Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

US view on settlement 'unchanged'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Moroccan counterpart Taib Fassi Fihri
Hillary Clinton in in Marrakech to meet a number of Arab foreign ministers

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Washington has not changed its stance against Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

She has been meeting Arab foreign ministers in Marrakech in Morocco.

On Saturday, Mrs Clinton urged the Israelis and Palestinians to restart talks as soon as possible.

This appeared to endorse an Israeli position that talks could start before a settlement freeze which the Palestinians are demanding.

On Saturday, she met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in a new US drive to restart the peace talks.

Israeli plan praised

In a major policy speech in Cairo in June, President Barack Obama said the US did not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement in the occupied territories and "it is time for these settlements to stop".

Though Mrs Clinton insisted that the administration's position on settlement building had not changed, on Monday she praised an Israeli offer to significantly restrict the growth of settlements.

"If it is acted upon it [the offer] will be an unprecedented restriction on settlements and will have a significant and meaningful effect on restraining their growth," she said.

But following Israeli objections since Mr Netanyahu took office seven months ago, Washington has changed tack, saying the most important thing was to get the negotiations going again.

The Palestinian refusal to acquiesce in this means the chances appear slimmer than ever that these talks about talks can be turned into substantive negotiations, BBC Jerusalem correspondent Paul Wood said.

The Palestinians feel angry and let down by the Obama administration, our correspondent says.

They refused a direct appeal from Mrs Clinton to enter substantive talks immediately and the final status negotiations remain a long, long way off.

In Morocco, the secretary of state was scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal as well as group meetings with Gulf Arab ministers and officials from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq on the sidelines of a development conference.

She was also due to meet Morocco's King Mohammed.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, annexing the latter shortly afterwards, and it has settled more than 500,000 Jews in the two areas.

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