Peace Process, Regional Concerns Dominate Clinton Talks in Israel

Posted July 16th, 2012 at 6:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the situation in the Middle East and the Arab world dominated her talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem Monday.

Clinton spoke to reporters after meeting with Israel's President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other top officials.

Earlier in the day, she met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. She said she urged the two sides to start direct negotiations as soon as possible. The two sides have recently exchanged letters stipulating their conditions for reviving the stalled peace talks.

“We all spoke on how to build on the exchange of letters between (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas and (Israel's) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu to get negotiations going because we know the status quo is unsustainable. The proof is in the security threat Israel faces: rocket attacks, terrorist threats, challenges in Gaza and on your borders. And so our goal remains an independent Palestinian state, living in peace and security along a secure Jewish democratic state of Israel.”

Clinton said the international community will continue to play a constructive role toward a Middle east peace accord, but she said the parties in the conflict have to do the hard work of negotiating for peace.

The top U.S. diplomat said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security and its future remains rock solid. That's why, she said, during her visit to Egypt she made it clear that the United States and the world expect the country's new leaders to play a constructive role in advancing regional peace, particularly by upholding Egypt's 1979 peace accord with Israel.

Clinton traveled to Jerusalem from Egypt, where she discussed U.S. economic aid with President Mohamed Morsi and Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Developments in Syria and Iran also were high on the agenda. She said she discussed with Israeli officials what Israel can do for regional security, but added that other countries also have to contribute to the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“As (U.S.) President (Barack) Obama has said, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Because of our work to rally the international community, Iran is under greater pressure now than ever before. That pressure will continue and increase so long as Iran fails to meet its international obligations. We all prefer a diplomatic resolution and Iran's leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.”

Iran has been enriching uranium for what it calls a civilian energy and medical research program in defiance of several U.N. Security Council resolutions. Western powers want Iran to stop the enrichment, which they fear could be used to make nuclear weapons. Several rounds of talks this year have yielded no progress.

Israel says it believes Iran is playing for time. Israel has reserved the right to strike militarily to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Obama has said no option is off the table when it comes to Iran, but that the United States would prefer successful negotiations to resolve the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

European Union representatives plan to meet with Iranian officials July 24 to determine if there is enough common ground to continue the negotiations.

The United States and also the European Union have enacted sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports.

Clinton returns to Washington early Tuesday, ending her two-week tour of nine countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.