PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- President Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Mideast on Tuesday, stepping up his administration’s so-far futile attempts to broker an end to the bloody conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Clinton flew to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaving abruptly from Cambodia, where she had accompanied Obama to a regional summit. From Israel, she is slated to travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials before heading to Cairo to talk with Egyptian leaders.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Clinton’s task was the “de-escalation of violence” in the Gaza Strip and that her hastily arranged trip was deemed by the president to be the best way to push toward that goal.
After days of working the phones while traveling in Southeast Asia, Obama determined it was time for “face-to-face discussions,” Rhodes said.
“The center of gravity is in the region,” he said.
Israeli and Arab negotiators have been meeting in Cairo trying in vain to hammer out a cease-fire that would halt the rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas militants and the Israeli airstrikes that have pounded Gaza for nearly a week, killing at least 100 people.
Rhodes repeated the White House’s support for Israel in the conflict, saying the nation has a right to defend itself.
Rhodes did not name any leaders in the region, other than Netanhayu, on Clinton’s itinerary. The White House does not engage directly with Hamas because “it has not met the conditions set for many years, to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to abide by existing agreements,” he said.