Clinton says Israel risks losing support on Iran

WASHINGTON Thu Apr 23, 2009 2:13pm EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington April 22, 2009. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington April 22, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned Israel's right-wing government on Thursday that it risked losing Arab support for fighting any threats from Iran if it shuns Palestinian peace talks.

Signaling U.S. impatience with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reticence over peace talks, Clinton said Arab nations had made clear to her that Israel must be committed to the Palestinian peace process if it wants help countering Iran.

"For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand," she told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

Israel sees a nuclear-armed threat as a mortal threat.

"They (Arab countries) believe that Israel's willingness to re-enter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran," she added.

Since coming into power last month, Netanyahu and his right-leaning coalition have avoided recognizing the Palestinians' right to an independent state as his predecessor Ehud Olmert did.

The United States is committed to pushing for a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, and would like to revive stalled talks.

Netanyahu is set to visit Washington early next month. Clinton said she was not going to prejudge the Israeli position until there had been face-to-face talks with him.

"The prime minister will be coming to Washington in May, and we think that it is important not to prejudge what their view is and how that can best be approached," she said.

FUNDS TO HAMAS?

Lawmakers put pressure on Clinton over a funding request for the Palestinians, saying there must be strong assurances that none of the money would go to the militant group Hamas if it were included in a future unity government under discussion.

Clinton said the State Department would carefully track assistance and additional steps being taken to ensure that no U.S. taxpayer money goes to Hamas.

"No aid will flow to Hamas or any entity controlled by Hamas," she added.

But New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, who has previously put holds on money earmarked for the Palestinians, questioned what she said was some "flexibility" in the Obama administration's approach.

Clinton reiterated that the Obama administration expected any new government that included Hamas to meet three conditions -- to recognize Israel, renounce violence and sign on to previous Palestinian peace accords.

But Clinton hinted that some flexibility might be needed, pointing to U.S. funding for Lebanon, whose government includes the militant group Hezbollah.

"We are doing that because we think, on balance, it is in the interest of the United States," she said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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