Playing Defense in Asia

Yesterday, Washington quietly held talks with the Palestinians to try to save the ailing peace process. U.S. envoy George Mitchell sat down with Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator. Erekat said the PA will give Washington time (two to three weeks) to get the negotiations restarted before the Palestinians officially pull out, but that they would not budge on their demand that Israel halt all settlement construction in the West Bank. The Palestinian negotiator also met with the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern AffairsJeffrey Feltman, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still planning a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for next week.

Giving interviews in New Zealand today, Secretary Clinton shot down questions about a potential run for the presidency in either 2012 or 2016. In the wake of the midterm elections, rumors have been floating around that she would consider throwing her hat into the ring, but she says that's not going to happen. Clinton did say the United States should be ready for a woman president: “Well, not me. But it will be someone and it is nice coming to countries that have already proven that they can elect women to the highest governing positions.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading Clinton’s way today. He’ll get on a plane bound for Australia, and later Malaysia, to meet Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen at the U.S.-Australia conference of ministers. The meeting, taking place in Melbourne, will focus on defense ties in the face of increasing Chinese economic and naval power.

In other news, the U.S. embassy in Norway has been accused of spying on Norwegian residents. A news channel in Norway said that surveillance has been conducted on around twenty people for the past ten years. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley responded that the country’s government was informed of the surveillance beforehand, but he doesn’t know how much Norway was let in on the specific activities. He stressed that “everything that we do is fully consistent with our security arrangements that we have with any host nation government anywhere in the world.”