By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
Speculation is swirling that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is sicker than the government is letting on and there is some thought the United States may be trying to influence the socialist leader’s transition from power.
Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public since arriving in Cuba for his fourth cancer operation more than three weeks ago.
A top Venezuelan official said on Thursday that Chavez was suffering from a severe lung infection that has caused respiratory failure. The type of cancer he is fighting has not been disclosed and there was no word on his prognosis.
The National Institutes of Health says the outlook for respiratory failure “depends on the severity of its underlying cause, how quickly treatment begins” and overall health of the patient.
By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford
As news broke Monday that Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab had defected, the U.S. State Department said it was "encouraged," describing Hijab as the "highest-profile official to defect from the Assad regime."
"When the prime minister of the entire government defects, that's clearly an indication that they're on the way out," acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
But experts on Syria aren't so sure.
"The prime minister in Syria is the head of the government, but the government in Syria doesn't rule the country," Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told CNN. "It's the regime, and the regime includes the security services, the army and the members of the Assad family."
By Elise Labott and Jamie Crawford
Over the weekend, a team from the United States mission to the United Nations moved computers and phones across the street and set up shop in a small suite of offices adjacent to the U.N. Security Council.
During April, the United States will assume the rotating presidency of the council. For the next 30 days, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice will lead all council meetings and will be referred to as madame president.
By National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Moammer Gadhafi’s capture or killing in Sirte, Libya would Gadhafi’s capture would “add legitimacy and relief to the formation of a new government.”
“There was a concerted effort by Libyans to liberate Sirte and it’s been going very well,” Clinton said in an interview Thursday with CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty in Kabul, Afghanistan just as the reports from Libya were emerging.
Clinton was not able to confirm the reports herself during the interview due to the conflicting reports coming out of Libya.
Clinton visited the Libyan capitol of Tripoli earlier this week to meet with NTC leaders and to congratulate the country on the progress the country has made. She was the highest U.S. government official to visit Libya since 2008.
In her discussions with Libya’s governing National Transitional Council, Clinton said NTC leaders told her they wanted to wait until Sirte was completely free before they declared the country as being completely liberated.
“They knew if he was at large, they would have continued security problems,” she said.
Even if the reports on Gadhafi are true, Clinton said there will still be challenges ahead for Libya with mercenaries and fighters loyal to Gadhafi still on the scene.
The Obama administration ratcheted up pressure on Syria Tuesday, as the regime intensified its bloody crackdown on protesters.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a group of U.S.-based Syrian activists and opposition figures at the State Department in an effort to further the diplomatic isolation of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over his fierce security crackdown on peaceful protests across Syria.
The Secretary wanted to personally "express her sympathy to the victims of the Assad regime," Deputy State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said.
Clinton's first meeting with the Syrian opposition comes as the US prepares a fresh round of sanctions against the Syrian regime. Senior State Department officials said the Obama administration was on the verge of imposing new measures against the Syrian oil and gas sectors, which the regime uses to help finance its security forces.