Clinton to arrive in Israel to discuss Iran, peace

Clinton to meet with Netanyahu, Liberman, Barak and Peres; trip also counters Romney's upcoming visit.

Clinton Netanyahu happy  (photo credit: GPO)
Clinton Netanyahu happy
(photo credit: GPO)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Israel late on Sunday for meetings Monday with top Israeli leaders on Iran, Egypt, Syria and the frozen peace process with the Palestinians.
It is her first visit to Israel since September 2010.
Iran’s growing nuclear threat is expected to play a large role in her talks Monday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres.
But there is much speculation that Clinton’s trip is connected to the United States presidential race and it is timed to counter Jewish-American public perception that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel later this month means that he is more committed to Israel than the Obama administration.
During Clinton’s visit, it is expected that Israeli leaders will reiterate their request that the US free Jonathan Pollard, who has been in an American jail since 1987 for passing classified information to Israel.
The heads of the Knesset’s Jewish factions are expected to hand her a letter asking for Pollard’s freedom.
Clinton arrives in Israel after a short trip to Egypt. Since the recent election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi as president of Egypt, Israel has been concerned about the future of the peace treaty between the two countries.
Both Netanyahu and Peres have sent letters to Mursi speaking of the importance of the treaty to both countries.
On Saturday, the issue came up in a joint press conference with Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
Clinton said Mursi must stick by his pledge to uphold Egypt’s international commitments, which include the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Amr said Mursi had reiterated his commitment to Egypt’s treaties.
“Mohamed Mursi has repeatedly announced on all occasions that Egypt respects all peace treaties that Egypt is a party to as long as the other party also respects them,” he said.
Mursi had also made clear that Egypt remained committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with east Jerusalem as its capital, he said.
Clinton met Mursi on Saturday in the highest level meeting yet between a US official and a Muslim Brotherhood politician whose first days in office have been marred by a power struggle with Egypt’s still influential army leadership.
She reiterated Washington’s support for a country that was a cornerstone of US policy during Hosni Mubarak’s three decades in power but is now led by a man from a group outlawed during his rule.
Clinton is due to meet on Sunday with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the council of generals that oversaw the transition from Mubarak’s rule.
“The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails,” Clinton said during a news conference after her meeting with Mursi, commending the military council for its role during Egypt’s transition.
“But there is more work ahead. And I think the issues around the parliament [and] the constitution have to be resolved between and among Egyptians. I will look forward to discussing these issues tomorrow with Field Marshall Tantawi and in working to support the military’s return to a purely national security role.”
The army, which has been at the heart of power for six decades, moved to limit the power of the new civilian president even as voters were lining up to elect him, while enhancing their own authorities in a constitutional decree.
The generals also dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament on the grounds of a court ruling that had deemed the rules by which it was elected as unconstitutional.
But Mursi quickly challenged that decision, issuing a decree summoning the disbanded parliament just days after he took office and raising the heat in the power struggle.
Speaking ahead of Clinton’s arrival, senior US officials said she would urge Egypt’s civilian and military leaders to work together to complete a full transition to democratic rule.
“She is going to say, ‘You have to stick with it. You have to keep going,’” a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters traveling with Clinton.
“It is crucial that all of the stakeholders who need and have a voice in Egypt’s transition engage in a dialogue to answer the complicated questions around parliament and the constitution.”
“So she will encourage Tantawi, as she will encourage Mursi, and civil society, to engage in that dialogue and to avoid the kinds of confrontation that could potentially lead to the transition veering off track,” the official added.
The United States long held the Brotherhood at arm’s length and Clinton was asked if she regretted that successive administrations had supported a government in Egypt that worked to repress and marginalize the group, at times imprisoning Mursi.
“We worked with the government of the country at the time. We work with governments around the world. We agree with some of them.
We disagree with others of them,” said Clinton.
“We were consistent in promoting human rights and speaking out for an end to the emergency law, an end to political prisoners being detained.”