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And I'm Renee Montagne. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a lot of explaining to Arab leaders, and she'll probably be doing more tomorrow when she meets with the president of Egypt. At a meeting in Morocco she has already told Arab foreign ministers that American policy towards Israeli settlements has not changed despite what looked like a softening stance earlier in the week. NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with the secretary and has this report from Marrakesh, Morocco.
JACKIE NORTHAM: The regional conference in Marrakesh was a good opportunity for Secretary Clinton to meet with foreign ministers from many Arab and other nations and discuss important issues, including ways to revive the flagging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Instead of finding new ways to advance the process though, she's found herself having to clarify, explain and modify remarks she made in Jerusalem over the weekend, in which she was seen as praising an Israeli offer to slow � but not stop � the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
But that offer falls short of Palestinian demands to freeze all settlement construction as a precondition to sitting down at the negotiating table. Clinton's comments were widely criticized by Arab leaders. She sought to set the record straight during meetings with Arab foreign ministers.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): We discussed how the position of the Obama administration has not changed. We do not believe that settlements are legitimate. We have said that repeatedly, and we have made that clear to the Israelis, the Arabs, the Palestinians and the world.
NORTHAM: Clinton said it was important she put the facts on the table for her Arab counterparts. She said they asked at length what Israel is offering.
Secretary CLINTON: I think a number of my counterparts were not aware that what the Israeli government is offering would be an end to all new settlement activity in the West Bank. It would be an end to expropriation. It would mean an end to any permits or approvals.
NORTHAM: Still, Clinton said the Israeli proposal falls well short of the U.S. desire for a complete stop to construction. Clinton's handlers were firm she had not made a mistake in Jerusalem by omitting the Obama administration's stand on settlements. They said her need to clarify her remarks was simply public diplomacy. And her comments did seem to satisfy some Arab officials here in Marrakesh, including Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki.
Mr. RIAD MALKI (Palestinian Foreign Minister): We have heard her saying completely different than that particular statement in line with the previous statements. So we are happy that, you know, such position was highlighted and brought back to the right line, and right now we will see how things will go.
NORTHAM: Malki says he appreciates the effort made by the Obama administration to make the Israeli/Palestinian issue a top priority.
Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, says he has a lot of confidence that President Obama will not accept what he calls a slap in the face by Israel. But Moussa is overall pessimistic and says the U.S. may not be successful in its attempts to restart peace talks.
Mr. AMR MOUSSA (Arab League): I'm really afraid that we are about to see a failure. But I'll still wait until we have our meetings and decide what we're going to do. But failure is in the atmosphere all over.
NORTHAM: Clinton has another chance to make her case. She travels to Egypt later today and will sit down to a meeting tomorrow with President Hosni Mubarak � a key player in the effort to broker peace negotiations.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Marrakesh.
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