Qaddafi, Gates and Goldstone

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down with Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, yesterday in Washington. The pair had a chat about Libya and whether to arm rebels there. As the former colonial power that once controlled Libya, Italy was a little reticent about sending troops to Libya to train and support opposition fighters. According to Frattini, the African Union is planning to send its chairman to Tripoli to try to convince Qaddafi to step down.

But so far, Qaddafi is holding fast to power. He sent a letter to President Obama, once again calling him “our son” and asking Washington to end the “unjust war.” Secretary Clinton dismissed the note and said “Mr. Qaddafi knows what he must do”: call a cease fire (a real one), withdraw his forces, and exit the government and Libya.

Dealing with another crisis, Clinton is scheduled to fly to Japan this month after stopping in Berlin for the NATO foreign ministers meeting on April 14 and 15. She’ll sit down with Japan’s new foreign minister, Takeaki Matsumoto, and will express Washington’s support for ongoing recovery efforts following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Secretary of State Robert Gates reiterated today that Washington would keep troops in Iraq beyond the end of the year if the government in Baghdad wants them. Time is of the essence, though, since the U.S. has “a lot of commitments.” “So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we're going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” Gates commented. As of now, December 31, 2011, is the scheduled final withdrawal date for U.S. forces.

Gates is in Iraq on what will likely be his last trip to the country. He met with the commander of forces there, General Lloyd Austin, as well as James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador. He’ll also sit down with the head of the Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice was in front of Congress yesterday defending funding for the international body. She tried to bring the matter close to home: “It goes without saying that the UN is far from perfect, but it delivers real results for every American.” Lawmakers are critical of the way the UN operates, but Rice says that Washington is pushing for reforms within the organization.

Rice also touched on the controversial Goldstone Report on war crimes during the Gaza conflict, which laid much blame on Israel for a disproportionate response that targeted civilians. Goldstone admitted in an op-ed that subsequent investigations showed Israel did not specifically go after civilians. Rice said the report can’t be amended, but she will work hard to make sure it “disappear[s]” and will “no longer be a subject of discussion and debate” in the UN.