JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, making what is likely to be her last trip to Jerusalem as America’s top diplomat, conferred with Israeli leaders Monday about the dangers of an escalating civil war in neighboring Syria and perceptions of Iran’s nuclear program.
A day after concluding a visit to Egypt, where her motorcade was pelted with fruit and shoes at her last stop in the port city of Alexandria, Clinton met Monday morning with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres for talks on a range of issues, the most pressing of which was probably Iran’s nuclear program. But the visit to Israel, Clinton’s first since 2010, also touched on the rapidly changing dynamics in the region ushered in by last year’s Arab Spring uprisings.
In a statement after the meeting, Peres stressed the importance of maintaining a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and denounced the violence in Syria.
In prepared remarks after meeting Peres, Clinton alluded to a “moment of great change and transformation for the region.” It was a moment perhaps best symbolized by her raucous send-off in Egypt, where she met for the first time with that country’s newly elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.
At her last stop in Alexandria for the reopening of the U.S. Consulate there, several hundred protesters waving shoes and shouting “Monica! Monica!” pelted Clinton’s departing motorcade with fruit and footwear. The taunts referred to the scandal that Clinton endured as first lady in the mid-1990s when her husband, President Bill Clinton, had an affair with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. Throwing shoes is a demeaning insult in the Arab world; in 2008 then-President George W. Bush famously dodged shoes hurled at him by an Iraqi journalist in a Baghdad news conference.
It was unclear exactly who the demonstrators were. But Clinton’s arrival at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo on Saturday had been greeted by several thousand shouting protesters, including many supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
At a time when rumors and fears are filling the vacuum of political uncertainty across Egypt, many of the protesters believe that the United States, which backed Mubarak for decades, is now somehow orchestrating the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The election of Morsi, a former Brotherhood member whom Mubarak’s regime once jailed, has also stirred anxiety among Israeli leaders about whether security arrangements between Israel and Egypt will hold amid the unsettled political landscape.
In her meetings Monday, Clinton intended to convey Morsi’s pledge to uphold the 1979 Camp David accords. Talks were also expected to dwell on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has stalled despite being a high priority of the Obama administration. Clinton later met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Monday afternoon.
But many Israeli analysts predict that the most pressing matter on the agenda is an international effort to curb the Iranian nuclear program.
Clinton is also scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel’s loudest and most hawkish voices on the Iran issue. Both leaders have said they believe that sanctions and diplomacy are only giving Iran more time to build a bomb, and they have expressed little confidence in Obama’s promise to keep that from happening.
Netanyahu and Barak have said Israel reserves all options to thwart a nuclear Iran, including a possible independent Israeli attack on that country’s nuclear sites. Though the hard-line Israeli narrative has cooled in recent months, stumbling international talks with Iran have revived speculation about a preemptive Israeli strike — a prospect that, if it occurred in the coming months, could pull Obama into a new Middle East conflict as he campaigns for reelection.
In her remarks describing the new regional dynamics Monday morning, Clinton said that “it is in these moments that friends like the United States and Israel have to think together and act together.”
“We are called to be smart, creative and courageous,” she said.
Clinton’s stop in Jerusalem is the last in one of her longest trips as secretary of state, a journey that began July 5 and has focused mostly on the Obama administration’s so-called policy “pivot” to Asia, with stops in Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
The Obama administration has had a fraught relationship with some Israeli leaders, and Clinton’s trip to Jerusalem comes two weeks before Republican contender Mitt Romney is scheduled to visit.
Source: Washington Post