Clinton Visits Israel On Mideast Tour

Secretary of State Clinton is meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem Monday. U.S. relations with Israel have focused less on the Palestinian situation, and more on the chances of a war against Iran.

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She doesn't plan to be the nation's top diplomat for much longer, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues drawing attention wherever she goes. Over the weekend, she sat with the newly elected president of Egypt. Today, she is in Jerusalem, meeting mostly with Israeli leaders, though a talk with the Palestinian prime minister is included. U.S. relations with Israel this year focused less on the Palestinian situation and more on the chances of war against Iran.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is covering the story from Israel.

Hi, Lourdes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: OK. Given that Hillary Clinton is mainly meeting Israelis, is Iran actually the main subject, here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. A flurry of meetings with Israeli officials, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli president Shimon Peres. The secretary hasn't been here for two years. So this visit is getting a lot of scrutiny, and there's a lot of talk about a number of issues. And as you mentioned, Iran is really top of the agenda.

The talks with Iran on suspect nuclear programs have not been going well with the international community, and Israel's pushing for tougher sanctions, more action. They've always seen these negotiations with Iran as a waste of time. We've seen a number of visits in recent weeks of U.S. officials - most recently, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Secretary Clinton is being accompanied today by the top U.S. negotiator at the talks with Iran, Wendy Sherman. Again, a lot of speculation here about what Israel may be planning, whether or not it will launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facility. So, certainly, that is going to be top of the agenda.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, both sides seem to have made it clear where they stand. What can they be telling each other at this point?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, that's anyone's good guess, obviously. You know, Secretary Clinton has a lot on her plate, here. It's not only Iran that she'll be discussing, but she's just come from a very important visit to Egypt, where she met with the military and the newly-elected Egyptian president. There's a lot of concern here about the status of the relationship between those two countries, especially because we've seen a lot of trouble in the Sinai desert of Egypt, which abuts Israel to the south. A number of attacks have been launched from there, and it's become increasingly lawless.

U.S. officials traveling with the secretary say she will be reassuring Israel that the message she got from Egyptian leaders is that the peace treaty with Israel will remain intact, and so she'll be discussing that and also, of course, Syria.

INSKEEP: And I guess it's worth dwelling on that for a moment, because Israelis have been so anxious about the change of government in Egypt. Are they feeling any calmer, as time goes on, that the basic relationship between Israel and Egypt will remain the same, even if maybe the politics will be a little tougher?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it's certainly what Israeli officials have been saying. They say that they don't see in the near term future a change in that relationship. But Egypt is in flux. We really don't know what's happening in Egypt. We really don't know what the power struggle between the Egyptian president and the Egyptian military, how that will play out. And so Israel, of course, is watching that very, very closely. In the short term, they really are concerned, though, about security a long their southern border. There is a lot of concern about that, and they really want to have those close ties with Egypt in order to protect themselves fundamentally.

INSKEEP: We're getting a sense here of the complexity of the Israeli situation. We've talked about Iran. We've talked about changes in Israel's neighbor, Egypt. Is there any energy left at all to deal with the Palestinian situation, Lourdes?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the secretary is only having one meeting with the Palestinians and not with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The official version given by the Palestinians is that this is no big deal. The secretary met with Palestinian President Abbas earlier this month in Paris, so there's no need. And she is meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem today.

But, as you know, here in the Middle East, symbolism often matters as much as substance. And the fact that this is the highest level U.S. administration official to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in two years - and she's not visiting Ramallah, not seeing the Palestinian president - well, it's being viewed in the West Bank as a deliberate snub. And so that isn't going down terribly well. And it's also, I think, points to something that we are seeing here, which is that, you know, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not on the agenda. It's in a deep freeze.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Israel. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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