Israel, Egypt mull joint efforts to cope with changes in Middle East
Israel and the United States must think and act together to face the changes sweeping the Middle East, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Clinton, who arrived late Sunday after two days of talks with the new leadership in Egypt, hailed a "moment of great change and transformation in the region."
"It is a time of uncertainty but also of opportunity. It is a chance to advance our shared goals of security, stability, peace and democracy," she said in remarks to the press after talks with Peres focusing on Egypt, Syria, Iran's nuclear programme and peace efforts with the Palestinians.
"It is in moments like these that friends like us have to think together, act together," she said.
On the last leg of a 13-day, nine-nation tour, Clinton met early on Monday with her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman before her talks with Peres, briefing both on her discussions in Cairo with newly-elected President Mohamed Morsi and military leader Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi.
Peres thanked Clinton for her efforts to shore up the peace between Israel and the new Egyptian leadership.
"We appreciate very much that immediately after Egypt, you came to us with your latest impressions because for us, as well as for the United States, Egypt is a key country in the Middle East and much depends on Egypt and a little bit on us as well, to continue the great march of peace," he said.
"Israel is very much interested in keeping the peace with the largest Arab country."
Ahead of her arrival, a top State Department official said Washington's top diplomat wanted to have "a broader strategic conversation" with the Israelis following the sweeping changes across the region.
It would be a kind of "comparing of strategic notes," he said, adding she would also bring Israeli leaders "up to speed" on diplomatic efforts to try to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Clinton, who was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak later in the day, was to tell them that their counterparts in Cairo had reaffirmed support for Egypt's peace treaty with Israel during her visit.
Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace accord with Israel in 1979, and Clinton has repeatedly referred to it as "the cornerstone" of regional security.
Fears have been raised that Morsi, who emerged out of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to be sworn in as Egypt's first democratically elected president, might seek to renegotiate the treaty.
"I think for the last 30 years the fact that there was peace between us and Egypt saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in Egypt and Israel," Peres said.
Travelling with Clinton are US Middle East envoy David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran.
Clinton also met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, after talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Paris on July 6, at the start of her trip.
Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September 2010 following an intractable dispute over settlements, and US efforts to bring the two sides closer together have so far led nowhere.
"Obviously, every day that goes by where there is not a peace agreement is a day, that leaves us unsatisfied," the State Department official told reporters.
The fact that the two sides had not yet reached the point of inking a deal was "a testament to the difficulty of the challenge," he said.
"But the fact that we're still at it is a testament to just how important the issue is to us, and to her personally."
The Palestinians are demanding that Israel halt construction on land they want for a future state and accept a framework for talks on borders, but Israel is looking for an immediate return to talks without preconditions.
Peres insisted that building peace "takes time."
"But we shouldn't give up hope, we shouldn't stop, we should be insistent, we should be determined, the Palestinians don't have a better alternative, we don't have a better alternative," he said.