The Diplomatic Fallout Of Israel's Flotilla Raid

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NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen talks to Michele Norris about the diplomatic fallout from Monday's Israeli raid on a ship carrying relief supplies destined for the besieged Gaza Strip. The Israeli operation, which left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead, will likely complicate the Obama administration's effort to sustain the precarious peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As we just heard, yesterday's events could have implications for U.S. policy in the region and it could strain the U.S. relationship with Israel.

For more, we're joined by NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, who's at the State Department.

And, Michele, I understand Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the subject this afternoon. What did she have to say?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, Michele, she took a pretty cautious line. She said the situation is very difficult. It requires - and this is a quote - "careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned."

The U.S. did support a Security Council statement on the issue that calls for a prompt and transparent and credible investigation. And Clinton said that the U.S. would support an Israeli investigation that meets those standards. But she also said the U.S. is open to international involvement in the investigation, and an official told us privately that the U.S. will push hard on that point to have the Israelis open this up for some international involvement.

NORRIS: When she talks about U.N. condemnation, what exactly does that mean? Will there be any further action?

KELEMEN: You know, it was a presidential statement and not a Security Council resolution, so you're not going to see anything being triggered right away. And Turkey's foreign minister, who is in town to meet Secretary Clinton today, he complained that it took 11 hours just to negotiate that statement at the U.N.

The foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, was clearly angry about that. He was also disappointed that the Obama administration didn't come out and condemn the Israeli action. An Israeli spokesman, on the other hand, thanked the U.S. today for, as he put it, watering down the statement at the U.N. Security Council.

NORRIS: As we know, relations between the White House and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been strained for months. In light of yesterday's events, how does the White House try to handle an already tense relationship going forward?

KELEMEN: Well, you're right. Relations are really tense. Netanyahu canceled his trip here. He was supposed to be here today. He canceled this trip here to deal with that crisis. But the fact that relations are tense also means that the U.S. may not have as much maneuvering room to really get tough with Netanyahu.

I mean, the Israelis say that for them, enforcing this embargo on Gaza is a matter of life and death. They don't want to see Hamas, which controls Gaza, be able to rearm, and the Obama administration has sided with Israel on that point. It's, you know, raised concerns about humanitarian needs in Gaza, but also says Israel has a right to defend itself.

I mean, one official here at the State Department on background even suggested that organizers of the flotilla were seeking a confrontation and, unfortunately, they got one.

NORRIS: An obvious question: What does this mean for the peace process?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, so far, the State Department is moving ahead. George Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy, is heading back to the region for these proximity talks. That means that he shuttles back and forth between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

On the hand one, it might be not so bad because since they're not talking directly, Abbas won't feel the need to pull out, so obviously, going to make it very difficult for them to focus on that.

NORRIS: Michele, thank you very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Michele Kelemen at the State Department.

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