In Israel, Clinton Backs Two-State Solution

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Tuesday to promote Arab-Israeli peace, saying a two-state solution to the decades-old issue was "inescapable." Clinton also signaled a potential diplomatic opening with Syria.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour in Israel, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met today with Prime Minister Designate Benjamin Netanyahu. She said she will work with the new government once it's in place to try to promote Arab-Israeli peace. Secretary Clinton also signaled a potential opening with Syria, which engaged in some indirect peace talks with Israel last year. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary of state and has this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton says she'll soon be sending two envoys to Syria, a country that was shunned by the Bush administration as an ally of Iran and a sponsor of terrorism.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be. Again, we don't engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them, there has to be some perceived benefit accruing to the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations.

KELEMEN: Two Middle East advisors traveling with her now, a former ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffery Feltman and Dan Shapiro from President Obama's National Security Council, are to head to Damascus in the coming days. The Obama administration has also signaled an interest in engaging Iran, but Clinton heard plenty of concerns about that from Israeli leaders today, though Israel just went through inconclusive elections and politicians are in the midst of coalition talks. Outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made clear to Secretary Clinton in her meeting that there is a consensus when it comes to Iran.

Ms. TZIPI LIVNI (Israeli Foreign Minister): Nobody - really nobody wants to see Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Clearly there is another understanding that such sanctions are effective, but they were not effective enough.

KELEMEN: Israeli officials want to see tougher sanctions go hand in hand with any diplomatic engagement. Secretary Clinton says no one should be confused about the Obama administration's intentions when it talks about engaging Iran. The goal, she said, is to dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and continuing to fund terrorism. Her goal in Jerusalem today, and tomorrow in the West Bank, is to figure out what's possible in terms of promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Secretary CLINTON: 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.

KELEMEN: That was about as close as she came to staking out positions that may clash with whatever government Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu can cobble together. She met with Netanyahu, who has raised doubts about peace talks with the Palestinians. He told reporters that he found common language with Clinton today. The secretary, at least in public, did not press Israel to lift its blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. She put the onus on Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel, and she repeatedly talked about the Obama administration's unshakeable support for Israel's security.

(Soundbite of choir)

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton said she was moved by her visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, where a chorus sang before she laid a wreath in memory of millions of Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. She called it a powerful reminder of why the U.S. is working hard to advance the peace and security of Israel. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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