The Mitchell Shuttle

The international community has been hoping that it can convince the Palestinians to remain part of peace talks even though Israel allowed a moratorium on settlement construction to expire. So far, not so good. Today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held his ground: “Of course we don't want to end negotiations, we want to continue. But if colonization continues we will be forced to end them.” He gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a week to decide,” saying that the Palestinians wouldn’t walk out until after an upcoming meeting with the Israelis and another with other Arab leaders on October 4. So George Mitchell has a week to try to salvage one of his boss's most prized initiatives. The special envoy is set to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak later today as well as with Netanyahu and Abbas sometime this week. He spoke with both the Israelis and Palestinians on Monday before he left for the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday as well. The State Department didn’t offer up any details, but spokesman PJ Crowley stressed that the chat was “very significant, very detailed, very direct.”

Clinton also spent some time yesterday with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Muallem, one of many bilateral meetings that play out on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. She apparently continued the blunt route with Muallem; Crowley noted that Clinton was “very direct” in conveying that Syria had better not do anything to destabilize Lebanon or Iraq. State is concerned in particular about Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah.

And assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell said yesterday that it’s “too early to tell” what is going on with the North Korean leadership, or what Washington should do, so soon after Kim Jong-il’s son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, became a four-star general.