News/Campaigns/Foreign Policy

News/Campaigns/Foreign Policy

Mullen poised for second term as head of Joint Chiefs

Adm. Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is poised to serve a second term as the nation's top military officer.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold Mullen's confirmation hearing Sept. 15.

President Obama sent Mullen's nomination to the Senate already in May.

Mullen's first two-year term as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends Oct. 1. President George Bush nominated Mullen on June 28, 2007. Mullen, who is well regarded on both sides of the aisle, took his post on Oct.1, 2007.

-Roxana Tiron

White House happy with Webb

The White House says it's happy with Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who secured the release of an American citizen sentenced to seven years of hard labor in a Burmese prison.

Webb was not representing the White House on his trip, and it was controversial with some human rights groups who don't think U.S. officials should be having any business with Burmese leaders.

Webb thinks the sanctions policy has been a failure, and that the U.S. should engage more with Burma.

-Ian Swanson

Webb secures release of American prisoner in Myanmar

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has secured the release of an American citizen in Myanmar who was recently sentenced to seven years of hard labor in the country, according to reports.

John Yettaw of Missouri was arrested and convicted for trying to swim across a lake to reach the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader of a dissident party in Myanmar who is currently under house arrest. Suu Kyi was convicted herself on Tuesday of harboring Yettaw.

"I am grateful to the Myanmar government for honoring these requests," said Webb, who is on a fact-finding trip to Myanmar.

Webb met with the country's ruling military junta while in the country, raising protests from exiled Myanmar dissidents. The Virginia Democrat also met with Suu Kyi, his staff told reporters.

State Department comes out swinging over Chavez's golf insults

The Obama administration has dug in its heels and taken a hard, unwavering line with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez -- over Chavez's insults directed toward the game of golf, that is.

Chavez, on his "Alo Presidente!" Sunday talk show, seemed rather teed off at the pastime that occupies so many of President Obama's weekends. "Let's leave this clear," Chavez said. "Golf is a bourgeois sport." The fact that golfers ride around on little carts, Chavez continued, just shows what a lazy sport it is. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Chavez and his loyalists were pushing to close two of Venezuela's best-known golf courses to seize the prime real estate of the sprawling greens; the closures would bring the total to nine golf courses closed over the past three years.

"I respect all sports," Chavez said. "But there are sports and there are sports. Do you mean to tell me this is a people's sport? It is not."

P.J. Crowley, assistant secretary of State for public affairs, came out swinging on Wednesday.

"Before we get started formally, as the Department of State's self-appointed ambassador-at-large for golf, I wish to protest the unwarranted attack by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on the game of golf," Crowley said.

"Considering that the hemisphere celebrated the victory of former caddy and son of Argentina in the Masters over a good-old-boy who built a public course in his hometown in Kentucky, and we cheered as a relative unknown from South Carolina won the people's open on the country's finest public course at Bethpage Black, we were in awe as a 59-year-old man held off the greatest golfers of the world for 71 holes on links land in Scotland where the game of golf was created, and now we are on the eve of the season's final major, where the favorite to win is arguably the greatest golfer of all time and whose heritage literally spans continents -- so the suggestion by Mr. Chavez that golf, a truly global sport, is bourgeois is a mulligan."

"And once again Mr. Chavez, one of the hemisphere's most divisive figures, finds himself out of bounds," Crowley concluded.

There was no immediate reaction from Chavez, who has been crazy busy closing radio stations and planning hypothetical war with Colombia and the U.S.

Obama denounces Myanmar conviction

President Barack Obama has denounced Myanmar's conviction of Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months of additional house arrest.

The pro-Democracy leader was sentenced after an America swam across a lake to reach her villa. That American, John Yettaw, was sentenced to seven years of prison and hard labor.

Here's Obama's statement:

The conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi today on charges related to an uninvited intrusion into her home violate universal principles of human rights, run counter to Burma's commitments under the ASEAN charter, and demonstrate continued disregard for UN Security Council statements. I join the international community in calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate unconditional release.

