The Ties that Unbind

Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s attempts to mend military ties with Beijing during meetings with Chinese military officials haven’t been all that successful. On a positive note, Gates said during a news conference with the Chinese defense minister, General Liang Guanglie, that he could “come away from these meetings convinced that the P.L.A. leadership is as committed to fulfilling the mandate of our two presidents as [he is].” The two sides agreed to continue talking throughout the first half of the year. But the talks will not be as in-depth as Secretary Gates had hoped. And China maintained that it does not want the United States to sell arms to Taiwan because they “severely damage China’s core interests.”

Frank Ruggiero, the acting special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had his first meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai since Richard Holbrooke’s death. He told Karzai that Washington was behind the Afghan government’s attempts to make peace with Taliban members that have no links to terrorist groups. Former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney meanwhile either seems set on taking over for Ruggiero or is building up some cred for his 2012 campaign. Traveling through the Middle East (in the UAE on Saturday, and heading to Israel and Jordan), Romney stopped of in Afghanistan yesterday, meeting with the commander of forces there, General David Petraeus. Of the visit, Romney’s senior adviser said, “The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world.”

In the UAE on Monday commenting on the weekend’s shooting in Arizona, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the gunman an “extremist.” She was responding to a question about why the Arab world is blamed for 9/11, and she tried to form a common bond: “We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

Clinton also took a moment to comment on Israel and Iran. The secretary of state said that Israel’s decision to move ahead with a settlement project in East Jerusalem undermines peace efforts and “contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem.” And as the administration has stressed over the past few months, the secretary of state today reiterated that sanctions on Iran are working. Appearing on a talk show in the UAE, she said that the measures have “made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions” and Tehran’s program “has been slowed down.”