A regional conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, was supposed to be an opportunity for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to meet with foreign ministers from many Arab and other nations to discuss important issues, including ways to revive the flagging peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.
Instead, Clinton found herself having to clarify, explain and modify remarks she made in Jerusalem over the weekend. She was perceived as praising an Israeli offer to slow — but not stop — the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
That offer falls short of Palestinian demands to freeze all settlement construction as a precondition to sitting down at the negotiating table.
Clinton's comments were widely criticized by Arab leaders, and she sought to set the record straight during meetings with Arab foreign ministers.
"We discussed how the position of the Obama administration has not changed," Clinton said. "We do not believe that settlements are legitimate. We have said that repeatedly, and we have made that clear to the Israelis, the Arabs, the Palestinians and the world."
Clinton has another chance to make her case Wednesday. She left Morocco on Tuesday for Cairo and a hastily arranged meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key player in the effort to broker peace negotiations.
In Marrakesh, Clinton said it was important that she put the facts on the table.
"I think a number of my counterparts were not aware that what the Israeli government is offering would be an end to all new settlement activity in the West Bank. It would be an end to expropriation; it would mean an end to any permits or approvals," she said.
Clinton added that the Israeli proposal falls well short of the U.S. desire for a complete stop to construction. Clinton's handlers were firm that she had not made a mistake in Jerusalem by omitting the Obama administration's stand on settlements. They said her need to clarify her remarks was simply public diplomacy.
Her comments did seem to satisfy some Arab officials in Marrakesh.
"We have heard her say something completely different from that statement in line with previous statements," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki. "We are happy that such a position was highlighted and brought back to the right line, and right now we will see how things will go."
Malki said he appreciates the Obama administration's effort to make the Israeli-Palestinian issue a top priority.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said he has a lot of confidence that President Obama will not accept what he calls "a slap in the face" by Israel. But Moussa added that the U.S. may not be successful in its attempts to restart peace talks.
"I'm really afraid that we are about to see a failure," Moussa said. "I'll still wait until we have our meetings and decide what we're going to do. But failure is in the atmosphere all over."