Lieberman: Israel and US agree on 19 of 20 topics

Lieberman says all parties are reconsidering the Iran situation in light of post-election chaos.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman tried to play down differences between the United States and Israel during his trip here Thursday, saying that the countries agree on most points and have a strong relationship. "There can be a disagreement on one issue," he told Israeli reporters, referring to settlements. "There are at least 20 different issues and I think that for 19 of the issues there is understanding and agreement." He added that "on both sides there is a desire to reach agreement, even on this point." Yet Lieberman reiterated that natural growth in the settlements would continue, saying, "We are not prepared to strangle our own people." He made a similar declaration while standing beside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the day before. He said the meetings with Clinton and other top US officials during his first visit as foreign minister have focused primarily on topics including Iran, Syria, terrorism and the peace process rather than settlements. Lieberman described all parties as reconsidering the situation in Iran in light of the recent chaos there following the presidential election last week. Israel has been skeptical of the American approach of diplomatic outreach to Iran, and some have questioned its feasibility as protests have rocked the Islamic Republic. At Wednesday's joint press conference with Lieberman, Clinton spoke of the importance of engagement and the US commitment to that path. But there are indications that the US may be recalculating its approach given the unfolding events, including a New York Times report on Thursday that Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, among others in the administration, are pushing for a more aggressive posture in favor of the protesters. When asked about the Times report, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley stressed that there was no "daylight between the position of the president and the position of the secretary of state," but he did acknowledge that the pace of events and America's response were fluid ones. "This is not a static situation," he said. "I think we are trying to assess the situation on a day- to-day basis." Despite Lieberman's clear-cut refusal to compromise on natural growth in settlements, Crowley echoed the opening that Clinton implied at Wednesday's press conference toward working out a compromise. Crowley pointed out that Middle East envoy George Mitchell would be meeting next week in Paris with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "to continue this discussion." While he emphasized the American position that "there should be a stop to all settlements," Crowley also referred to Mitchell's own recent statement that the process was a negotiation between all the parties involved.