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Clinton Awaits Netanyahu Call, Downplays Talk of Crisis in Relationship

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she does not see a major crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations despite a conflict over Israeli housing policy in East Jerusalem. U.S. officials say they expect Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Clinton to discuss the issue before she leaves on a trip to Russia late Wednesday.

Clinton says the United States was dismayed and disappointed by Israel's announcement on East Jerusalem. But she is rejecting the notion the dispute has spawned the worst crisis in U.S.-Israel relations in decades.

Israel stunned the Obama administration last week when it announced, as Vice President Joe Biden began a visit there, that it is building 1,600 new Jewish housing units in mainly-Arab East Jerusalem.

The move threatened to scuttle indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, and prompted an angry telephone call by Clinton last Friday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But at a press event with Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, Clinton said she did not accept the notion that the conflict has driven relations to their lowest point in decades.

"Oh, I don't buy that," said Hillary Clinton. "I've been around not that long, but a long time. We have an absolute commitment to Israel's security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American Israeli people. We share common values and a commitment to a democratic future for the world and we are both committed to a two-state solution."

Clinton called on Mr. Netanyahu to provide assurances there will be no repeat of the embarrassing incident, and that Israel is prepared to discuss all the core issues of the peace process, including Jerusalem, in talks with the Palestinians.

A senior official here said the Israeli Prime Minister is expected to make a follow-up call Wednesday to Clinton, who said in the press event with Martin that Washington wants action by Israel that would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the regional peace process.

Pending the Israeli response, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley says U.S. envoy Mitchell postponed a trip to the region he was to have begun Sunday aimed at starting the proximity peace talks.

"We did not feel it was fruitful for George to depart Washington on Sunday, before hearing from the Israelis on how the Prime Minister is responding to the Secretary's conversation," said P.J. Crowley.

Crowley said Mitchell will not visit the region until after attending, with Secretary Clinton, a meeting of the international quartet on the Middle East due to begin Thursday in Moscow.

The quartet, consisting of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, has condemned Israel's housing decision, and said the world community will not recognize unilateral actions by either party that would prejudice the outcome of negotiations.

Clinton will also have bilateral meetings with Russian officials on efforts to conclude another nuclear arms reduction accord, and possible sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.