NPR Interview: Clinton Clears Up Settlement Issue
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working to reassure the Arab world. In particular, she's offering reassurances about U.S. policy toward Israel. The U.S., of course, is Israel's most important ally. But today in Cairo, Clinton insisted the U.S. does not approve of a long-running Israeli action - Israelis have expanded settlements throughout the West Bank. That makes it ever harder to imagine the creation of a Palestinian state.
Clinton's stop in Cairo today was an effort to reach out to leaders of one of the most important Arab countries. NPR's Jackie Northam sat down with Secretary Clinton earlier today in Cairo.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Secretary Clinton's trip was initially intended to shore up American credentials in Pakistan. But a Middle Eastern leg was added to her tour, and ended up becoming the focus of her week overseas. I spoke with her shortly before she was to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Madam Secretary, thank you very much for taking the time.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): Thank you.
NORTHAM: You're here in Cairo and about to meet with President Mubarak. Even though you started in Pakistan, most of your nine-day trip has been spent focusing on the Middle East. Now, as you're about to head back home, do you feel that you've been able to nudge the Israelis and the Palestinians a little bit closer to the negotiating table?
Sec. CLINTON: I think it's important to just put this in a broader perspective. The president always knew that this would be hard. Our goal is to re-launch negotiations as soon as practical and on the way to that, we're going to keep talking and listening and encouraging and prodding. When the United States leaves the field, we don't get the kind of forward movement that we think is necessary.
NORTHAM: You've spent a lot of time explaining to Arab states and others over the past few days what you meant in Jerusalem when you were talking about the Israeli West Bank settlements. And your comments were viewed by quite a number of people as praising Israel's proposal to slow, rather than halt, the construction. How much of a problem did your comments in Jerusalem create?
Sec. CLINTON: I don't think it created a long-term problem, but it certainly created a lot of questions. And the reason is because President Obama has tried to do something which no previous American president, including my husband, tried to do, which was to make absolutely clear what has been American policy for 40 years - namely, that we view Israeli settlement activity as not legitimate.
And then when the Israeli government under this prime minister said we will agree to end all new settlement activity, that was really unprecedented as well. I have taken the position that when the Israelis or when the Palestinians make a positive step, they should be encouraged.
So I think my job is to try to keep people focused on what is actually both possible and positive. And the Israeli offer was not at all what we would prefer. It did not go far enough, but it went further than anybody has before.
NORTHAM: We've seen Hamid Karzai declared the winner of Afghanistan's presidential elections while you were on this trip. There have long been concerns about his credibility and whether he can be counted upon as an ally of the U.S. And now that he has been re-elected, is the Obama administration more confident now that you it depend on him, or is this sort of a wait-and- see situation?
Sec. CLINTON: Well, I spoke with President Karzai after the election results were announced. I told him that we now had a lot of work to do, and there were expectations on both sides.
But certainly from the American perspective, we believed it was important for him to establish a compact with the people of Afghanistan that would commit him and his new government to an anticorruption campaign, to more accountability and transparency; that they have to work with us to build an adequate Afghan security force. So we are laying out very clear expectations. We're willing to offer our assistance, but we're going to hold the government of Afghanistan accountable.
NORTHAM: Secretary of State Clinton, thank you very much.
Sec. CLINTON: Thank you, Jackie. Good to talk with you.
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