U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel late on Sunday night, for top-level talks with Israeli officials expected to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the stalled peace process.
According to an AFP report, Clinton arrived on a flight from Egypt shortly after 11:30 p.m. local time, for her first visit to the Jewish State in nearly two years.
Accompanying Clinton on the trip are U.S. Middle East envoy David Hale and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran.
The whirlwind 24-hour visit comes at the tail end of an eight-nation tour spanning Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It will see Clinton holding talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
AFP quoted a senior State Department official travelling with the delegation as having said that Clinton will also meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Earlier this month, she held talks in Paris with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. However, a Sunday report in the Ma’an news agency indicated that Clinton will not hold another meeting with Abbas in Ramallah during her visit to the region.
Choosing not to include Ramallah on her tour may reflect the faint hope of a return to “negotiations” with Israel, as well as other American priorities, mainly Iran and the November presidential elections.
The official was quoted by AFP as having said that talks with the Israelis are expected to take the form of a "strategic conversation" in the wake of the huge political upheaval sweeping the region and what it means for both the United States and Israel. They will also likely to focus on efforts to regenerate peace negotiations, he added.
“Obviously, every day that goes by where there is not a peace agreement is a day that leaves us unsatisfied,” the official told reporters travelling with the delegation. “We believe that this is the sort of challenge ... that you have to keep working at in the face of challenges and setbacks.”
He added, “Of course we would have liked to have been coming on this trip to sign a peace deal. We would have liked to have done that two years ago.”
“The fact that we have been unable to do so is a testament to the difficulty of the challenge. But the fact that we're still at it is a testament to just how important the issue is to us, and to [Clinton] personally,” noted the official.
Clinton’s itinerary includes a morning meeting with Lieberman before holding talks with Peres. In the afternoon on Monday, she will meet Fayyad before sitting down with Barak.
On Monday evening, she will have talks with Netanyahu, and a joint press conference is scheduled before her departure for the United States.
Clinton’s visit follows a secret weekend visit to Israel by President Barack Obama's National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon. He met with Netanyahu, Barak and National Security Advisor Gen. Yaakov Amidror.
Maariv-NRG said Donilon's visit reflects heightened U.S. concern that Israel intends to attack Iran sometime during the summer or early autumn. That concern has been heightened by the recent failure of talks between western powers and Iran. The news site estimated that the visit was intended to convince Israel not to launch an attack anytime soon.
On Saturday, Clinton visited Egypt and met with its new Islamist President, Mohammed Morsi, expressing support for his new role.