The Terror Journal

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Clinton meets Israeli leaders in Jerusalem

Hilary ClintonU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Tuesday to work with the incoming Israeli government, but delivered a clear message that could put her at odds with the country’s next leader: Movement toward the establishment of a Palestinian state is ”inescapable.”

At the same time, Clinton said she would not dictate orders to Israel, saying the Jewish state would determine its interests. She also pledged ”unrelenting” support for Israel’s security.

Clinton also said the U.S. would soon send two envoys to Syria for ”preliminary conversations.” It was the most significant sign yet that the Obama administration is ready to mend relations with the Damascus regime. The U.S. withdrew its ambassador in 2005, accusing Syria of supporting terrorism.

”We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be,” she told a Jerusalem news conference. ”There has to be some perceived benefit of doing so for the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.”

Clinton lamented that President Barack Obama’s attempts to reach out to Syrian ally Iran have so far been unsuccessful. The U.S. and Israel accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons and supporting anti-Israel militant groups.

Clinton, seeking to calm her Israeli hosts, said diplomacy should not be confused with softness.

”When we talk about engagement with Iran, do not be in any way confused, our goal remains the same: to dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and continuing to fund terrorism,” she said. ”Whatever we do will be done thoughtfully in consultation with our friends and Israel, most particularly Israel.”

Clinton, making her first visit to the region as secretary of state, spoke ahead of a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister designate. Netanyahu’s past criticism of peace talks and opposition to full Palestinian independence has raised concerns that his incoming government could clash with the U.S.

When asked about Netanyahu, she acknowledged the possibility of disagreements with any Israeli government and made clear the U.S. will push forward with its efforts to forge a peace deal that includes the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

”The United States will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way,” she said. ”The inevitability of working toward a two state-solution is inescapable.”

Ahead of their meeting, Netanyahu showed signs of backing off his previous pledges to abandon the current round of peace talks, launched in November 2007 at a U.S.-hosted summit.

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That message would mark a change in the Likud leader’s long-stated position that peace talks are a waste of time because of the weakness of the Palestinian leadership. He has suggested in the past he would instead invest in the Palestinian economy while continuing Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank indefinitely.

And Clinton signaled that open confrontation with Israel is unlikely, stressing the close relationship between the two countries and saying Israel must ultimately decide what is in its best interests.

”We happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution, step by step, is in Israel’s best interests. But obviously it’s up to the people and the government of Israel to decide how to define your interests,” she said.

Clinton also stressed the ”unrelenting” U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, specifically criticizing continuing rocket attacks out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, leader of the hardline Likud Party, is putting together a new coalition government after right-wing and Orthodox Jewish parties won a majority of seats in last month’s Israeli parliamentary election. He is expected to be sworn in as prime minister within weeks.

His criticism of U.S.-led Mideast peace talks during the recent election campaign — along with his reliance on small hardline partners — has raised fears that his government could clash with the Obama administration.

Netanyahu planned to tell the secretary of state that his government will continue peace talks with the Palestinians, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud Party said.

”I think that Hillary Clinton, when she comes today, will find Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to continue to hold negotiations, not only on economic projects but also political negotiations, a political process,” said Likud lawmaker Silvan Shalom, a former foreign minister.

In Damascus, the U.S. Embassy announced that Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East, would lead the American delegation headed to the Syrian capital. Embassy spokeswoman Katherine Vandevate said the visit aims to build on his ”substantive and constructive” meeting last month with Syria’s ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out by the Bush administration in 2005 to protest Syria’s suspected role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The United States has also criticized Syria for supporting militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and has accused Syria of not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. Syria has said it is doing all it can to safeguard its long, porous border.

Clinton arrived in Jerusalem Monday evening from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where she pledged $900 million in U.S. aid at an international donors conference for rebuilding the Gaza Strip after Israel’s recent offensive against its Hamas rulers.

A packed schedule of meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem included talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. On Wednesday, she is to call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Source: NYT

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