US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton assured Israel on Monday that the Obama administration's commitment to its security and future is "rock solid" despite a severe diplomatic dispute that emerged this month.
In remarks delivered to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton defended recent harsh US criticism of Israel over a Jewish housing project on land claimed by the Palestinians. She said America must tell the truth to Israel but would give it credit when it was due.
"For President (Barack) Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future is rock solid," Clinton said.
Her comments come as US and Israeli officials try to ease one of the worst-ever crises between the allies, which erupted when Israel announced plans for new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem.
The announcement was made while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel and just a day after the administration hailed the beginning of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Those talks are now on hold.
Clinton called the announcement an insult that damaged President Barack Obama's attempts to relaunch stalled negotiations. On Monday, she stressed that the US is determined to achieve broad Middle East peace but said all parties, including Israel, must make difficult choices.
And, she said, the US had a duty to call Israel out if its actions hurt peace efforts.
"As Israel's friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed," she said in a text of her speech released early by the State Department.
Clinton has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to address AIPAC later Monday and see Obama on Tuesday, move to restore trust and confidence in the peace process, including a halt to projects in east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu met on Sunday with US peace envoy George Mitchell and has apologized for the timing but not the content of the announcement. And, just hours before leaving for Washington, Netanyahu said Israel would not freeze construction in east Jerusalem.
However, in a call to Clinton Friday, he outlined some measures his government would take. Some Israeli officials say that while there will be no formal freeze, construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem may be restricted, like Netanyahu's partial 10-month West Bank construction freeze.
The package has not been made public, but officials say another element is agreement to discuss all outstanding issues in the proximity talks that Mitchell is to mediate. Those would include the future of Jerusalem, borders, Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees.
In her remarks, Clinton said the existing situation between Israel and the Palestinians is "unsustainable" and offers nothing but violence.
"There is another path," she said. "A path that leads toward security and prosperity for all the people of the region. It will require all parties including Israel to make difficult but necessary choices."
'Biting sanctions for Iran'
In her speech Clinton also explained that the Obama administration will not accept a nuclear armed Iran and is working on sanctions "that will bite" to press it to come clean about its suspect atomic program.
She said Iran's leaders must know there are "real consequences" for not proving their nuclear activities are peaceful. "Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite," Clinton is to say.
"Let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," she said.
Clinton said that if Iran developed a nuclear weapon, it would embolden terrorists and spark an arms race that would destabilize the Middle East. "This is unacceptable," she said. "Unacceptable to the United States. Unacceptable to Israel. And unacceptable to the region and the international community."
Clinton took aim at Iranian hardliners who have clamped down hard on opposition supporters following disputed elections last year.
"Elements in Iran's government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region," she said, referring to the crackdown.
Her comments came a day after Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the United States, accusing it of plotting to overthrow its clerical leadership, in a chilly response to Obama's latest overture for better cultural ties with Iran.