Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 3 Mar 2009 11:33 PM

Font Size

- Aa +

Clinton vows to work for Palestinian state

US Secretary of State presses "aggressive" Mideast diplomacy, also sending two envoys to Syria.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed her "aggressive" Middle East diplomacy on Tuesday, sending two envoys to Syria and vowing to work towards the creation of a Palestinian state.On her first visit to the region since being appointed by US President Barack Obama, Clinton said she would pursue a comprehensive peace plan while stressing that Israel could count on continued support from its staunchest ally.

She announced she was sending two members of her delegation to Syria, a longtime foe of the Jewish state with whom US relations have been strained for years.

"There are a number of issues we have between Syria and the United States as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses," she said after talks with outgoing Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni,

Clinton also stressed the US commitment to the creation of a viable Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel, a concept at the heart of efforts to end the decades-old Middle East conflict.

"It is our assessment ... that eventually, the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable."

"The first step right now ... is a durable ceasefire," Clinton said. "But that can only be achieved if Hamas ceases the rocket attacks."

Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, lashed out at the comments.

"The government considers the statements from Hillary Clinton to be the height of bias towards the Israeli occupation," Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nunu said in a statement.

Clinton also held talks with Israel's premier-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who is working to create a new government likely to be a right-wing coalition opposed to establishing a Palestinian state.

The hawkish Likud leader said he and Clinton "agreed to meet again after a government is formed and to work in tight cooperation in order to bring security, peace and prosperity to the region."

Gaza militants have been firing rockets at Israel, which responded with air strikes despite Egyptian efforts to forge a long-term ceasefire following the January 18 end of Israel's war on the Hamas-run territory that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Clinton said she looked forward to working with Israel's eventual new government, but added: "We might have opinions that we will express from time to time."

As premier in 1996, Netanyahu put the brakes on the Oslo peace process. He has said he will now focus on building up the Palestinian economy instead of immediately pushing for a final settlement.

The peace talks were revived in Annapolis in November 2007 but made little public progress and were frozen when the Gaza war broke out.

Obama has nevertheless vowed to actively pursue the peace process and has appointed a special envoy, veteran diplomat George Mitchell, to coax both sides back to the negotiating table.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly pointed to the threat of a nuclear Iran as their main concern.

"It is not an Israeli problem, it is a world problem," President Shimon Peres said after talks with Clinton.

Clinton said there was a shared understanding about the threat and that Washington would do all it could to deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, an ambition Tehran consistently denies.

"When we talk about engagement with Iran do not be in any way confused. Our goal remains the same... to dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and funding terror," she said.

At dinner with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Clinton stressed "not only my personal commitment but also that of my country to the fundamental and unshakeable bond that binds us to Israel's security and our enduring bonds of friendship."

On Wednesday, Clinton was to hold talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank political capital Ramallah.

Clinton arrived in Israel from Egypt, where she outlined her Middle East strategy at an conference on the post-war reconstruction of Gaza, for which international donors pledged 4.5 billion dollars.

"The US is prepared to engage in aggressive diplomacy with all sides in pursuit of a comprehensive settlement that brings peace and security to Israel and its Arab neighbours," she said on Monday.