British leader flies to DC commercially

British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised many this week by traveling to Washington for his first official White House visit since taking office on a commercial British Airways flight, instead of taking a dedicated plane, to save money. Now some Americans are wondering if U.S. officials could follow suit.

Having traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — over the last decade, I can see how commercial flying would save the State Department millions of dollars a year. However, it would also guarantee a logistical nightmare.

Obama keeps distance from tribunal

A pushback from the military and a skeptical secretary of defense have dashed the hopes of some Obama administration officials for closer cooperation with a global war-crimes tribunal that some fear could prosecute American service members, current and former U.S. officials say.

Although the United States has rejoined the meetings of the International Criminal Court (ICC) member states after an eight-year absence, it has taken little new action to work more closely with the court. In fact, many international legal analysts argue that there was a more significant change in U.S. policy toward the ICC from the first to the second term of President George W. Bush than there has been since President Obama took office last year…

Cuts to State Dept. budget ignite interparty row

A dispute over the State Department budget has pitted the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, against a fellow Democrat and head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and the Obama administration.

Mr. Conrad led an effort to slash President Obama’s $58 billion international affairs request for 2011 by $4 billion, a cut his committee approved last week. Despite protests from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and all her living predecessors, the senator stood his ground on Wednesday.

U.S. downplays extremism in foreign outreach

The Obama administration is shifting the focus of U.S. public diplomacy efforts to play down the past emphasis on countering violent extremism in order to avoid offending foreign audiences opposed to terrorism.

Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, said in an interview with The Washington Times that “a very narrow segment” of the world’s population is at risk of turning to extremism, and the policies adopted by the Bush administration should be broadened. “Looking back, there was such a focus on countering violent extremism that everything got swept into the same category or the same bucket,” Ms. McHale said.

State plans new public diplomacy posts

The State Department plans to create seven new senior positions to ensure that a public-diplomacy perspective is always “incorporated” in policy-making around the world, as well as to respond quickly to negative coverage of the United States in foreign media.

In an ambitious strategy that goes beyond any previous efforts to reach out to other countries, the Obama administration “seeks to become woven into the fabric of the daily lives of people” there, its top public-diplomacy official said Wednesday. “We must do a better job of listening, learn how people in other countries and cultures listen to us, understand their desires and aspirations, and provide them with information and services of value to them,” said Judith A. McHale, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

U.S. has ‘no desire’ to ease airline ownership rules

American carriers can relax — their freedom to fly anywhere in the European Union is no longer threatened by Washington’s refusal to allow foreign control of U.S. airlines. That was the biggest news from last week’s agreement to expand the 2007 U.S.-EU Open Skies accord.

When the deal was first negotiated, carriers from both sides of the Atlantic were permitted to fly between any two cities without the previous government restrictions. However, those rights could have been lost next year, unless European companies could own controlling shares in U.S. airlines…

Career diplomats protest Obama appointments

The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say.

As a result of the reversal, some donors to President Obama’s election campaign — as well as senior advisers and other supporters of the campaigns of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — are likely to find their hopes of being rewarded with an embassy dashed. “The White House has come around, and we truly expect that, at the end of the process, the balance will be within historical norms,” said one senior administration official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

Candid Clinton off script overseas

BEIJING — So much for the “diplo-speak” U.S. officials usually offer on trips abroad. Newly minted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton showed last week that she will not be constrained by diplomatic protocol or follow an official script and, so far, she seems to have the stature and celebrity to pull it off.

As she returns home Sunday from her first overseas trip since taking office, Mrs. Clinton leaves behind thousands of Asians thrilled to have met one of the world’s most famous and powerful women. At the same time, awaiting her in Washington are puzzled analysts, angry human rights activists and career diplomats not quite sure what to make of some of her comments.

Clinton weathers job’s long flights

Flying more than 22,000 miles in a week filled with dozens of official meetings, public events and media interviews didn’t seem to have taken a toll on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her much-publicized trip to Asia. How does she do it?

I’ve been asked the same question about three of Mrs. Clinton’s predecessors I’ve traveled with — Condoleezza Rice, Colin L. Powell and Madeleine K. Albright. My answer is always the same, but it’s not the queen-size pullout sofa in their plane’s private cabin, though having a real bed in the air certainly helps.

New hopes for rail travel

Have you heard that trains are “in” again? They have been “out” for so long, it’s almost hard to believe it, but President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ride the rail into Washington for his inauguration has excited many train lovers.

Since flying became the main form of long-distance transportation in the United States in the past couple of decades, repeated warnings by railroad executives and industry advocates that insufficient funding and out-of-date equipment would lead to the system’s collapse seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally this fall, Congress more than doubled funding for Amtrak, the semi-public company, in a $13 billion railroad improvement bill sponsored by Reps. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, and John L. Mica, Florida Republican…