Clinton On Mideast Talks: Pursue Peace This Year

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas begin the second round of U.S. mediated talks in Egypt Tuesday. Secretary of State Clinton is there promising the U.S. will play a serious role in the negotiations. Her first task is to make sure the talks don't break down right away over the issue of settlements, since an Israeli moratorium is set to expire later this month.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh, trying to help Israelis and Palestinians over the first big hurdle in their peace talks. A partial moratorium on Israeli settlement building expires later this month, and Palestinians say they will walk out of the talks unless it's extended.�

Before meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton told reporters on board her plane shes encouraging them to find them to find a way to resolve the issue.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): For both of these men this is a moment of great opportunity as well as challenge. And what we're attempting to do is to encourage them to pursue this chance for peace this year because neither of them can predict the consequences if this effort does not continue forward.

WERTHEIMER: NPRs Michele Kelemen is traveling with the Secretary Clinton and she joins us now from Egypt.

Michele, what are the potential compromises here?�

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, you know, Clinton said she has again called on Netanyahu to extend the moratorium. He's ruled that out, but is apparently showing some flexibility, suggesting that he could restrain some building.

Clinton's also suggesting that there's room for compromise, but says both Netanyahu and Abbas have to make sure that these talks continue, that they don't collapse over this issue.

One idea, of course, is just to start talking about the borders, because if they can agree broadly on that, Israel will be able to build in areas that will remain part of Israel and would have to constrain building in more contested areas. These are the kinds of things they're talking about.

And I should say that, you know, Clinton pointed out that she got a lot of criticism last year when she stood by Netanyahu and called this moratorium unprecedented. And now Palestinians say they're going to walk out of talks if this is not continued. So she's clearly trying to get past this whole dispute, because it's been a problem for her for a year now.

WERTHEIMER: What could the Palestinians do?�

KELEMEN: Well, what Netanyahu wants is for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people just as a Palestinian state would be a homeland for the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been reluctant to do that, because they don't want to be seen as giving up on the Palestinian refugee issue, which is one of the core issues.

But this is another area that U.S. officials are trying to finesse this week, trying to keep the two men talking. You know, as Clinton says, there's going to be no deal at all if they stop talking. The only way for a future Palestinian state is for negotiations.

Security is another high issue on the agenda for Israel. And the U.S. wants to hear the Palestinians talk about that in a different way.

WERTHEIMER: So what's the next step?

KELEMEN: The talks move from here, from Egypt to Jerusalem tomorrow, and thats really where U.S. officials see the two men getting down to business.�They want these talks to continue every two weeks. There's a lot of skepticism, obviously. But U.S. officials say these two men have committed themselves to this, that they're saying the right things and that both men know that time is running out for a two-state solution. That's at least what U.S. officials seem to think.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Michele.

KELEMEN: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Michele Kelemen at the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

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