Kahana/Getty Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who presented her with a bouquet.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, March 4th 2009
BY Matthew Kalman In Jerusalem and David Saltonstall In New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Hillary Clinton made her Jerusalem debut as secretary of state Tuesday - and immediately signaled a new diplomatic push to reopen relations with Syria.
Clinton said two American envoys would soon hit the road to Damascus, marking the first direct, high-level talks between the U.S. and Syria since 2005, when relations broke down over Syria's support of terrorist groups.
"We have no way to predict what the future of our relations with Syria might be," Clinton said. "I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations."
Officials later said that National Security Council official Dan Shapiro and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman would head to Syria to get the diplomatic ball rolling.
Syria has long harbored Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, which Clinton sharply criticized for endangering the lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians and undermining the well-being of the people of Gaza.
But Syria is also viewed as a potential ally against Iran's nuclear ambitions - a top diplomatic priority for the Obama administration.
"Iran's pursuit of the nuclear weapon is deeply troubling to not only the U.S. but many people throughout the world," Clinton later told ABC News.
Throughout her day, Clinton unequivocally expressed the administration's plans to pursue peace in the Middle East - a peace, she suggested, that hinged on the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
"The inevitability of working towards a two-state solution seems inescapable," Clinton told reporters in Jerusalem.
That could put the White House at odds with incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the creation of a Palestinian state in his recent election campaign.
But Netanyahu said after an hour-long sitdown with Clinton that the two had found "common ground" and pledged continued cooperation.
The former First Lady later visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where she laid a wreath in the memorial hall honoring the memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.
"My visit," Clinton said, "was a powerful reminder of why we are working so hard to advance the security of the State of Israel."