William J. Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, said in his address to the Middle East Institute Tuesday that he sees the U.S.mandate as one of "determined leadership" and that American must be straightforward about its intentions.
"Our goal in the region is clear," he said, "two states living side by side in peace and security; a Jewish state of Israel, with which America retains unbreakable bonds, and with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, that ends the daily humiliations of Palestinians under occupation, and that realizes the full and remarkable potential of the Palestinian people."
Although he made no mention of any demands upon the PA in order to achieve its goal of establishing a new Arab state within Israel's current borders, Burns was blunt about America's expectations of Israel.
"We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements; we consider the Israeli offer to restrain settlement activity to be a potentially important step, but it obviously falls short of the continuing Roadmap obligation for a full settlement freeze," he said.
Further, he said, "We seek to deepen international support for the Palestinian Authority’s impressive plan to build over the next couple years the institutions that a responsible Palestinian state requires. And we also seek progress toward peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon, as part of a broader peace among Israel and all of its neighbors."
The highest ranking Foreign Service Officer in the United States, Burns served as Acting Secretary of State until the appointment of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001, and as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008.
The Under Secretary's remarks came barely 24 hours after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met at the White House with President Barack Obama for talks grudgingly scheduled just hours before he flew to the U.S. on Sunday.
The two leaders were accompanied for some of the one hour and 40-minute meeting, held Monday night, by their respective administrative and security teams. On the agenda were the issues of the Iranian nuclear threat, the paralysis in Israel's negotiations with the PA, and the claim by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that he will not run again for the leadership in PA elections on January 24.
Burns vowed the U.S. "will continue to work hard to bring about the early resumption of negotiations, which is the only path to the two state solution on which so much depends, not only for the future of Israelis and Palestinians, but for the entire Middle East."
"We have made limited headway," he claimed, " a shared understanding between the parties about a two-state objective; a shared interest in moving back to the negotiating table; wide international backing for this process; steady progress, in the face of very difficult odds, toward shaping reliable Palestinian security organizations and governmental institutions in the West Bank. Now we need to bear down, move ahead, fulfill our responsibilities for leadership, and challenge every other party to fulfill theirs."