Hillary Clinton to AIPAC: New Israeli settlements complicate US goals on Iran

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the AIPAC conference Monday that new Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands not only hurt US standing in the peace process, but they also complicate the US bid to win additional sanctions against Iran.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington Monday. The influential pro-Israel lobbying group released a statement that called on the White House to take immediate steps to defuse tension with over new Israeli settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet with President Obama Tuesday at the White House, but in the run-up to that meeting neither the United States nor Israel is backing down from positions that put the two allies on a collision course.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said before the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington Monday that Israeli settlement activity in occupied Arab lands – East Jerusalem and the West Bank – undermines trust between the two allies and makes the US role in the peace process more difficult. Her words follow Mr. Netanyahu's assertion Sunday that Israel would not cease all settlement construction in Jerusalem, which it claims as its capital.

Secretary Clinton took her argument a step further, saying Israel’s settlement activity complicates other US goals in the region that are also Israel’s goals –specifically, ensuring that Iran does not become a nuclear power.

Stating that a nuclear-armed Iran would touch off an arms race in the Middle East and embolden Iran’s “terrorist clientele” to take new actions, Clinton said, “This … is unacceptable to the United States. It is unacceptable to Israel. It is unacceptable to the region and the international community.”

Israel worried about US approach on Iran

The US and Israel are of one accord on the necessity of stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon. But Israel has expressed fears that President Obama’s initial focus on influencing Iran through diplomatic engagement has simply cleared the calendar for Iran to continue its march toward building a bomb. Iran maintains its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful energy-production purposes, but Western powers are convinced Iran has its sights on a bomb, and even the UN nuclear watchdog has expressed doubt about Iran’s intentions.

In arguing that Israeli cooperation on peace greases the wheels of the US push for new sanctions on Iran, Clinton unveiled a new characterization of the kinds of sanctions the US is seeking in the UN Security Council.

“Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite,” she told AIPAC. Sanctions that “bite” is a different characterization than she gave last year, describing them then as “crippling sanctions” on Iran.

More-targeted sanctions sought

The idea of “crippling” sanctions fell out of favor after the rise of Iran’s opposition movement following Iran’s disputed presidential elections last June. Broad economic sanctions are now deemed unpalatable because they risk hurting a broad swath of the Iranian population and thus setting off a nationalist reaction in the government’s favor.

The sanctions the US is now promoting with its Security Council partners would largely target Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and individuals and banking institutions involved with the nuclear and arms industries.

Clinton was to hold a bilateral meeting with Netanyahu Monday afternoon just prior to the prime minister’s own address to the AIPAC policy conference. Netanyahu was expected to elaborate on the “confidence-building measures” he offered to the US last week as a means of jump-starting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks – and of getting the US and Israel beyond their falling-out over settlements.

And Clinton was expected to try to persuade an increasingly nervous Israel that the slow process of reaching international consensus on Iran sanctions is “a worthwhile investment,” as she told AIPAC Monday.

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