday for a trip to the UAE, Oman and Qatar that will wrap up on Thursday of next week. The State Department says Clinton will spend some of her time engaging with civil society and members of the community, also taking part in the Forum for the Future, an initiative established under the Bush administration that promotes reform in the Middle East.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that the UN should look into beefing up its sanctions imposed on the Ivory Coast. Laurent Gbagbo still refuses to give up the presidency even though most say he lost a recent election. Some observers fear the country is resting on the brink of civil war. Rice made the comment after a closed-door meeting on Sudan, which will hold a referendum on southern secession starting on Sunday. Special envoy Scott Gration left for Sudan yesterday. He, alongside Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Senior Advisor for North-South Negotiations, will observe the vote.