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Clinton Tells Israel Two-State Solution Inevitable

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States will press for a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mrs. Clinton met with Israeli officials in Jerusalem Tuesday as part of her first foray into the region as Secretary of State.

Secretary Clinton's pledge of support for a two-state solution may put the Obama administration at odds with Israel's new leadership. The country may soon be led by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu who has refused to declare his support for a totally independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

At a news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday, Secretary Clinton said the White House believes that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests.

"It is our assessment as I expressed yesterday and again today that eventually the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution seems inescapable," Clinton said. "That doesn't mean that we don't respect the opinions of others who see it differently. But from my perspective and from the perspective of the Obama administration time is of the essence."

Clinton's schedule on Tuesday included a meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, who has been designated to form a coalition government after last month's inconclusive elections. Mr. Netanyahu has said he wants to focus less on negotiations with the Palestinians and concentrate more on shoring up the Palestinian economy. He also supports the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank - something the United States sees as an obstacle to peace.

The Secretary of State acknowledged the road ahead will be difficult. She said the process of peace must start with finding a solution to the Gaza conflict. She called on Hamas to cooperate.

"The first step right now, not waiting for a new government, is a durable cease fire, but that can only be achieved if Hamas ceases the rocket attacks," Clinton said. "No nation should be expected to sit idly by and allow rockets to assault its people and its territory. These attacks must stop."

Israel's defense ministry says militants in Gaza have fired more than 120 rockets at Israel since the end of Israel's 22-day assault in January.

Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday also sought to ease Israeli concerns over the new U.S. approach to Iran. During his campaign, President Barack Obama said his administration would be open to dialogue with the Iranian leadership, triggering concern among many here that Washington might soften its position on Tehran.

Secretary Clinton assured the Israelis that will not happen.

"When we talk about engagement with Iran, do not be in any way confused," Clinton said. "Our goal remains the same: to dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and continuing to fund terrorism. It happens to be a goal that is shared not only with Israel but with many countries that view Iran through the same prism that we do."

Regarding Syria, she announced Washington plans to send two envoys to Damascus soon to begin discussions on improving relations with the U.S. and furthering peace efforts in the region.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton is due to travel to the West Bank for meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials.