Getting Ready for Hu

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a much-anticipated meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi. Before the face-to-face, Yang described the U.S.-China relationship as being on the “right track.” Clinton added that both she and Yang wanted to make sure Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit in a couple weeks is positive. After the meeting, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Clinton and Yang spoke about the issues that will “undoubtedly come up” when Hu is in Washington: the global economy, trade, human rights, regional security, climate change and Iran. Phew. North Korea apparently “came up briefly," about which Crowley said, both sides “share the same goal of stability in the region.”

Pyongyang issued a statement yesterday expressing its desire to talk, unconditionally: “We are ready to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones.” South Korea questioned the regime’s sincerity while the Untied States added that North Korea must first show that it is willing to take steps indicating it is serious about negotiating. Crowley added that one step might be “committing itself that there will be no further provocations.” The U.S. special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is in the region now to discuss tensions on the peninsula. In Beijing today, Bosworth will meet with the Chinese vice foreign minister and the senior representative for Korean peninsular affairs to try to find out what happened during China’s talks last month with North Korea.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is getting ready to head to China. And just in time for his visit, photos of what looks to be a Chinese-made stealth fighter were leaked to the media. Beijing hasn’t said whether the images are real, but the Pentagon is trying to ease worries. The U.S. director of naval intelligence, Vice Admiral David Dorsett, said that the fighter wouldn’t be operational for years to come: “Developing a stealth capability with a prototype and then integrating that into a combat environment is going to take some time.” Though he did add that Washington might have underestimated China’s military development. Gates should have a lot to talk about.

Reporters yesterday cut right to the chase during White House press secretary Robert Gibb’s briefing. The first questioner out of the gates asked Gibbs, who is planning to leave his post, what he would be doing next. Gibbs explained that he was a little burnt out and would be taking some time to “step back a little bit, recharge some.” He added that he’ll continue to “give some speeches” and maybe give a little advice to the president.” But, Gibbs stressed, he’s not leaving so he can be “freed up to say a series of things that I might not say otherwise.” And commenting on the personnel changes that will be announced soon, Gibbs said that the administration can be bubble-like. He thinks that having “new” and “fresh voices” will do the administration good.

Back to Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez had some recommendations for U.S. ambassador to his country: director Oliver Stone or actor Sean Penn. Though PJ Crowley suggested on Monday that the administration might be looking into to alternates for ambassador after Chavez rejected Larry Palmer, the spokesman clarified yesterday that Palmer is still Washington’s man. “We supported him prior to the end of the last Congress and we continue to support him. And we regret very much that Venezuela has rescinded agreement, but the fact is we’re not looking for another candidate.”