Clinton in Egypt amid West Bank settlement row

Clinton in Egypt amid West Bank settlement row Cairo  - US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Cairo for a brief unscheduled visit Wednesday that would include a meeting with Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak and senior officials.

Clinton, who has been at pains to explain the apparent shift in the US' position on Israeli construction in West Bank settlements had originally been scheduled to return home Wednesday.

The additional leg in her Middle East mediation tour would also include a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

In Morocco on Monday, Clinton tried to calm Arab and Palestinian concerns, saying the US position against settlements had not changed. She also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stance on settlements still "falls far short of what we would characterize as our position."

US Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley, speaking to reporters on Clinton's plane Tuesday night, amplified that message. "What we're trying to do ... is to try to just figure out what is the best way forward. How can we help move the parties towards the start of negotiations," he said.

After meeting with Netanyahu in Israel on Saturday, the US secretary of state appeared to back the Israeli position that a freeze on construction in the West Bank should not preclude new peace talks.

US President Barack Obama likewise called for Israeli "restraint" on construction in the settlements, rather than the "freeze" he had previously supported.

On Sunday, Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, the leaders of two crucial US allies in the region and the two Arab countries that have signed peace deals with Israel, on Sunday warned of "catastrophic consequences on the region's stability and security resulting from the failure to seize the current opportunity for making peace." dpa

They also emphasized the need for "an immediate cessation of Israeli unilateral actions, particularly the building of settlements and jeopardizing the identity of Jerusalem and holy places."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said the Palestinians question the Netanyahu government's commitment to "meaningful and credible negotiations" that would lead to the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state. (dpa)