Geithner Tightens the Belt

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said yesterday that Washington may have to cut back on its development aid because of budget constraints. With unemployment so high and the economy in shambles, Geithner said that the situation is “deeply unsustainable.” Even though there is a “moral imperative” to help poorer countries, “we have no credible strategy for making the case this is a reasonably effective use of scarce resources.” Others in the international community have echoed Geithner’s sentiments. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last week that France might not be able to keep up its aid levels either.

It’s all hands on deck in the Middle East. George Mitchell is on the ground trying to save the peace process. He’ll have some more company soon—the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton will head to the region today. She said she’ll meet with Mitchell when she lands tomorrow.

Yesterday, Mitchell was “consulting with those on the ground,” according to State Department spokesman PJ Crowley, to get ready for his meetings with the Israelis today and the Palestinians tomorrow. He’s then expected to speak with other regional leaders before heading back to Washington. According to Crowley, “he’ll be consulting broadly in the region” in the lead-up to the Arab League Summit at the end of next week. And Crowley offered the vague gist of what both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mitchell have been up to: “we are working to see how we can best help both sides make a decision to stay with the direct negotiations that were started barely a month ago.”

Meanwhile, Washington is trying to calm things down in Asia. There is an ongoing dispute between China and its neighbors, with the United States adding in its two cents every once in a while, about control of parts of the South China Sea. Back in July, Clinton said that disagreements about a couple island groups in the sea was an American national interest. Beijing responded that it the disupte was an Asian issue and that Washington shouldn’t interfere. Japan and China have also been bickering back and forth about a fishing boat and its captain. The Chinese vessel crashed into Japanese patrol boats; Tokyo then detained the captain and demanded Beiing pay damages. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell expressed his concern about the escalating tensions in the area. He called for “cool-headed diplomacy” and said the U.S. goal was not to take sides, but to “create a more stable, predictable environment.”

Campbell will head to Asia next week to sit down with South Korean and Japanese officials about North Korea, as well as try again to ease China’s concerns.