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A "Year of Continuous Challenge"

Jim Jones, president Obama's national security advisor, didn't break any big news today at the Center for Strategic and International Study. But he did highlight that this year will be tough and he offered some of the reasons why, like Iran.

His comments on Iran came closest to news, when he said that Iran, facing increased pressure from the international community over its apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons might well strike out at Israel as a result.

His reasoning was simple: a "pressured country often lashes out through its surrogates," he said. That may mean "heightened risk" of attacks against Israel or more violence on the West Bank.

The Iranian threat clearly arose from a more general trend that Jones identified, the "intransigence" of some international actors that "continue to pose great threats to our national security."

Jones laid out some of the guiding principles of the Obama administration's national security approach, the most prominent of which was the president's desire to "usher in a new order of engagement."

Jones told the CSIS gathering that he knew "there's been a lot of debate and some confusion about what the term engagement means." And then he answered his own question. saying that the administration’s "strategic vision" is to approach the world in "an open and transparent way" instead of "focusing solely on threats that endanger us" they also focus on values and goals we share around the world. Proof of the new approach: the long and deep consultations that lead to the Afghanistan strategy decision, and our aid to Haiti. Haiti demonstrates, he said, that the "U.S. is a partner that can be counted on in good times and bad times."

However, "engagement is not end in itself" and the president "is determined that we shape the future and not be swept away by it." For those who might see engagement as a softening of the U.S. approach to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, Jones noted that the Obama administration has killed "far more" terrorist leaders than in the previous year.

He may not have intended it this way, but Jones offered a good example of how engagement might yield dividends when he was asked what weapons the U.S. might be ready to sell to Taiwan.” What we announce or don't announce will not come as a surprise to our Chinese friends," he said. Why would the U.S. make certain to inform China of its intent to sell weapons to Taiwan? "We are bent on a new relationship with China as a rising power in the world," Jones said.

He didn't offer much of an assessment of the Obama administration’s first year, though he called it one of "progress." The future? The "year ahead will be one of continuous challenge," he promised.

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