Clinton Arrives in Israel to Discuss Iran, Syria, Egypt

Clinton Arrives in Israel to Discuss Iran, Egypt Transition
Israeli President Shimon Peres, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attend a joint press conference in Jerusalem. Photographer: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel for meetings on regional issues including upheaval in the Arab world and Iran’s nuclear program.

Clinton flew in late yesterday from Egypt, where she urged Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, and newly elected President Mohamed Mursi to honor the country’s 33-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

“The rise of President Mursi to power has aroused great concern,” Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said today on Army Radio. He said the U.S. was trying to bridge the gaps between Israel and Egypt.

Israel faces a series of challenges as unrest and change sweep through its neighbors -- Syria is 16 months into a bloody uprising that’s claimed at least 10,000 lives, while Egypt’s transition to democracy has been marred by violence and by a political struggle between Islamists and the military. Meanwhile, Iran continues a nuclear program that the U.S. and its allies say is designed to produce nuclear weapons.

Clinton outlined her conversations with the Egyptian leaders in a meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman this morning, according to a State Department official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. In Cairo, Clinton stressed the benefits the Camp David peace accords have brought Egypt, reminding Mursi that a generation has grown up free of conflict. Egypt and Israel fought four wars from 1948 to 1973.

Since being sworn in on June 30, Mursi has vowed to uphold Egypt’s international commitments, though he’s also pledged support for the Palestinians in their quest for a homeland.

Romney Visit

Clinton is the third U.S. official to come through Jerusalem in the last week, following White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. She is also here before two weeks before a visit by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

The parade of administration officials attests to close relations between the two countries, said the official. She’s visiting in a U.S. election year, when relations between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been strained over issues including the response to Iran’s nuclear work. Netanyahu and Romney, in contrast, both worked as advisers at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s.

Clinton also discussed continuing international efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, the official said. The Obama administration has urged Israel to refrain from a threatened military attack on Iran to see if negotiations and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies will work. Iran says the program has peaceful aims.

Iran Nuclear

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who represents the U.S. at meetings of the international group working on countering Iran’s nuclear program, sat to Clinton’s right at the meeting with Liberman. The so-called P5+1 group includes all five members of the United Nations Security Council -- China, Russia, the U.S., Britain and France -- as well as Germany.

Speaking today in Jerusalem at a press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Shimon Peres said Israel will do whatever it can to prevent Iran “endangering the freedom of other people, from endangering the lives of other people.”

Clinton is also meeting Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during her 24-hour stop in Jerusalem. She met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris July 6.

Blair Meeting

Clinton will seek the Israelis’ assessment of the situation in Syria, which borders Israel to the north, the official said.

She will also spend time reviewing the status of the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who now represents the UN in talks among the “Quartet” trying to resolve the long-running conflict. That group includes the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia.

In her meetings with Fayyad, she will focus on economic challenges, institution-building, training needs and the political situation, the official said.

On Clinton’s entrance to Jerusalem and on her way into the foreign ministry to meet with Liberman, enormous red-white-and blue banners urged the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst who was convicted to life in prison in 1987 after he was caught passing classified information to Israel.

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