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Clinton Pledges Ongoing, High-Level US Engagement in Middle East

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday pledged an ongoing high-level effort by the Obama administration to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  Clinton said U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, just back from his first trip to the region, will return later this month. 

The dispatch of former Senator Mitchell to the Middle East was the first major foreign policy action by the new administration, and Clinton and Mitchell are promising the U.S. mediation effort will be serious and sustained.

Mitchell Mideast trip billed as 'listening tour'

The Secretary met Mitchell only hours after his return from the region and both spoke to reporters to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the peace process.  Mitchell said all those with whom he met expressed gratitude for President Obama's prompt action in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he described as difficult, but not insoluble.

"The situation is obviously complex and difficult.  And there are no easy or risk-free courses of action," Mitchell noted.  "But I am convinced, after a week there, that my original assessment that with patient, determined and persevering diplomacy, we can help to make a difference and that we can assist those in the region achieve the peace and stability that people on all sides long for."

Mitchell met with leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and also visited Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on the week-long mission that was billed as listening tour, but was also aimed at reinforcing the new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The truce continues to be marred by occasional rocket fire into Israel from Gaza.  In her remarks, Secretary Clinton said the Obama administration is committed to working with all of those who will act in good faith to resolve the problems of the region. 

Clinton: Hamas must renounce violence

But under questioning she said there will be no engagement with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel, and agrees to abide by prior agreements by the Palestinian Authority.

"Hamas knows that it must stop the rocket fire into Israel.  There were rockets yesterday.  There were rockets this morning. And it is very difficult to ask any nation to do anything other than defend itself in the wake of that kind of consistent attack," Clinton said.  "So that is not new news, you know what our position is.  It is something that the President has set forth.  We are not able to look into the future to see whether there will be changes on the part of Hamas that would meet our conditions.  But certainly that would be a clear path for them to follow."

Clinton commended Egypt for its role in helping negotiate the cease-fire and said Mitchell returned with ideas for how to better mobilize humanitarian relief for Gaza.   She said an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza - alongside Israel - remains the goal of U.S. policy.

Mitchell, who as a U.S. envoy played a key role in the 1990's peace process in Northern Ireland, said he will return to the Middle East in a couple of weeks and that he plans to establish a regular and sustained presence in the region. 

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