Yesterday, lawmakers sat down with a handful of top national-security advisers. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman briefed Congress on a range of issues, from cybersecurity to securing Qaddafi-era arms. Panetta also took some time to tell Congress once again that the defense cuts the Pentagon would face if the congressional supercommittee can’t agree to a debt-slashing plan would have “devastating effects” on defense.
Members of Congress weren’t the only ones to get Panetta’s attention yesterday. The secretary of defense sat down with his Turkish counterpart, Ismet Yildiz. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that Panetta expressed Washington’s “commitment to a strong security relationship with Turkey” and that the U.S. military was ready to provide more aid as Turkey deals with earthquake devastation. Hanging over the talks were continued Turkish clashes with Kurdish rebels near Turkey’s border with Iraq.
Damascus is reportedly wrapping up talks with the Arab League to end ongoing violence in Syria. Official Syrian media said that an announcement would be made today about a plan to cease the conflict, but the Arab League said it had not yet received Damascus’s response to its proposal. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration couldn’t verify reports of a deal but noted that “we continue to believe that Assad is illegitimate and should step down.” State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland commented that Washington supports an Arab League call for Syria to stop using heavy weaponry and stop using torture, among other things.
On other fronts, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sat down yesterday with Speaker of the House John Boehner to talk about Europe’s debt crisis. Greece recently announced that a referendum would be held on the EU’s bailout plan, pushing markets into crisis mode.
And Iran, via the Swiss, sent a diplomatic note to Washington in response to U.S. allegations of an Iranian-backed plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Washington wasn’t impressed. As Nuland put it, “It was a rant. It was full of all kinds of denials. There was not a lot new in there from our perspective.”