* McCain: Clinton would bring clout to Middle East talks
* Says U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorated under Obama
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John
McCain has some advice for President Barack Obama to help
energize stalled Middle East peacemaking: Put former President
Bill Clinton in charge.
Democrat Bill Clinton, husband of Obama's Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, is always "the smartest guy in the room"
and so would he be in a roomful of Israeli and Palestinian
negotiators, McCain told the Reuters Washington summit
The Republican presidential nominee in 2008 who lost to
Obama, McCain said Clinton had credibility with both Israelis
and Palestinians and had come the closest of anyone to
That was an apparent reference to the 2000 Camp David talks
between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser
Arafat, the late head of the Palestinian Authority.
"I believe that the president should call in the one person
who has a chance of negotiating, having both sides negotiate
with good faith, and that's one Bill Clinton," McCain said.
"I would ask him to take on the role of the president's
special envoy, mediator, potentate, whatever you want to call
it because he's the person that came the closest and he's the
person that has the most credibility," McCain told Reuters.
McCain's suggestion was rare praise from a Republican for a
Democrat in Washington these days and came as Obama was having
a not especially stellar day on the Middle East front, at least
not so far as U.S. ally Israel was concerned.
It emerged on Tuesday that Obama apparently failed to
defend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when French
President Nicolas Sarkozy branded him a "liar" in a private
conversation that was overheard by journalists.
McCain said that Obama's rejoinder to Sarkozy -- "I have to
deal with him even more often than you" -- reflected the
"deterioration" in U.S.-Israeli relations since Obama had
QUARTET ENVOYS TO MEET SIDES SEPARATELY
"There has not been one bit of progress" in the Middle
East, certainly not on the Israeli-Palestinian front, since
Obama was elected, McCain declared.
An Obama administration effort to broker direct peace
negotiations fell apart after it was launched last year, and
the United States has had little success in bringing the two
sides back to the table.
With both sides at a standoff, Obama's Middle East envoy,
George Mitchell, resigned earlier this year. McCain said
Obama's best chance to turn the situation around now would be
to bring in Clinton.
"He (Clinton) has the respect, he has the clout" and the
parties would fear upsetting him, McCain said. "And he knows
the issue better than anybody."
There is already a Middle East envoy for a group known as
the Quartet, a body comprising the United States, the European
Union, Russia and the United Nations: former British prime
minister Tony Blair.
"I've watched Tony Blair try to make progress," McCain
said. But Blair, in seeking to broker new talks, has run into
some of the same problems that bedeviled Mitchell's efforts.
Netanyahu says he wants talks now, but the Palestinians say
the Israelis must halt all building of Jewish settlements in
the West Bank before they return to the table, and that is
something Netanyahu's government says it will not do.
Quartet envoys will try again to jump start peace moves on
Nov. 14, meeting separately with Israeli and Palestinian
officials in Jerusalem, the U.S. State Department said
(Additional reporting by the Reuters Summit Team; editing by
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