Egypt is focus as Clinton visits Israel after nearly two years (REUTERS) By Arshad Mohammed JERSALEM, ISRAEL 07/15/12 10:56pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli
officials will discuss on Monday Egypt´s political upheaval, Iran´s
nuclear program and the stymied Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Making her first trip to Israel in 22 months, and only her fourth
visit as secretary of state, Clinton´s talks will focus first and
foremost on the political transition in Egypt, where the Islamist
President Mohamed Mursi took office two weeks ago.
The downfall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year has
raised questions among Israelis about whether Egypt, the first Arab
nation to have made peace with Israel, will adhere to that treaty
under his Islamist successor.
Clinton flew to Israel from Egypt, where she held talks on Saturday
with Mursi, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, who told her Egypt
will respect its international treaties.
She also saw Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, head of the military
council that took over when Mubarak was ousted and that is vying for
influence with Mursi.
"At the top of it (her agenda) will be her impressions and assessment
of the last two days that she spent in Egypt," a senior U.S. official
told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"She is bringing a very calming message," Danny Ayalon, the Israeli
deputy foreign minister, told Israel Radio. "By their (the U.S.)
reckoning as well, Egypt´s agenda, and certainly President Mursi´s
agenda, will be a domestic agenda."
"He has to rehabilitate the economy there ... internal challenges
that are really of utmost importance," Ayalon added. "There is no
change (on Egypt´s commitment to the peace treaty) and in my estimate
there will not be in the foreseeable future."
Clinton anticipates a discussion about the Arab Spring, which not
only brought about Mubarak´s downfall in Egypt but also sparked what
has become a virtual civil war in Syria, leading to instability on
two of Israel´s borders.
The U.S. official said Clinton also expected to have lengthy talks
with Israeli officials about the Iranian nuclear program.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran of using its civilian
nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies
that its nuclear work has a military dimension, insisting it is for
electricity generation and medical needs.
The standoff over the issue has led the United States and other major
powers to adopt a two-track approach of negotiating with Iran to try
to curb its program while also imposing ever harsher economic
Israel, widely thought to be the only country in the Middle East with
a nuclear weapons capacity, has made clear it could strike Iran if
diplomacy fails to halt its nuclear work.
ISRAEL´S IRAN WINDOW CLOSING
"With negotiations with Iran stalled and Israel´s self-declared
window for action closing, the U.S. no doubt feels the need to keep
the Israelis in lock-step with Washington through intensive high-
level engagement," said Rob Danin, an analyst with the Council on
Foreign Relations who also advises Tony Blair, representative of the
Quartet of Middle East mediators.
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon visited Israel over
the weekend and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is due to visit
shortly, the senior U.S. official said, describing this as part of
normal, intense U.S.-Israeli engagement.
Clinton was scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman and President Shimon Peres.
She will also see Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad but not
President Mahmoud Abbas, whom she met on July 6 in Paris.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks froze in 2010 after Netanyahu rejected
Palestinian demands that he extend a partial freeze on settlement
construction that he had introduced at Washington´s behest.
Few diplomats expect any breakthrough ahead of the November 6 U.S.
The senior U.S. official said Clinton had worked hard for an Israeli-
Palestinian peace and failure of President Barack Obama´s
administration to achieve it reflected the intrinsic difficulty of
"Of course we would have liked to have been coming on this trip to
sign a peace deal," the official told reporters.
"The fact that we have been unable to do so is a testament to the
difficulty of the challenge but the fact that we´re still at it is a
testament to just how important the issue is to us and to her
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Christopher
Wilson in Washington.; Editing by Christopher Wilson) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 07/15/12)
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