Getting Down to Business

The diplomats are out in full force. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are “getting down to business” and grappling with “the core issues.” Of course, that sticky issue of the settlement-freeze expiration still hasn't been sorted out. The leaders, along with the U.S. secretary of state and special envoy George Mitchell, are in Jerusalem today for talks. Mitchell will then make his way to Syria to discuss the peace process with President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday morning. Clinton will be in the West Bank town of Ramallah tomorrow to see Abbas before heading to Jordan for a chat with King Abdullah II.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bosworth arrived in Beijing today to talk Pyongyang. But he's not hopeful that there will be any major breakthroughs in the near future. Washington only intends to talk if North Korea is serious about negotiating. And the United States won’t even consider lifting sanctions on the country before Pyongyang shows “significant progress towards denuclearization.” Talk of an end to the economic measures is “very premature” according to the special envoy. Bosworth is set to meet with China’s special representative to the Six-Party Talks, Wu Dawei.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is trying really hard to get the defense budget under control. And contractors are squarely in his sights. Gates is putting strict measures in place that will require defense officials to have a better grasp of how much things actually cost and to bring in experts to handle contract negotiations. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell spoke about Gates’s amazement at the number of “junior people negotiating these huge contracts,” and not doing a very good job at it. As Gates put it yesterday, the Pentagon doesn't want to end up “with another half-billion dollar presidential helicopter.” He was alluding to a previous estimate for a helicopter that cited an outrageous price for test aircraft.