US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed at Ben-Gurion Airport Sunday night for a two-day visit focusing on Iran. This is Clinton’s first visit to Israel in nearly two years. According to an AFP report, Clinton’s meetings are expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and Egypt’s political upheaval.
Clinton is today expected to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. She will also meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. 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, are accompanying Clinton on the trip, according to AFP.
The US is concerned over the possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With the recent breakdown in talks between Iran and the international sextet known as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), the Obama administration wants to determine whether Israel is in fact planning such a move, and according to Maariv, prevent it if possible.
Clinton’s visit comes on the tail end of a trip to Egypt. Whilst in Cairo Clinton met with Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi who, according to media reports, reassured Clinton over the future of Israel’s peace deal with Egypt. Clinton also emphasised in her Egyptian press conference that she hoped Morsi and Netanyahu would meet soon. On Sunday, in a meeting with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who heads the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Clinton urged him to work with Islamist President Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, on a full transition to civilian rule.
Another issue Clinton is expected to discuss with Netanyahu is the Palestinian threat to re-launch a bid in September to the United Nation’s General Assembly in an effort to be granted the status of an observer-state that is not a full UN member. Clinton, who met with Abbas last week in Paris, will urge Netanyahu to pledge a significant enough package of gestures to convince the Palestinians against such a bid.
Maariv reported Monday that US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta is expected to arrive in Israel later this month.