The Blame Game

As the government in Syria continues to crack down on protests there, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid blame directly on President Bashar al-Assad, linking Syria to Iran and warning of new international steps to stem the violence. Alongside EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, Clinton commented, “President Assad talks about reform, but his heavy-handed brutal crackdown shows his true intentions.” Aston added, “We need to consider all of the options, and I think there will be a number of moves in the coming hours and days that you will see.”

Secretary Clinton’s joke yesterday that President Obama is so tuckered out because of all the various crises going on that he said to her, “I’m going to win reelection, and then I’m done,” prompted some to wonder whether the commander in chief is taking the election for granted. Never fear, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “I can assure you that he is not at all.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner put the responsibility for any future default on U.S. debt on the Republicans: “If Republicans try to impose that plan on this country as a condition for raising the debt limit, then they will own the responsibility for the first default in our history, with devastating consequences.” Budget talks are under way but on shaky ground. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, suggested making some cuts to Medicare, a suggestion that elicited a less than positive response from other negotiators. Coburn, citing his disappointment that the bipartisan group of legislators discussing the debt issue “has not been able to bridge the gap between what needs to happen and what senators will support,” removed himself from the group. Vice President Joe Biden has been holding closed-door talks with lawmakers to try to come to an agreement to cut spending and raise the debt limit before the U.S. defaults in August.

As the fallout from the weekend’s arrest of the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for rape spreads, Geithner has joined the fray. He said yesterday that Strauss-Kahn “is obviously not in a position to run the IMF.” Geithner called on the organization’s executive board to install an interim replacement.

Also yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman were in Bahrain to meet with officials and convey Washington’s support. Bahrain, like many countries in the region, has been the site of pro-reform uprisings, and the two diplomats “stressed the importance of full respect for universal human rights,” according to a press release.

And at home, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had his first day of talks with a high-level Chinese military delegation, including his counterpart, Chen Bingde. Today, General Chen will meet with Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.