Syria's Smear Campaign

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland came to Ambassador Robert Ford’s aid yesterday, calling on Damascus to end its “smear campaign of malicious and deceitful propaganda” against Ford, who recently left Syria out of fear for his safety. Nuland stressed that Ford, the ambassador to Syria, has neither been recalled nor withdrawn, he’s just taking “a little bit of a break.” And it is up to Damascus to ensure is safety when he returns to Syria. Though it’s not quite clear when that will happen, as tensions keep ratcheting up. Syria responded to Ford’s departure by recalling its ambassador to the United States for consultations at home.

Over the weekend, Tunisia held the first election after the upheaval of the Arab Spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded “Tunisia’s brave citizens” for continuing “to set an example for the region and the world.” Ennahada, an Islamist party, is claiming to have come out on top. Clinton called for transparency and said the vote was “a historic milestone.” She did not comment on the Islamists’ reported showing.

U.S.-North Korea talks have come to a close in Geneva, though details are hard to come by. Outgoing U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth described the talks, which are aimed at getting Pyongyang back to the nuclear-disarmament-negotiations table, as “positive and generally constructive,” though without any formal agreement to resume negotiations. “I am confident that with continued effort on both sides, we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for a return to the six-party process,” Bosworth continued, describing the differences between the two sides as having been “narrowed.”

Asked yesterday whether Washington would seek out military ties with the new government in Libya, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta kept quiet. “I guess what I would do at this point is leave the decision as to future security involvement in the hands of NATO,” he commented. He also described the U.S. military as being at a “turning point” as a “decade of war” comes to a close. Though al-Qaeda will remain a concern, Panetta said that Washington would now focus once again on strengthening the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region and addressing growing threats there. Wrapped up in the budget debate, Panetta noted that “we are not anticipating any cutbacks in this region.”