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Clinton offers US solidarity in trip to Israel; talks focus on Syria, Iran nuclear program
JERUSALEM (AP) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham and Israel's president spoke Monday about the need to halt Syria's violence and Iran's potential production of nuclear weapons, underscoring American support for an ally in a difficult neighborhood.
Clinton met President Shimon Peres for about an hour as part of what is perhaps her final visit to Israel as secretary of state, bringing a message of solidarity to the Jewish state after three-and-a-half years of only stunted progress toward a Palestinian peace deal.
After their visit, they each issued a statement to reporters without taking questions. Peres spoke about the importance of maintaining Israel's three-decade peace with Egypt, and decried the violence in neighboring Syria.
He also voiced support for the Obama administration's pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear activities which has sometimes been a point of contention between a cautious U.S. keen to give negotiations and sanctions time to work and an Israeli government that has threatened military action.
Clinton said she spoke with Peres about "Egypt and Syria, peace efforts, Iran and other regional and global issues." She said she'd speak in greater detail later Monday, after meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
She returns to Washington early Tuesday, ending a 12-day, nine-country trip that included stops in Europe and Asia.
Her visit to Israel follows a weekend visit by President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Israel soon.
Although Monday's agenda is designed to cover the breadth of U.S.-Israeli relations, the lack of action on peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be in the spotlight.
Negotiations have almost been nonexistent for the duration of Obama's term in office. They resumed briefly two years ago before stumbling over the same set of problems, namely Palestinian demands for a freeze on Jewish settlements in lands they seek for their future state and an Israeli insistence on no preconditions for talks.
Asked in an interview Sunday with WJLA-TV, a Washington D.C. station, what he believed he failed at, Obama cited Arab-Israeli peace efforts.
"I have not been able to move the peace process forward in the Middle East the way I wanted," he said. "It's something we focused on very early. But the truth of the matter is that the parties, they've got to want it as well."
Clinton hasn't visited Israel since September 2010. With little to show for U.S. efforts on a two-state peace agreement and a hectic schedule before she steps down as secretary of state next year, it is unlikely she'll return. Clinton has said she would leave the post, even if Obama wins a second term.
The flurry of visits by top U.S. officials to Israel could reflect an administration attempt to shore up Obama's support among Jewish voters as the election nears. The president has pushed back forcefully against Republican claims that he is weak in defending Israel's security, and GOP candidate Mitt Romney is planning to visit Israel later this month.