Surprise Visits and Secret Jets

Surprise! Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Yemen on an unannounced visit. Yemen, facing the threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is key to U.S. counterterrorism efforts, and Clinton’s trip is meant to broaden cooperation between the two countries. That includes discussing more than just military matters. The first secretary of state to visit Sana’a since the 1980s, Clinton will touch on economic issues and how to bolster Yemen’s civil society. In a meeting with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Clinton is expected to try to dissuade the government from modifying the country’s constitution to allow Saleh to extend his term limit. The secretary of state will also meet with opposition leaders and NGO representatives. She’ll head to Oman next.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden dropped in on Afghanistan last night, similarly unannounced. He’s there to assess the progress U.S. troops are making and to try to figure out when Washington can turn security control over to Kabul. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and commander of forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus went to the airport to meet the veep, who then went on to a meeting with U.S. officials. Biden also had a sitdown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today. In a press conference following the chat, he stressed that Washington wasn’t going to disappear completely after the planned 2014 security handover if the people of Afghanistan want the U.S. to stay, also noting that it isn’t America’s “intention to govern or to nation build.”

News reports have been circulating that China has produced its first stealth fighter jet. Up until now those reports haven’t been confirmed. But today, Beijing let Secretary of Defense Robert Gates know—during meetings to help ease military-to-military relations between the two countries—that its brand new J-20 prototype did indeed have its first test flight. “I asked President Hu Jintao about it directly, and he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a pre-planned test,” Gates said. Actually, when Gates posed the question, most of the Chinese civilians in the room, including Hu, didn’t even appear to know that a test had taken place according to a U.S. official. The defense secretary also said that Washington’s and Beijing’s militaries could hold formal talks within the next few months.

Attempts to revive the peace process are still pushing forward. Secretary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell are supposed to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian envoys at some point this week.

And State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said that the referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence is “off to a very, very good start.” Special envoy Scott Gration is in the country and has been traveling to various polling sites in the South to keep tabs on progress.