Netanyahu calls Clinton to defuse tensions
AP National Security Writer
MOSCOW (AP) – Hoping to defuse a fight between friends, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed Thursday to meet next week in Washington to confront an embarrassing dispute over Israeli land claims.
The Obama administration’s special envoy for Mideast peace, George Mitchell, prepared to return to the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Netanyahu called Clinton on Thursday. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to provide details of the conversation, which he described as the Israeli prime minister’s response to Clinton’s call last week in which she harshly criticized Israel’s announcement of additional Jewish settlement housing in east Jerusalem.
“They discussed specific actions that might be taken to improve the atmosphere for progress toward peace,” the department said in a statement released by Clinton’s traveling party.
Crowley said U.S. officials will review Netanyahu’s response and “continue our discussions with both sides to keep proximity talks moving forward.”
Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister clarified Israeli policy in the call with Clinton and suggested “mutual confidence-building measures” by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Netanyahu planned to be in Washington next week for the annual gathering of the premier pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Clinton was scheduled to speak to the group on Monday.
Crowley said Mitchell will fly to the Mideast this weekend and hold separate talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The U.S. wants Israel to roll back plans for new Jewish houses on land claimed by the Palestinians. Crowley would not say whether Netanyahu offered to take that action in his call to Clinton.
Announcement of the housing plan embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden while he was visiting Israel last week and led to an unusual breach in diplomatic relations.
In public comments Thursday while in Moscow for talks on a range of international issues, Clinton appeared to be seeking to calm U.S. relations with Israel, saying the U.S. has not changed its approach to championing an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Last week Clinton denounced the Israeli housing announcement. The Israeli move was seen by the Obama administration as an insult and a repudiation of U.S. efforts to get Israel to halt construction of additional Jewish settlements.
“Our goals remain the same,” Clinton said Thursday during a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “It is to relaunch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on a path that will lead to a two-state solution. Nothing has happened that in any way affects our commitment to pursuing that.”
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.