Isolation and Negotiation

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of Israel’s increasing isolation. He is making his first trip to Israel as SecDef amid heightened tensions in the Middle East following the Palestinians’ bid for recognition at the UN and diplomatic and military spats between Israel and its neighbors. Given all the upheaval across the region, Panetta said, “it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that is what has happened.” He’ll sit down with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak as well as with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad. Meetings with Egyptian leaders are on the schedule too.

Also yesterday, Israel welcomed the Quartet proposal to resume negotiations. The mediators suggested that the parties meet this month to lay out the agenda for negotiations, a meeting that would in theory be followed by talks and hopefully an agreement by the end of next year.

Panetta told reporters that he expects Yemen to remain an ally in the fight against terrorism, no matter what happens with Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh is holding on to power despite protests and U.S. calls for him to step aside. “There are a lot of people in the leadership there concerned about Awlaqi, concerned about terrorism,” Panetta said, referring to the U.S.-born extremist cleric who was killed in a recent strike.

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has kicked off a two-week trip to Asia and the Gulf. The list of stops is long: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India and Doha. The administration is gearing up for two big future-of-Afghanistan meetings—one in November in Istanbul and one in December in Bonn. In Pakistan and Afghanistan Grossman has key challenges: to get Islamabad’s support in the fight against the Haqqani militants and to convince Kabul to keep talking to Washington and Islamabad. Meanwhile, reports have emerged that security forces in Afghanistan had captured Haji Mali Khan, a senior Haqqani-network commander.

Over the weekend, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon sat down with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah during a quick stop in Riyadh. Donilon lauded Abdullah for his statements against violence in Syria. At the end of last week, the Syrian ambassador to the US was called into the State Department and reminded that “an attack on [U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert] Ford is an attack on the United States.” The Syrian ambassador sat down with Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the new leadership in Egypt to show “respect for the state, for the institutions of the state, and the rights of the people.” She also said that they are expected to make good on their promises to the Egyptian people.