Clinton urges Israel to make difficult choices for peace

WASHINGTON, Lachlan Carmichael - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged Israel to make "difficult but necessary choices" for Middle East peace as she warned that Jewish settlements undermine fresh negotiations.
But Clinton also told the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC -- which is worried about the open rift between the allies over settlements -- that US support for Israel's security is "rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)
The chief US diplomat said President Barack Obama's administration will take the time to develop biting sanctions against Israel's archfoe Iran but will not "compromise its commitment" to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful nuclear energy.
Clinton dismissed suggestions that the US reaction to Israel's March 9 settlement announcement, which came during a visit to Israel by US Vice President Joe Biden to highlight new peace talks, was one of "wounded pride."
She told the annual policy conference at AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that Washington had to condemn the 1,600 new homes for annexed east Jerusalem in order to preserve trust and ensure Israeli-Palestinian talks go ahead as agreed.
She firmly repeated US opposition to the settlements in east Jerusalem -- which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue -- as well as in the West Bank.
The Palestinians, who want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, have threatened to drop the indirect talks, the first negotiations in any format since Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.
She said new construction "undermines" Washington as a credible mediator that must be ready to both praise and condemn actions on both sides. As a friend, she added, Washington must tell "the truth when it is needed."
In her speech to the estimated 7,500 AIPAC delegates, she also accused the Palestinians of inciting violence by mischaracterizing the re-opening of a synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City as an attack on Muslims.
The secretary also urged Netanyahu, with whom she was to have private talks in Washington, to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli blockade.
She said the path to peace "requires all parties -- including Israel -- to make difficult but necessary choices," adding the status quo will only lead to more violence.
Clinton's spokesman Philip Crowley said Netanyahu switched venues for the talks from the State Department to his hotel, as is a visiting dignitary's prerogative, but told reporters not to "read anything into it."
US officials said meanwhile that Tuesday's White House meeting between Obama and Netanyahu will be a private dinner and, as with Clinton, will have no media availability or photo-op.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was challenged on whether the relationship was too tense for the two leaders to appear together before media cameras, before or after the early evening talks in the dining room off of the Oval Office.
"This is just how the coverage of the meeting is going to go," Gibbs said.
There was no media availability the previous time Netanyahu visited the White House, last May.
Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem said the Israeli leader's speech to AIPAC will touch on the perceived Iranian threat, Israel's security, the status of Jerusalem, the peace process, and US-Israeli relations.
"Armed with a nuclear weapon, Iran risks ending the era of nuclear peace that the world has enjoyed for 65 years," according to an excerpt.
He will also declare that "Jerusalem is not a settlement," his office said.
AIPAC panelists warn the row over settler homes might distract from efforts to curb Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the United States and Israel fear masks a bid to build an atomic bomb.
Israel has threatened pre-emptive military strikes against Iran.
But Clinton said the Obama administration is determined to prevent the Islamic republic from acquiring nuclear weapons through "sanctions that will bite.
"It is taking time to produce these sanctions, and we believe that time is a worthwhile investment for winning the broadest possible support for our efforts," she said.
US bids to push through a fourth set of sanctions have run into opposition from China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council with growing trade ties with Iran.

Monday, March 22nd 2010
Lachlan Carmichael

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