Clinton To Address AIPAC Conference

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled Monday to address a convention of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby. Her speech comes with the U.S. and Israeli governments at loggerheads over Israeli plans to build new housing in disputed East Jerusalem.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama administration's commitment to Israel's security is rock solid. But sometimes friends have to tell the truth when it's needed, and that's what she says she did when Israel announced new construction in East Jerusalem.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We objected to this announcement because we are committed to Israel and its security, which we believe depends on a comprehensive peace, because we are determined to keep moving forward along a path that ensures Israel's future as a secure and democratic Jewish state - living in peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors; and because we do not want to see the progress that has been made, in any way, in danger.

WERTHEIMER: Clinton was speaking this morning to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which has been hoping that she and others will tamp down a tense diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Israel over Jewish settlements. She is to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later today.

NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now.

Michele, what else did Clinton say about the dispute between the U.S. and Israel over the building projects in East Jerusalem?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, she said this construction in East Jerusalem, which is part of the - the part of the city that Palestinians claim as their future capital, and also construction in the West Bank - all of that undermines mutual trust and endangers these proximity talks - those are the indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that the U.S. is trying to nudge forward right now. Clinton said that the Israeli announcement undermines America's ability to play a role in the peace process; it really undermines U.S. credibility.

WERTHEIMER: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also speaking to AIPAC -that's tonight. Do you expect him to address U.S. concerns about that?

KELEMEN: You know, even before he flew here, he made clear that Israel is not going to stop building in East Jerusalem. He has a moratorium in the West Bank, but also, that's temporary and limited. But he has spoken to Secretary Clinton about some other confidence-building measures - you know, lifting blockades or easing movement for Palestinians in the West Bank. It's also been reported that he's agreed to talk to the Palestinians about all of the issues that are dividing them - the so-called core issues - and that includes the future of Jerusalem.

WERTHEIMER: Is that enough for the U.S. and Israel to put this dispute behind them?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, it was enough for Netanyahu is to get a meeting with President Obama - he's going to be meeting with the president tomorrow. So we'll see if that issue is really subsided or if there's more intense discussions behind the scenes, there. It was also enough for Secretary Clinton to send the U.S. peace envoy, George Mitchell, back to the region. Palestinians, of course, have been sounding much more cautious.

WERTHEIMER: U.S. envoy George Mitchell is shuttling between the two sides now, in these so-called proximity talks. Does that represent a real step?

KELEMEN: Well, it's not where the Obama administration wants to be. I mean, it came into office, calling for an all-out push for peace. And, you know, a year later, they don't even have direct talks going on right now, just these back and forth shuttling. But Clinton said again, today, the goal is to get direct talks going.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much...

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Michele Kelemen.

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