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Middle East

Lieberman tells Clinton 'no' on settlement freeze


Latest update : 2009-06-18

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday reiterated Israel's refusal to freeze settlements, after his first talks with US counterpart Hillary Clinton exposed differences on Middle East peace.

AFP - The Obama administration stuck Wednesday to demands for Israel to freeze settlements before it holds new talks in Paris next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about his plans for peace with the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the demands following talks with her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, their first meeting since the right-leaning Netanyahu government came to office in late March.

"We want to see a stop to the settlements," Clinton told reporters as she stood next to Lieberman.

"We think that is an important and essential part of pursuing the efforts leading to a comprehensive agreement and the creation of a Palestinian next to an Israeli Jewish state that is secure in its borders and future," she said.

On May 27, the chief US diplomat said Obama made it clear during Netanyahu's visit to Washington the same month that he wants no "natural growth exceptions" to his call for a settlement freeze.

Lieberman insisted on the contrary.

Israel did not have "any intention to change the demographic balance" of the West Bank, said Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which is part of Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition government.

"But we think that as in any place, babies are born, people get married, some pass away and we cannot accept this vision about an absolutely complete freezing of settlements," said Lieberman.

"I think that we must keep the natural growth," he said.

"This approach is very clear and also we had some understandings with the previous administration (of George W. Bush) and we try to keep this direction," he said.

Clinton disagreed.

"In looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements," she said, repeating earlier statements.

Lieberman reiterated calls for immediate, direct talks with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmud Abbas, which has rejected the Netanyahu government's policy toward them.

After months of US pressure, Netanyahu broke with his right-wing party's ideology on Sunday and endorsed a the two-state solution, the cornerstone of international Middle East peacemaking efforts for years.

But he set a slew of conditions: Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; full demilitarization of the future state that will not control its air space or have the ability to forge military pacts; and "ironclad" security guarantees for Israel.

The Obama administration announced meanwhile that George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East peace, will travel on June 25 to Paris for talks with Netanyahu.

"It would be the first opportunity for Senator Mitchell to follow up with the prime minister in the aftermath of his speech," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley told reporters.

He reiterated administration views that the speech represented "a step forward."

"There's now a shared object active of a two-state solution, and I think the senator will just be following up with the prime minister and see where we go from here," Crowley said.

Date created : 2009-06-18