U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the Obama administration would push "vigorously" for the creation of a Palestinian state, a position that could put her at odds with the incoming Israeli government.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Clinton called the pursuit of a Palestinian state in a peace agreement "inescapable."
After speaking with Israeli President Shimon Peres earlier in the day, she reaffirmed U.S. solidarity with Israel, underlining her country's "unshakable, durable and fundamental support for the state of Israel."
Clinton also said the U.S. would be sending two envoys to Syria for talks. The move signals an attempt to thaw relations between the two countries, which cooled significantly after the U.S. withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005. The U.S. accused Syria at the time of harbouring terrorists.
"We have no way to predict what the future with our relations concerning Syria might be," she said at the Jerusalem news conference.
"There has to be some perceived benefit of doing so for the United States and our allies and our shared values. But I think it is a worthwhile effort to go and begin these preliminary conversations."
She arrived in Israel Tuesday on her first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state. She is also due to meet with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Clinton's commitment to a two-state solution could be a major source of friction with Netanyahu, who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu possibly softening stance
Netanyahu is putting together a new coalition government and is expected to be sworn in as prime minister within weeks. His criticism of U.S.-led Mideast peace talks before Israel's recent election has raised fears that his government could clash with the Obama administration.
But Clinton attempted to play down these fears, saying the U.S. is ready to work with the Israeli government.
"We will work with the government of Israel that represents the democratic will of the people of Israel," she said after meeting Peres.
When asked about the possibility that she would butt heads with Netanyahu, Clinton acknowledged the possibility of disagreements and said "the United States will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way."
Ahead of his meeting with Clinton, Netanyahu showed signs of backing off his previous pledges to abandon the current round of peace talks with the Palestinians, launched in November 2007 at a U.S.-hosted summit.
Netanyahu planned to tell Clinton that his government will continue talks, a legislator from Netanyahu's Likud party said.
Clinton, speaking Tuesday, also denounced rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza and said militants must stop their fire. She came to Israel after attending Gaza reconstruction talks in Egypt on Monday. International donor countries pledged $4.5 billion in new aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip, which was devastated after Israel's 22-day offensive there.