Today's unjust decision reminds us of the thousands of other political prisoners in Burma who, like Aung San Suu Kyi, have been denied their liberty because of their pursuit of a government that respects the will, rights, and aspirations of all Burmese citizens. They, too, should be freed. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. I call on the Burmese regime to heed the views of its own people and the international community and to work towards genuine national reconciliation.

I am also concerned by the sentencing of American citizen John Yettaw to seven years in prison, a punishment out of proportion with his actions.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) also released a statement:

“The Burmese dictatorship is making a serious mistake by sentencing Aung San Suu Kyi to additional imprisonment.  She never should have been arrested, much less convicted on meritless charges.  Aung San Suu Kyi, American John Yettaw, and the other political prisoners held by the junta must be freed immediately.  The junta’s actions cast serious doubt on the potential for legitimate elections next year and only reinforce longstanding international concerns about the military junta’s treatment of its own people.

The Burmese dictatorship should understand that only a good-faith effort to start a dialogue with the political opposition and improvement of its deplorable human rights record can lead to better relations with the United States and the rest of the world.  The junta’s latest unjust and short-sighted actions only serves to move the government further down the path of continued international isolation.”

-Ian Swanson


Jones: Clinton acted independently in N. Korea

Twice this morning National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones (Ret.) reiterated that former President Bill Clinton did not carry a message from the White House during his trip to free two American journalists from a North Korean jail.

"This was a private mission in which there were no official or unofficial messages President Obama," Jones told David Gregory on Meet the Press. His remarks echo a similar statement he made to Chris Wallace earlier on Fox News Sunday.

Clinton's excursion--announced to the press only after he secured a "special pardon" for the two women--has received considerable attention today.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger published an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that Clinton's mission accomplished "precisely the opposite" of what his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been trying to do in recent weeks:
"A visit by a former president, who is married to the secretary of state, will enable Kim Jong Il to convey to North Koreans, and perhaps to other countries, that his country is being accepted into the international community--precisely the opposite of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defined as the goal of U.S. policy until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program."

Gregory grilled Jones on this, citing a staged photograph of the former U.S. president and the North Korean leader as evidence that the former president undermined the secretary of state's mission.

Jones, however, dodged the NBC host's question and emphasized recent improvements in the United States' tenuous relationship with North Korea.

Another member of the Obama administraion's foreign policy team, United Nations ambassador Susan Rice, also claimed that former President Clinton's trip was a "private humanitarian mission" on CNN's "State of the Union."

Rice was not previously scheduled to appear on the program.

Obama talks up trade in message to diplomats in Kenya

President Obama sent his well wishes to those gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for the AGOA Forum, promising U.S. assistance to the continent of Africa.

"Today, it is my privilege to address you as President," Obama said in a videotaped message. "I do not see the countries and the peoples of Africa as a world apart. I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world. In our global economy, our economic fortunes are shared."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is among a number of diplomats in Kenya for talks on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), trade legislation instituted in 2000 to help with Africa's economic development.


Obama 'extraordinarily relieved' over journalists' return

President Obama expressed relief Wednesday over the release of two American journalists from North Korea after the two arrived safely back in the U.S.

Obama thanked former President Bill Clinton, who traveled as a humanitarian envoy to North Korea to secure the release of the journalists, for his work to secure the safe return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

"We are obviously extraordinarily relieved," Obama said of Ling and Lee's return. "The reunion that we've all seen on television I think is a source of happiness not only for the families but for the entire country."

Ling and Lee were arrested and convicted of illegally crossing the border into North Korea while filming a documentary for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.

"I want to thank President Bill Clinton -- I had a chance to talk to him -- for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists," Obama said.

"I think that not only is this White House obviously extraordinarily happy, but all Americans should be grateful to both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work," the president added. "And my hope is, is that the families that have been reunited can enjoy the next several days and weeks, understanding that because of the efforts of President Clinton and Gore, they are able to be with each other once again."