With Virtually Open Arms

Despite the simmering tensions between Washington and Tehran, over things like that plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and Iranian meddling in Iraq, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States wants to expand its relationship with the Iranian people. In interviews with the Persian language BBC and Voice of America, the secretary of state said that Washington “has no argument” with the Iranian masses, and that, in fact, the U.S. wants to “support your aspirations.” In that spirit, Clinton said Washington would be setting up a “virtual embassy” by the end of the year that will give Iranians information about visas and student-exchange programs, among other things.

Speaking in South Korea, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta doesn’t think that Pyongyang can be diplomatically convinced to give up its nuclear program. He views the new bilateral effort to discuss potential negotiations with “skepticism,” noting, “We’re not sure where those talks are headed at this point.” Panetta commented that North Korea seems to vacillate between phases of some negotiation and aggression, and that its real intent is hard to discern: “We always have to be vigilant in the way we approach North Korea because there is a history here of accommodation and provocation.” China, Panetta also noted, can do more to push North Korea toward denuclearization. Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell was also in Seoul today to give officials a rundown of the recent North Korea-United States talks in Geneva.

Secretary Clinton is testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this morning on the “transition and the way forward” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clinton was in both countries last week, and her testimony comes after Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s remark that Afghanistan would likely side with Pakistan if Islamabad went to war with Washington. And U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is expected to be back in Syria sometime before Thanksgiving. “He’s bought his Thanksgiving turkey for his Embassy staff and he wants very much to have a Thanksgiving dinner for his folks there,” Nuland said.

In other news, the United States, which provides 22% of the funding for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is threatening to cut that funding if the body accepts the Palestinian Authority as a full member. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland of course put it a bit more diplomatically: “We have concerns about our ability to continue to participate and our ability to ensure that UNESCO has the full benefit of US support.” UNESCO’s executive committee already approved the Palestinian bid. It is now up to the UNESCO General Assembly, which opened on Tuesday, to make the decision.