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Clinton says Egypt key in Mideast talks

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton consults Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton consults Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
  • Hillary Clinton: Egypt "essential partner" in helping restart Mideast talks
  • Clinton meets with Egyptians after angering Palestinians with praise for Israel
  • Egyptians reportedly tell Clinton her comments perceived as "a sort of backtracking"
  • Clinton says U.S. position hasn't changed on Israeli settlement construction

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she took on the "complicated and difficult" task of trying to restart talks on Israeli-Palestinian peace during her talks with Egypt's leaders.

Egypt is "an essential partner" in that effort, she said.

"President Obama, special envoy [George] Mitchell -- who is here with me today -- and I are all deeply and personally committed to achieving a two-state solution and comprehensive peace between Israelis, Palestinians and all of their Arab neighbors," Clinton said at a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit.

She spoke on the final stop on her weeklong trip that stretched from Pakistan to the Middle East. Clinton met with Aboul Gheit and other Egyptian leaders before consulting Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Video: Clinton on hopes for Mideast peace

Clinton angered Palestinian leaders during her stop Saturday in Jerusalem when she praised Israel for what she called "unprecedented" steps to limit -- but not fully halt -- the construction of Jewish settlements.

Egyptian leaders told Clinton her statement was perceived as "a sort of backtracking" and "listened with great interest" as she insisted the U.S. opposition to settlements has not changed, Aboul Gheit said.

"We talked about this very clearly and very candidly," he said, noting that Egypt feels that Israel "is hindering the process" by continuing its settlement activities.

Clinton again clarified the U.S. position at Wednesday's news conference in Cairo: "Our policy on settlements has not changed. I want to say that again: Our policy on settlement activity has not changed," she said. "We do not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity. And we have a very firm belief that ending all activity -- current and future -- would be preferable, and that is what we have put forth, and that is what we have continued to support."

But Palestinian frustration over Clinton's statement in Jerusalem and the stalled peace process was still on display Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Saeb Erakat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, said that if Israeli settlement construction did not end, it may be "the moment of truth" for the Palestinian leadership.

Erakat raised the possibility that "the two-state solution is no longer an option and maybe the Palestinian people should refocus their attention to the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equal."

Israel is opposed to any notion of a "one-state solution," seeing it as a fundamental threat to the Jewish nature of the state. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to embrace the idea of a two-state solution, something the United States and others see as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Clinton returns to Washington later Wednesday. She said she felt "very satisfied by what we accomplished on this trip" despite the complex issues at hand.

"Every issue that we touched on during this trip is complicated and difficult; each requires patience, perseverance and determination to see them through," Clinton said. "If these were easy questions with simple answers, I would not have made this trip."

She said that a key part of getting the peace process back on track is improving the image of the United States in the region.

"It is important to recognize that after a period of time in which the United States' position was rejected or was certainly questioned, what we are doing is very carefully and consistently rebuilding those bonds, creating those partnerships, finding common ground so we and our international partners will be able to make progress," she said.

When asked for a timeline of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Clinton would only say, "We are working hard to see that happen. I'm not going to make predictions."