Iran Makes Contact

At the end of last week, Israel announced plans to build over two hundred new settlement homes in east Jerusalem, a move State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said “disappointed” Washington. Crowley was tight-lipped when it came to questions about U.S. special envoy George Mitchell’s travel plans. The envoy has been engaged in months of shuttling to try to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down together, but as of now, everything is up in the air. Crowley noted, “We're still evaluating . . . what the appropriate next steps are. I've got nothing to announce.”

Progress seems a bit closer in Afghanistan. At least that’s what officials are saying as a year-end review of the war effort rolls around. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s assessment wasn’t exactly glowing, but it was something, “Compared to where we were a year ago, we're seeing some positive trends emerging.” He added that despite some good news, there are still “areas with significant insecurity.”

Washington might just be in for some help from an unexpected place. Today, Iran sent a representative to a meeting of the international contact group on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The organization was formed by President Obama back in March 2009 and has been meeting since April of last year. Iran’s rep, Mohammed Ali Qanezadeh, attended a briefing this morning by General David Petraeus and was welcomed by the group, with Italy’s representative saying that “Iran is too important to exclude” from these discussions. The U.S. point man, Richard Holbrooke, was a bit more subdued: “We were asked if we had any problems with that and we said no.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hoping tech companies might give U.S. foreign policy a hand. She was in San Francisco on Friday addressing the Commonwealth Club and said to all those techies out there, “If you have an idea, we’ll listen.” The goal, Clinton said, is to weave cutting-edge technologies “into every aspect of our foreign policy,” offering the example of using cellphones to monitor elections. The secretary of state was appearing with former–British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie, promoting their recently launched mWomen initiative to get cellphones in the hands of more women in developing countries.