Reaching North

This week, the Obama administration is set to play host to long-awaited direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. President Obama will sit down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in separate meetings on Wednesday. On Thursday, the two Mideast leaders will head to the State Department for talks hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched. On Sunday, Abbas reiterated that he will pull out of negotiations if Israel restarts settlement construction in the West Bank. A ten-month-old partial construction halt will expire just three weeks after talks are set to take place, and Netanyahu has given no indication that he intends to renew the freeze.

Last week, Jimmy Carter took a trip to North Korea, during which Kim Jong-il decided to visit China instead of greeting the former U.S. president. Despite the slight, we learned last week that Washington has been considering a new attempt at engagement with the elusive regime. Hillary Clinton has been reviewing input from outside experts and former officials about how to move forward with Pyongyang. And it seems, according to the New York Times, that everyone thinks we should get in touch with North Korea. Stephen Bosworth, special envoy for North Korea, is an advocate of reaching out to Pyongyang. He visited the country back in December, pre–Cheonan sinking.

Efforts to fight corruption in Afghanistan have hit another stumbling block. Last week, the Karzai administration dismissed the country’s deputy attorney general, Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar, a move that surprised Washington. Faqiryar was responsible for rooting out corruption in Afghanistan, and the State Department is viewing the ouster warily. Spokesman PJ Crowley said that what Faqiryar “was doing was very important,” but State isn’t going much further than that right now. The administration doesn’t want an all-out conflict with Karzai, a difficult-to-handle ally in the war.