Peace Process, Regional Concerns Lead Clinton Talks in Israel

Posted July 16th, 2012 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials Monday for talks focused on their peace process, as well as developments in Egypt, Syria and Iran.

Clinton met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the beginning of her nearly two-week trip. She wants to continue talks with Israeli leaders about letters the two sides recently exchanged as the peace process goes on without direct talks.

VOA correspondent Scott Stearns, who is traveling with Clinton, says a senior State Department official told reporters that, the Obama Administration must continue to work toward an agreement.

“The senior State Department official said Secretary Clinton would have liked to be coming to Jerusalem on this trip to sign a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but the failure to reach that accord is testimony to the difficulty. It's a difficulty that's eluded many U.S. administrations.”

Clinton traveled to Jerusalem from Egypt, where she discussed U.S. economic aid with President Mohamed Morsi and Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Stearns says all of Clinton's meetings in Israel will touch on Egypt's role in regional peace and assurances that Mr. Morsi made to Clinton that the country's new government will respect its 1979 peace accord with Israel.

The talks will also cover the ongoing negotiations about Iran's controversial nuclear program. 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.

Stearns says the State Department calls this an important moment in the so-called P5+1 talks with Iran, which include the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

“Israel has said many times that it believes Iran is playing for time and has reserved the right to strike militarily to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. While President Barack Obama says no option is off the table when it comes to Iran, clearly the United States would like to see successful negotiations to resolve the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program, short of an Israeli military strike.”

Several rounds of talks this year have yielded no progress. Both the United States and European Union have enacted sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports.

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