Gates and Abdullah Talk Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah. With popular uprisings continuing to shake the region, Iran’s alleged attempts to stir up unrest are likely to top the agenda. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, “Iran will be a major focus of their conversations, both in terms of the regional threat they pose but also lately in the role they've been playing in trying to exploit the unrest in the region to their advantage.” In particular, the GCC has accused Iran of meddling in Bahrain’s and Kuwait’s affairs. Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh is struggling with protestors calling for his ouster, is also cause for concern. Riyadh recently sent troops to Bahrain to help put down protests there, and the situation in Yemen seems to be worsening.

Afghanistan’s secretary of the High Peace Council, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, said today that the government in Kabul is engaged in peace talks with the Taliban. And this time it’s not just talking about talking. Stanekzai said, “It is a step beyond that.” U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry said that Washington is “100 percent behind reintegration and reconciliation.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday that President Obama hasn’t given up his goal of closing down Guantanamo Bay, even though the administration announced on Monday that it would try accused 9/11 plotters, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in military tribunals held at the detention facility. Carney commented, “We remain committed to closing Guantanamo because it's in our national security interest.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the Middle East Quartet to “make a clear statement about ending settlement activity and determining the terms of reference for negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as the capital.” He explained the request more fully in a meeting yesterday with special envoy George Mitchell’s senior assistant David Hale and Quartet envoy Tony Blair. A Quartet meeting on the peace process will take place next week in Berlin.