Clinton Wraps Up Mideast Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled as unhelpful Israel's decision to destroy 55 houses in East Jerusalem. En route to Brussels, Clinton also said she will work to get restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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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. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her first Middle East tour today. She visited the West Bank before traveling on to Brussels. Secretary Clinton pledged to stay actively involved in promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And said she felt her trip to the region had laid the ground work for that commitment. NPR's Michele Kelemen has been traveling with the Secretary of State and sent this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton wasn't in the region to lay out new policies or positions, but rather to show a commitment to Arab Israeli peace and to get a sense of what's possible. Asked on the airplane on the way to Brussels how she sees her role, she said she will start off just trying to get talks going again.

HILLARY CLINTON: And I'm sure that as it goes forward many of us will be expressing those opinions and presenting position for the parties to consider. But at the end of the day, as I said earlier, no one can make a decision on whether or not there will be two states or a comprehensive peace settlement except those who are directly involved.

KELEMEN: She met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today. He raised concerns about the shift to the right in Israeli politics, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Israeli decision to destroy another 55 houses in East Jerusalem - on the grounds that they were constructed without permits. Abbas spoke through an interpreter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

MAHMOUD ABBAS: (Through Translator) These measures that the Israeli Government has decided to go forward with are completely rejected and at all levels. And we believe that it is a clear message to us that whoever is undertaking these measures does not want peace.

KELEMEN: At that same news conference in Ramallah, Secretary Clinton called the planned housing demolitions unhelpful.

CLINTON: It is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected. But the ramifications go far beyond the individuals and the families. So yet this will be taken up with the Israeli government.

KELEMEN: That is when a new Israeli government is in place. With coalition talks ongoing in the wake of inconclusive Israeli election, Clinton seemed to steer clear of some of the more sensitive issues in Jerusalem. But in the West Bank, she tried to reinforce her message that the U.S. is committed to helping the Palestinians have a future state.

CLINTON: Hi.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

CLINTON: Nice to meet you. Well, I'm excited to be here and meet all of you...

KELEMEN: The secretary dropped on 15 Palestinian high school students who are studying English in a U.S. funded program. Before leaving the West Bank for Europe, Clinton said that meeting these young people showed her what's at stake in Israeli Palestinian peace talks.

Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, Brussels.

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