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Clinton charms Israeli officials, reiterates staunch U.S. support Add to ...

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the Israeli capital by storm yesterday, charming her way through seven meetings in less than 10 hours.

Ms. Clinton met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and prime-minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. She visited the national Holocaust museum and met with a group of women entrepreneurs in a program sponsored by her own State Department.

Along the way, she reassured Israelis they have no greater ally than the United States and that Washington understands and appreciates Israel's approach to the rocket fire still emanating from the Gaza Strip six weeks after Israel's ferocious assault on Hamas in Gaza.

"There is no doubt that any nation, including Israel, cannot stand idly by while its territory and people are subjected to rocket attacks," she said.

And, in what had promised to be the most difficult meeting of the day, Ms. Clinton left Mr. Netanyahu uttering nothing but praise.

Mr. Netanyahu, preparing to take office at the head of a right-leaning coalition, said the conversation between him and Ms. Clinton "was deep, important and good."

He said he had "found common ground with Clinton in attaining the common goals of our two countries."

"We spoke about the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue and we promised to meet again after the establishment of a government [in Israel] We will work together closely in order to bring peace and prosperity to the region," Mr. Netanyahu concluded.

After her meeting with Ms. Livni, Ms. Clinton said the United States believes "that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests," a reference to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a concept Mr. Netanyahu has declined to endorse.

"It is our assessment that eventually, the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable," Ms. Clinton said.

Mr. Netanyahu has spoken of Palestinian self-government but has shied away from saying he would back a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

In a meeting later in the day, Ms. Clinton told Mr. Barak that Israel should open its border crossings to Gaza in order to ease the Palestinians' humanitarian needs.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that while the other Israeli leaders who met with Ms. Clinton earlier in the day came under little or no pressure from her on matters the Obama administration sees as critical, such as the dismantling of West Bank outposts and the cessation of construction in existing settlements, the issue of Gaza's crossings was put squarely on the Defence Minister's table.

Mr. Barak told Ms. Clinton that Israel was facilitating the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza and that the crossings are currently operating at 30 per cent of their capacity.

Ms. Clinton also announced yesterday that the United States was sending two officials to Syria. "There are a number of issues that we have between Syria and the United States, as well as the larger regional concerns that Syria obviously poses."

U.S. officials said that Jeffrey Feltman, a State Department official who was ambassador to Lebanon when former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated, and Dan Shapiro, a member of the White House's National Security Council, would travel to Damascus.

Last week, Mr. Feltman met with the Syrian ambassador to Washington, the highest-level contact between the countries since the start of the Obama administration.

Ms. Clinton said she could not predict where the talks would lead, but added: "We don't engage in discussions for the sake of having a conversation. There has to be a purpose to them."

Ms. Clinton meets today in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayad, before flying to Brussels for a NATO ministerial meeting.

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