Monday, March 02, 2009

Middle East and Erope Trip: The Gaza Conference

Workers begin the day preparing the Maritime Conference Center for the one-day international Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza by setting up the flags from 70 countries participating and organizing the room.

Secretary Clinton flew to Tel Aviv from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this morning, where she attended an international donors conference that pledged a total of nearly $4.5 billion in aid to help the Palestinian economy and rebuild the Gaza Strip. Watch a clip of Secretary Clinton entering the chamber here.

At the start of the conference Secretary Clinton talks with US Middle East Peace Envoy George Mitchell and hugs European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.

She also shakes hands with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysaland speaks with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store prior to the start of the International Conference.

Hillary Clinton also shook hands and exchanged a few words today with her Syrian counterpart, Walid Mouallem.Which seems to be getting much attention in the media. With the strict protocols at summits, these encounters rarely happen by chance, and are more frequently designed to send subtle but powerful messages. The handshake was seen as a sign that Washington was prepared to mend fences with Syria, whose leader Bashir al-Assad was treated as a pariah by the Bush Administration. Afterwards Mouallem said that the meeting "was short but very pleasant," and that he was "happy it happened".

At the donors' conference, Clinton took a hard line against the Islamist Hamas group and said $900 million in U.S. aid for the Palestinians was part of a broader bid for Arab-Israeli peace. And she reiterated that the present crisis cannot be separated from the wider peace process. Watch a clip of her speaking here.

Underlining the new Obama Administration's position, she was adamant that no money would go to Hamas, saying it must recognize Israel, renounce violence and sign on to past Israeli and Palestinian agreements if it wanted to come out of isolation. She added saying the United States would "vigorously pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

This above photo shows the great press coverage that the conference has been getting. The Press Filing Center during the conference has been jam packed with journalists from all over the world who are huddled around television screens in three different rooms each with its own dedicated language feed piping in English, French and Arabic translations. Read more of what Dipnote wrote about the perspective of the press here.

After the Gaza conference Hillary met with Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and posed for photos with U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Later in the afternoon, after all of the bilateral meetings and working sessions were completed, the Secretary hosted a press conference in front of hundreds of journalists. Below is the video of this meeting from the State Department:

On Tuesday she has planned talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank. And on Wednesday Clinton will have a chance to assess first-hand chances for reviving peace negotiations. But with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu still trying to put together a new government following Israel's February 10 parliamentary election, no major steps toward peace are expected during Clinton's two days of talks.

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