Princes and Protestors

On Meet the Press yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice sounded a familiar alarm. She called on Arab governments to “get ahead of reform” and make lasting political changes. Washington has been criticized of late for being caught off guard by the uprisings across the Middle East and for supporting autocratic rulers in the region. Rice tried to clarify the situation, saying “we don't see a dichotomy or an inconsistency” between working with these governments and pushing for reforms. All along, Washington has been pushing for reform while maintaining the alliances: “There are conditions that are unstable. A youth bulge, high unemployment, lack of political openness, and we have pressed publicly and privately for the kind of change that is necessary.”

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon spoke to Bahrain’s crown prince over the weekend and called on the leader to make “meaningful reforms.” President Obama had a similar conversation with the crown prince on Friday. He criticized violent crackdowns on protestors and called for the leader to make changes. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is in the Middle East. He arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday and said the quick spread of unrest was “stunning.” The “trip was scheduled for other reasons,” Mullen noted, but the focus has certainly changed. He now aims to “reassure, discuss and understand what is going on," projecting that the key issue on the table will be “stability in the Middle East.”

On Friday, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that sought to label Israeli settlements “illegal” and pushed for an end to settlement construction. On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Washington shouldn’t worry, the Palestinians wouldn’t try to exact revenge by seeking a boycott of the U.S. or anything. He also called George Mitchell to let the special envoy know the Palestinians are still behind the peace process.

At a G20 meeting in Paris over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner focused discussion on China’s currency, something he’s been talking about for quite some time now. The meeting centered on ways to get China to appreciate its undervalued currency. Beijing deflected, saying currency is an internal issue. The final communiqué produced by the G20 said nothing about foreign currency reserves, and its mentions of trade imbalances and exchange rates weren’t all that strong.

And President Obama’s senior adviser and assistant Valerie Jarrett seems to be moving up in the ranks. After the departures of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, Jarrett is the last of the president’s four closest advisers to remain in the White House. New Chief of Staff William Daley says he’s not threatened—he and Jarrett go way back. And he might turn to her for some advice. “She's one of the people I felt confident could tell me about the job, how this place works, what's good and bad, how I can be helpful,” Daley commented.