US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem today. Clinton stressed that Israel could count on continued support from the US, but also said the Obama Administration will work hard towards an independent Palestinian state. Correspondent Linda Gradstein reports.
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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Jerusalem today where she held talks with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Designate Benjamin Netanyahu. As Linda Gradstein reports, Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. will work hard toward an independent Palestinian state.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: During her first visit to Jerusalem as Secretary of State, there were warm smiles and embraces and no hint of any tensions between the U.S. and Israel. Yet some of Clinton's statements, such as this one, made during a news conference with foreign minister Tzipi Livni, hinted that the future may be rocky.
HILLARY CLINTON: It is our assessment that eventually, the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution seems inescapable. That doesn't mean that we don't respect the opinions of others who see it differently, but from my perspective and from the perspective of the Obama administration, time is of the essence on a number of issues, not only on the Iranian threat. And we happen to believe that moving toward the two-state solution, step by step, is in Israel's best interests.
GRADSTEIN: â€˜Others who see it differently' seemed to point directly to Benjamin Netanyahu, who has consistently opposed a Palestinian state. After last month's inconclusive elections, Netanyahu asked Livni to join him in a national unity government, but she turned him down because he refused to say he supports a Palestinian state. That leaves Netanyahu with an array of hard-line and ultra-Orthodox parties, all of whom are pushing for settlement expansion in the West Bank, and most of whom oppose a Palestinian state. Netanyahu also met Secretary Clinton today, and said they had found common ground on the issue of Iran. Speaking before their meeting, Secretary Clinton hinted that she expects some disagreements with the future Netanyahu government.
CLINTON: Now, that doesn't mean that, as good friends, which we are, we might not have opinions that we will express from time to time. And certainly, having been on the receiving end, I know that Israel is not shy about expressing opinions about our policies. So I think that that's the nature of our relationship. I think that's one of the reasons why it is so dynamic and vibrant is we are two vigorous democracies that have a broad range of opinions within our countries and between our countries.
GRADSTEIN: Yet, she said the U.S. and Israel share a fundamental alliance, which has stood the test of all governments and parties. On the issue of Iran, Israeli officials have been skeptical about President Obama's intentions to open a dialogue with Tehran. Secretary Clinton insists the U.S. continues to oppose Iran going nuclear.
CLINTON: 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. It happens to be a goal that is shared not only with Israel, but with many countries that view Iran through the same prism that we do.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli Foreign Minister Livni said Israel is growing increasingly worried about the Iranian nuclear program.
TZIPI LIVNI: There is an understanding that time is of the essence. I mean, while we are talking here, Iran tries to continue and pursue the weapon in order to express its horrific ideology.
GRADSTEIN: As regards another Israeli enemy, Secretary Clinton also said she is sending two envoys to Damascus for what she called preliminary conversations. It was the strongest signal yet that the U.S. would like to renew ties with Syria. For The World, I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.