U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Arab foreign ministers in Morocco to discuss Israel's offer to limit the expansion of Jewish settlements. Clinton says Israel should reciprocate positive Palestinian moves to improve security.
Secretary Clinton says Palestinian President Mahmud Abass has shown "leadership and determination" to improve security, and Israel "should reciprocate."
Her comments in Jerusalem Saturday praising Israel's offer to limit the expansion of Jewish settlements were widely criticized in the Arab world.
Palestinian officials say the Obama administration is encouraging Israel to sidestep a 2003 agreement calling for a complete halt to those settlements.
Jordan and Egypt issued statements critical of the apparent shift in U.S. policy. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa is "deeply disappointed" and says "failure is in the atmosphere" regarding Obama administration efforts to resolve the conflict.
After meeting with Arab foreign ministers in Morocco, Clinton sought to deflect that criticism, saying none of her counterparts characterized what she said in Jerusalem as representing a change in U.S. position. "They engaged with me at length about what it is that Israel is offering, why I believe it is unprecedented. We discussed how the position of the Obama administration has not changed. We do not believe that settlements are legitimate. We have said that repeatedly. And we have made that clear to the Israelis, the Arabs, the Palestinians, and the world," she said.
She says that a number of her counterparts were not aware that the Israeli offer included an end to all new settlement activity in the West Bank, an end to the expropriation of Palestinian land, and an end to any new construction permits. While Clinton says that offer is not enough, she believes it is unprecedented. "When we praise what the Palestinians do on security, it is meant to send a signal that progress is underway, and it is progress toward a two-state solution. When I say that the Israeli government is making an unprecedented offer - even though it is not what many would hope for and even though our position remains the same that settlement activity is not legitimate - nevertheless it holds out the promise of moving a step closer to a two-state solution," she said.
Clinton spoke to reporters in Marrakech during a joint news conference with Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri. He says the Moroccan government appreciates the Obama administration's role in trying to find a solution to the conflict. "We believe since a long time that peace is possible and the vision of two states is the best thing. And the negotiations will have to reach this important and strategic goal," he said.
Secretary Clinton is in Morocco for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations to discuss human rights, democracy, and economic development in the region.
She will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Wednesday.