Wrapping up a whirlwind trip to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the U.S. and Israel are “on the same page at this moment” in terms of how to deal with Iran and vowed to use “all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Echoing the growing skepticism expressed by Israeli officials regarding talks between Iran and six major nations aimed at curbing Tehran’s uranium enrichment program, Clinton said the Islamic Republic’s responses to date have been “nonstarters. Despite three rounds of talks it appears that Iran has yet to make a strategic decision to address the international community’s concerns.”
At the same time, Clinton also called on Israeli leaders to do their part to further regional peace by showing the “courage and creativity” needed to end the conflict with Palestinians.
“We know that the status quo is unsustainable,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem after a day filled with meetings. “The proof is in the security threats Israel faces: rocket attacks, terrorist threats, challenges in Gaza and [its] borders.”
Clinton’s 24-hour stop in Jerusalem after her weekend meeting with newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is her first trip to Israel in two years and probably her last as secretary of State. She has announced plans to step down after the election.
The primary goal of the trip was to “compare notes with the Israelis on the Iranian threat, both with respect to the nuclear program and with respect to its activities in the region,” according to a senior State Department official.
Over the last year, the Obama administration has dispatched numerous senior diplomats and security officials to consult with Israel about Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta is expected to arrive later this month.
American officials are staying in close contact with Israel regarding talks being carried out by the U.S. and five other major powers: Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany. Israel, believed to be the region’s only nuclear power, has threatened to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities if international efforts fail.
Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. U.S. officials disagree, but believe there is still time for diplomacy and worry that a unilateral Israeli attack would spark a regional war.
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have softened their rhetoric about attacking Iran, though they insist that the option remains on the table.
In remarks before his meeting with Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of “our common effort to make sure that Iran not achieve its ambition of developing nuclear weapons.”
In addition to dinner with Netanyahu, Clinton met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. She also held talks with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Though her visit brought no visible progress in jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Clinton encouraged Netanyahu to offer a package of incentives, including releasing some Palestinian prisoners, to persuade the Palestinian Authority to drop its threat to seek statehood recognition from the United Nations General Assembly.
Asked whether she regretted that the Obama administration had failed to make more progress on the issue, Clinton said ultimately the Israelis and Palestinians bear the responsibility.
“It’s up to the parties to do the hard work,” she said. “To those who say the timing isn’t right, the other side has to move first, or the trust just isn’t there, I say peace won’t wait.”
Coming on the heels of Clinton’s Egypt trip, the visit was also an attempt to bridge the growing divide between Israel and Egypt and encourage the two neighbors to maintain their 1979 peace accord. Morsi, until recently a Muslim Brotherhood leader, has assured the world that Egypt will abide by the treaty, but his talk of making adjustments to it has raised concerns in Israel.
Clinton’s trip comes as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney prepares to make his visit this month to meet with government officials, raise money and lay out his Mideast peace strategy, according to Israeli news reports.
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