Rice and Clinton against the World

With all of the tension floating Asia around thanks to conflicting territorial claims, it isn’t all that surprising that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statements at the start of her trip to the East are eliciting some prickly reactions. Yesterday, a Japanese reporter asked her about islands in the northern South China Sea—the Senkakus to the Japanese, the Daioyu islands in China—that were the site of Japan’s arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain (Japan administers the islands). Clinton cited a treaty under which Washington must come to Japan’s aid if there is an attack on Tokyo’s territory: “Let me say clearly again the Senkakus fall within the scope of article 5 of the 1960 US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.” Today, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its displeasure and “strong concern” with the statement. Bickering aside, Washington is trying to work closely with Beijing in other areas, and Clinton will head to China on Saturday for talks.

Clinton also had some words for Myanmar yesterday. She weighed in on a potential international investigation into human rights in the country, offering her support for the probe: “I would like to underscore the United States' commitment to seek accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry.” Washington is concerned about the “deeply flawed” elections that will take place on November 7, the first since 1990. The democratic poster woman Aung San Suu Kyi, now a political prisoner, will not be allowed to participate in the elections. In her speech, Clinton called for Suu Kyi’s release.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice accused Syria and Iran of seeking to “endanger stability” in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon. In particular, Syria “has displayed flagrant disregard for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon.” Iran, Hezbollah and Syria are all trying to escalate sectarian tensions to gain power in Lebanon, but they’re only destabilizing the region. Syria’s UN ambassador wasn’t happy, arguing that “Ambassador Rice gave credibility to wrong facts.”

In other news, Twitter is the State Department’s Iran policy forum du jour. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley tweeted a happy birthday message to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today. Crowley took the opportunity to recommend that the Iranian president celebrate his 54th year by releasing U.S. hikers and to opening up to “a different relationship with the world.”