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Issue 425 -- March 20 - 26, 2010
Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves To Ease Tension ‘Useful’
MOSCOW, March 20, 2010 — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that proposals offered by the Israeli government to settle a diplomatic dispute with the United States were “useful and productive,” though it was not clear how close Israel had come to meeting American demands.
Neither side has characterized the steps that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined in a call to Mrs. Clinton on Thursday night, a week after she called him with a rebuke and specific requests. But Mrs. Clinton’s comments on Friday signaled that the United States was eager to get past the dispute, which erupted after Israel announced a housing plan for Jews in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mrs. Clinton, at an international meeting on the Middle East in Moscow, said the United States was intent on starting indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, and was sending the administration’s special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell, to meet with Mr. Netanyahu about the housing dispute.
In a grueling 36 hours of diplomacy devoted to two of America’s most delicate relationships, Mrs. Clinton found herself trying to reinforce a new start with an old adversary, Russia, while bridging a rift with an old friend, Israel.
At the Friday meeting, the international group that focuses on the Middle East — the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — condemned Israel’s housing plan for the second time in a week. In a statement, the so-called quartet said it would “closely monitor developments in Jerusalem” and “keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation.”
Later on Friday, Mrs. Clinton met with President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime MinisterVladimir V. Putin. It was her first meeting as secretary of state with Mr. Putin, but in what was supposed to be a courtesy picture-taking session, he slouched in a chair and publicly ticked off a list of economic grievances.
The United States, he said, should lift sanctions against Russian companies that do business in Iran. He urged the United States to help speed Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization and to reduce barriers to Russian companies in the United States. “A message should be sent that they are welcomed in the economy of the United States,” Mr. Putin said.
Smiling stiffly, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged differences on trade, but said the United States was eager to solve them.
The quartet meeting came amid fresh fears about security in the Middle East. On Thursday night, Israel carried out airstrikes on six sites in the Gaza Strip in what it said was retaliation for a rocket attack from Gaza on a southern Israeli town that killed a Thai worker. The launching was claimed by a group challenging Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.
Even before Israel’s housing announcement almost two weeks ago, the forecast for the indirect, or “proximity,” peace talks was cloudy. The Palestinians were focused on an agenda that included borders and security, the Israelis on creating a procedural path toward direct negotiations. Mrs. Clinton urged the two sides to move forward.
“We all condemned the announcement, and we all are expecting both parties to move toward the proximity talks and to help create an atmosphere in which those talks can be constructive,” she said.
By reaching Mrs. Clinton the night before the quartet meeting, Mr. Netanyahu may have headed off an even sharper international condemnation. But given his defiant public statements about building in East Jerusalem, it was not clear he met the demands that Mrs. Clinton conveyed to him last week.
She asked him to reverse the housing plan, in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, and to freeze other building in East Jerusalem. She also asked him to pledge to enter into the substantive negotiations the Palestinians want. Israel has said it views the proximity talks as focusing only on procedural issues.
American and Israeli officials refused to detail Mr. Netanyahu’s offer, saying they wanted to negotiate in private.
The administration is setting off on a flurry of diplomatic activity. Mr. Mitchell plans a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday, and Mrs. Clinton and other top officials are likely to meet Mr. Netanyahu when he goes to Washington on Monday to address a meeting of a pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mrs. Clinton is also speaking to the group.
After a week in which some worried that Israel and the United States were on the brink of a historic clash, Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed the underlying strength of the countries’ ties. “Our relationship is ongoing,” she said. “It is deep and broad; it is strong and enduring.”
Israel, however, continued to face severe international pressure for its treatment of civilians in Gaza, where it has imposed a blockade on the delivery of virtually everything but humanitarian goods. “The quartet is deeply concerned by the continuing deterioration in Gaza,” its statement said.
For the first time, the quartet said it supported a plan by the Palestinian Authority to build a state within 24 months “as a demonstration of Palestinians’ serious commitment to an independent state that provides good governance, opportunity, and justice for the Palestinian people.”
In meeting with Mr. Medvedev, Mrs. Clinton was hoping to push a long-delayed nuclear arms treaty across the finish line. She said it was near completion, with all the major issues resolved.
But on another delicate issue, Iran, Russian officials indicated that they did not view the threat the way the United States did. The foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said there was much less cause for alarm from Iran’s nuclear program than news reports in the West have suggested.
Referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said, “Reports that the I.A.E.A. director general publishes on a regular basis contain very precise assessments that do not give reasons for any sort of alarm.”
As to how details about Iran’s nuclear activities become public, Mr. Lavrov said, “Of course we would prefer if those people who obtain that information publish it immediately, without any delay.”
That was most likely a reference to the fact that the Obama administration told the Russian government about the existence of a clandestine Iranian nuclear facility just before disclosing it to the world last September, which rankled Russian officials.
Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
Source: The New York Times, March 19, 2010