State Department: US opposes unilateral moves by PA

Joe Lieberman Iran fail

The US is opposed to the Palestinian plan to pursue unilateral statehood at the UN, a State Department official said Monday night. "We support the creation of a Palestinian state," spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters, but "we are convinced that has to be achieved through negotiations between two parties." On Monday a visiting delegation of US lawmakers slammed the idea as a "waste of time" and said America would likely veto such a proposal should it come before the Security Council. They called on the leaders of the Arab world not to support the measure, and to get behind the United States in its call for both Israelis and Palestinians to return to the bargaining table. "I presume the American delegation to the Security Council would veto such a resolution," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) told reporters in Jerusalem, at a press event organized by the Saban Forum. "The proposal is dead on arrival, it is going nowhere," said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Delaware). Lieberman added, "I call on our allies in the Arab world to stop this now. It is going be a destructive waste of time. Let us do everything we can to get Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table; that is the way to make progress here." He spoke as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas started lobbying abroad this week for recognition of an independent Palestinian state at the United Nations, his adviser Saeb Erekat said. Abbas will consult in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday and then travel across Latin America to pitch a bid for UN acceptance of Palestinian statehood, Erekat said at a news conference in Ramallah. He plans to visit Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. "The Palestinian leadership calls on the world to support this step," Erekat said, adding that letters had been sent seeking support from members of the European Union. Abbas has turned to the UN after Israel and the US failed to heed his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction as a precondition to restarting the negotiations, which have been stalled since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in March. Netanyahu has said that he is prepared to begin talks immediately, without preconditions. It was a statement he repeated at the Saban Forum on Sunday night. He threatened that should the Palestinians unilaterally declare statehood, Israel would know how to respond. At the Likud faction meeting on Monday in the Knesset, the prime minister ducked a question by MK Danny Danon on what unilateral moves he might be planning in response to a Palestinian declaration, and instead repeated his objection to it. "A unilateral Palestinian declaration establishing a state would have no significance and would be an additional mistake on the part of the Palestinian leadership, who never miss an opportunity to make a mistake," Netanyahu said. "Israel is not obligated to respond to irrelevant declarations, but it is clear that it breaks all ground rules, and it would open to Israel a whole range of possible responses." A source in the Prime Minister's Office said that Netanyahu has been deliberately vague in his statements about unilateral countermeasures, because at this point he just wanted the Palestinians to know that he would respond. Also on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "Israel has an interest in making an agreement with the Palestinians" that would end the conflict, and the "occupation" that began in 1967, "so that Israel will not control another people." He added that, "Israel is strong enough to make tough decisions, even if they are not easy." Sen. Lieberman, who along with other US lawmakers met with Netanyahu on Monday, said the prime minister, "seemed forward-leaning about wanting to get back to the negotiations." Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), who also chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that the Palestinians' pursuit of unilateral statehood gives the impression that they have given up. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-South Carolina) said there is a "window of opportunity, if people would step up to the plate and exercise leadership." He added that a state, so necessary to ensure a better life for the Palestinian people, would not be secured by a unilateral resolution "that would take a desperate situation and make it more chaotic than it already is." As they spoke, Jordan's King Abdullah affirmed his support for a two-state vision, according to the Monsters and Critics news blog. He told a visiting delegation from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Israel should choose between peace and continuing to live with a "fortress mentality," according to a royal court statement. "The king underscored the importance of support by all parties, including the US Jewish organizations, for current efforts aimed at accomplishing the two-state solution which represents the cornerstone for peace and guarantees the rights of all parties in the region," the statement said. "Israel should choose between peace that ensures its security and recognition in accordance with the Arab peace initiative, and sticking to the fortress mentality in a region that faces the potential of continuous conflicts," the monarch was quoted as telling the AIPAC delegation. Lieberman also said that Iran has "failed the test" for positive engagement with the West. He called for the US to impose stiffer economic sanctions on Iran at the start of 2010 and to move away from diplomatic overtures. Lieberman is a strong backer of a bill before the US Congress that seeks to block Iran's ability to import refined petroleum. He said he had supported US President Barack Obama's attempts to use diplomacy to thwart Iran's push for nuclear weapons. Iran has responded to the US "with a clenched fist" and has continued to enrich uranium, Lieberman said. The time had come to move onto "phase 2," in America's approach to Iran, Lieberman said. Phase 2 is "more pressure on Iran quickly. My own conclusion is that the only thing that Iran's regime wants more than nuclear weapons is the survival of its regime. I hope through economic sanctions we can bring them to the table," said Lieberman. Graham said that there is a "short time clock" with which to act and that the Obama administration takes the issue very seriously. He added that, "we understand pretty clearly that [Iran] is cheating," in its reporting of its nuclear capability. From the perspective of American security, this is very serious, said Lieberman. "If Iran gets nuclear weapons it will be world-transforming. It will destabilize the Middle East," he said. "It will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East because it will end the non-proliferation regime globally. It will be a tremendous boost to Islamic terrorism. So trust me, take this matter very seriously," said Lieberman. AP contributed to this report.