CAIRO — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended the U.S. stance toward Israeli settlement building to worried Arab allies on Wednesday, saying Washington does not accept the legitimacy of the West Bank enclaves and wants to see their construction halted "forever."
Still, she said an Israeli offer to restrain — but not halt — construction represents "positive movement forward" toward resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Clinton met for an hour with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a hastily arranged stopover in the Egyptian capital to soothe Arab concerns that Washington is backing off demands for an Israeli settlement halt. Egypt appeared reassured by Clinton's visit, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called for a resumption of negotiations.
"The Egyptian vision is that we have to concentrate on the end game and we must not waste time adhering to this issue or that as a start for the negotiations," Aboul Gheit said at a news conference with Clinton. "The United States did not change its position that it rejects the settlement building," he said, but "the United States wanted the parties to start the talks."
After departing for the U.S., Clinton said she thought the Egyptian stopover was "productive, constructive." She said the apparent positive reaction from Egyptian officials showed "the value of consultation and listening and sharing ideas and hearing the other side and putting forward your views and explaining."
In a new twist Tuesday, Clinton made what appeared to be an inadvertent slip of the tongue in a TV interview with Al-Jazeera network, referring to the goal of "an Israeli capital in East Jerusalem."
It has not been U.S. policy to favor including East Jerusalem in an Israeli capital; the Palestinians claim it as their capital, and the issue is one of the most important and delicate points that would have to be settled in any final peace deal.