Clinton embarks on Mideast tour

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is using her second overseas trip to assess Mideast peace prospects, reconnect with European allies and remind her Russian counterpart that US efforts to rebuild relations with Moscow have their limits.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is using her second overseas trip to assess Mideast peace prospects, reconnect with European allies and remind her Russian counterpart that US efforts to rebuild relations with Moscow have their limits.

Mrs Clinton, who departed yesterday evening, kicks off the weeklong tour by attending an international conference in Egypt.

Tomorrow she will announce a US pledge of up to $900m (€709m) in humanitarian aid for rebuilding of the war-shaken Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians are seeking $2.8bn (€2.20bn). The United States does not recognise the Hamas movement that rules Gaza and will not allow aid money to flow through Hamas.

Because of disagreements between the two Palestinian factions, some major Arab pledges – $1bn (€780m) from Saudi Arabia, $250m (€197m) Qatar and $100m (€78m) from Algeria – have not materialised, an Arab League official said.

The pledge conference reflects in part a US effort to move quickly to influence events there, where the Islamic militants of Hamas are aligned with Iran and opposed to peace talks with Israel.

Hamas is at odds with the other Palestinian faction, Fatah, which takes a more moderate approach to Israel.

Mrs Clinton also will visit Israel to show US President Barack Obama’s commitment to finding a “two-state solution” that establishes a sovereign Palestinian state at peace with Israel.

After elections on February 10, Israel is operating under a caretaker government. The hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to form a coalition government but the timing and outcome are in doubt.

Among leaders Mrs Clinton would be expected to visit in Israel are Mr Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima Party, which won one more seat in the election than Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.

Mr Netanyahu, who opposes moving forward in peace talks with the Palestinians, was asked to put together the next government because he has the support of a majority of the elected politicians.

Israel edged closer to a government of hawks and right-wing religious parties on Friday after Mr Netanyahu failed to persuade Ms Livni to join a coalition that could help avert a showdown with the Obama administration.

Mr Obama has pledged to become “aggressively” involved in pursuing Mideast peace.

Mrs Clinton also will go to the West Bank to meet with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.

After focusing her first foreign trip on Asia, Mrs Clinton now is trying to build on what the administration believes is early enthusiasm in the Mideast and Europe for changing the dynamic of relations with America.

Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said Friday a main theme of Mrs Clinton’s visit to Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday will be “a sense of consolidating some of the enormous political good will on both sides of the Atlantic, and harnessing it to a common agenda – not an American agenda but a common trans-Atlantic agenda”.

On Friday, Mrs Clinton is scheduled to meet in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He had a sometimes rocky relationship with Mrs Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, a Russian affairs specialist.

Mrs Clinton plans to wind up her trip with a stop in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss a range of topics, including Mr Obama’s review of war strategy in Afghanistan.

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