Israeli Press Gets Different View of Clinton's Talks
By Glenn Kessler
RAMALLAH, West Bank, March 4--Throughout Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's journey in the Middle East, she and her media team appeared very concerned not to be seen putting pressure on the Israeli government.
At news conferences, she deferred questions, often saying she had to wait until there was a new government formed before speaking about specific policies. And her aides generally refused to comment about what she said in the meetings, despite constant queries from reporters traveling with her. In contrast, the Israeli press has carried a candid assessments of Clinton's meetings here.
For example, late Tuesday night, instead of a briefing from a real person, reporters were e-mailed "background information," which could be attributed to a "U.S. official." The missive set a new standard for useless information.
The e-mail only addressed her meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and did not mention her meetings with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak. As can be seen, the effort seemed designed to show that Clinton was a solid friend of Israel--the kind of thing useful for a senator from New York but somewhat inappropriate for a secretary of State.
"Secretary Clinton had a very constructive conversation this morning with President Peres. They discussed the importance and strength of the US-Israeli relationship, the threat to the region posed by Iran, and the destructive role being played by Hamas."
"Secretary Clinton emphasized the enduring, unshakable, fundamental US support for Israel."
"Secretary Clinton said the US believes there is now an opportunity to engage more broadly with the Palestinians."
"On Iran, Secretary Clinton said the US shares Israel's concern about Iran. The US, she added, would continue to try to deter Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and delivery system. She noted, however, that the US would seek to engage Iran."
"Secretary Clinton also had a very substantive meeting over lunch with Foreign Minister Livni. FM Livni said 'extremist ideology' is now the biggest threat to the region. It is 'extremists vs moderates.' Livni added that the international community needs to confront terror while simultaneously working with moderates. In dealing with Iran, she added that 'time is of the essence.' The Secretary agreed and said the simultaneous task is to 'weaken extremists and strengthen moderates.'
"Both agreed on the need to support the Palestinian Authority."
Meanwhile, the Israeli press was getting a much different briefing from Israeli officials. According to an authorative account in Haaretz, Clinton was tough as nails. She "was critical of the 'economic peace' plan" of Netanyahu and "said that an economic initiative without a political solution had no chance to succeed," the newspaper said. That point actually generated the banner headline: "Clinton: Netanyahu's economic peace useless without diplomacy."
At her meeting with Barak, she said, "Israel must do more to open the border crossings into the Gaza Strip to larger amounts of humanitarian assistance so that civilians there could get some relief." She added in her meeting with Netanyahu that "Israel should consider whether the crossings may be more harmful than useful."
That's the kind of frank talk you'd expect from a U.S. secretary of State. Strangely, that was not the image her image-makers wanted to project.
By Lexie Verdon |
March 4, 2009; 9:17 AM ET
Clinton in Mideast, March 2009
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