Clinton: Netanyahu's Economic Peace Useless Without Diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was critical on Tuesday of the "economic peace" plan of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and said that an economic initiative without a political solution had no chance to succeed.

In her first visit to Middle East since the Obama administration took office, Clinton said during her meetings here that the U.S. would coordinate with Israel its dialogue vis-a-vis Iran and would work toward a "regional security umbrella."

During a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak the Secretary of State said that 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 also appealed for a broadening of the list of items that it considers "humanitarian aid," and called the humanitarian situation there problematic.

Last week Haaretz reported that messages had been relayed from senior U.S. officials signaling the Secretary of State was angered by the delays in the flow of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and the apparent obstacles that defense officials here raised over the types of goods that they considered essential to minimize civilian suffering.

The secretary of state told Barak that it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the Palestinian civilians.

During her meeting with Netanyahu, Clinton said that it is important for Israel to consider whether the closing of the crossings may be more harmful than it is useful.

Barak told Clinton that since the completion of Operation Lead Cast, 127,000 tons of food, medicine and equipment was delivered through the crossings. He also said that more than 12 million liters of fuel was delivered to power the electric plant in the Gaza Strip.

In addition to her meeting with Barak, Clinton also met with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Iranian focus

In her meetings the secretary of state focused on Iran and its nuclear program, and the Palestinians.

Clinton stressed before her interlocutors that the Obama administration is committed to a solution of two states for two peoples, which she described as "inevitable."

"We happen to believe that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests," Clinton said. "It is our assessment that eventually, the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable."

Although Clinton said the U.S. respects other views, the Obama administration believes that there should be no time wasted on the Palestinian question and a Palestinian statehood, describing the creation of a Palestinian state as "also an interest of Israel."

Acknowledging that "a new and creative approach is necessary," Clinton said that the solutions already discussed in the past will not solve the problems.

For his part, Netanyahu told the visiting Secretary of State that he intends to further the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

The top U.S. diplomat told her Israeli interlocutors that Israel must meet its commitments to the road map, which mainly involve the freezing of settlement construction. Clinton said that the new administration in Washington will continue supporting Israel and its democratically elected government, but it will not hesitate to express its views.

Clinton said that friends sometimes have differences of opinion and promised to express American opinion with clarity and sincerity.

Prime Minister designate Netanyahu said that, "we have found much common language and we agreed to work in cooperation and coordination in order to advance peace and security in the region."

During her meetings Clinton discussed U.S. strategy toward Iran and stressed that Iran was also central during her meetings with Arab leaders at the international donors meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh Monday.

'Security umbrella'

Clinton said that the U.S. would like to form a regional security umbrella against Iran's nuclear threat.

She also said that the U.S. would consult and coordinate its activities with Israel regarding a future dialogue with Iran and emphasized that dialogue does not mean accepting a nuclear Iran.

Clinton stressed that there should be no confusion between American willingness to speak with Iran and their commitment to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear arms.

The secretary of state also said the U.S. intends to seek further sanctions against Iran, in parallel with dialogue, especially in an effort to limit the range of missiles in Iran's arsenal.