November 23rd, 2012
06:02 PM ET

Behind the scenes of Clinton’s “shuttle diplomacy”

By Jill Dougherty

For both President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the bid to broker a cease-fire in Gaza was high-profile, high-risk diplomacy.

“It’s a significant decision to send the secretary of state into an uncertain situation that puts American credibility and influence on the line,” a senior State Department official tells CNN. “I have the beginnings of ulcers to show that this was not a done deal when we left” for the Middle East.

Planning for Clinton’s possible “shuttle diplomacy” trip to the Middle East – cutting short a trip with Obama to Southeast Asia – began Sunday, the official says. When Clinton and her staff arrived in Thailand, they began conversations with the president’s senior staff. Did the potential benefits of going outweigh the risks?

Over lunch in Myanmar, Obama and Clinton discussed gaps between Egyptian and Israeli proposals for a cease-fire and how the U.S. might most effectively play a supporting role.

On Monday, the president called key players, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. By Tuesday, the decision had been made: Clinton would fly to the region. The staff began putting the wheels in motion for a mid-afternoon departure from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She would arrive in Israel at 10 p.m. local time and go directly to a meeting with Netanyahu.

But before she left for the airport, Clinton, Obama and a small group of senior staff huddled once again, walking through the basic strategy, how to announce the trip and how to categorize it.

“We were still, as we drove out to the airport, working out the timing of the meetings at various stops,” the senior official tells CNN. “That’s how quickly this was all coming together.”

The president’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes announced the trip as Clinton’s plane was taxiing down the runway.

Clinton and her staff flew from Phnom Penh, via Mumbai, India, to Tel Aviv, Israel. As soon as they arrived, they drove directly to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem for Clinton’s meeting with Netanyahu. They talked for two and a half hours, discussing Israel’s strategic considerations, its concerns about a cease-fire, the terms it wanted and how Israel wanted to address longer-term issues, including weapons smuggling.

Overnight, she and her staff mulled over what to propose to the Egyptians, who had their own proposal for a cease-fire with Hamas.

The next day, Clinton traveled to Ramallah to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbbas, and returned to Jerusalem for yet another meeting with Netanyahu and other senior officials. They talked about the potential for a call from Obama to Netanyahu that would include subjects such as the Iron Dome air defense system and arms smuggling.

Once again, Clinton boarded her plane for a short flight to Cairo, Egypt, carrying with her the terms of a possible cease-fire.

“The Secretary met with President Morsy for about an hour, and they literally sat there with the paper in their hands, marked up with potential changes to it,” the State Department official tells CNN. “So it was that level of specificity that she and President Morsy – as well as the Egyptian foreign minister and national security adviser - were getting into.”

At the end of meeting, Clinton told the officials that what they had agreed on was consistent with what the Israelis wanted, but she needed one more discussion with Netanyahu to make sure he was comfortable with the terms. She urged the Egyptians to check with the Palestinian factions to make sure they were comfortable as well.

Clinton was taken upstairs to a conference room, where she called Netanyahu. Then there was a second call to clarify some points. Finally, Netanyahu said he was ready for a call from Obama.

At 7:30 p.m. local time, Clinton and the Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Amr announced that the cease-fire would go into effect at 9 p.m.

“You could not have a more textbook case of on-the-ground diplomacy, where she is literally word-smithing the final cease-fire documents with both the prime minister of Israel and the president of Egypt,” the State Department official says.

She was “sitting there with the paper, with a pen in her hand, making small edits, underlining things, passing words back and forth, debating phrases. And all the while, also stepping back and saying ‘What’s the larger strategic picture here? Why is it so important for you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, to close this out? Why is it important for you, President Morsy, to close this out?’”

As for the U.S. role, the official says the question was what assurances the U.S. could give, especially to the Israelis, “that as far as missile defense is concerned, and arms smuggling is concerned, we’ll be there for them so that this doesn’t just repeat itself in a few weeks’ time.”

“We were taking a risk in doing this,” this official says. “We were putting both her credibility on the line and the United States’ credibility on the line, and ultimately we decided the stakes were too high not to do it, but there was a very real risk that this would not succeed.”

Amid the nail-biting by her staff, Clinton was “resolute,” the official says. “She thought this was the right course of action for Israel’s interest, for regional stability. She felt at the end of the day that would shine through if you could get people focused on the big picture, and that’s what she was trying to do.”

Clinton’s political skills helped, but the official notes that “these are not just political arguments, because we’re talking about issues of life and death and existential threats … it’s also about statesmanship and strategy. So she had to be as much a diplomat as politician to be able to grapple with problem at stake.”

As Clinton headed for the airport to return to Washington, cease-fire in hand, the official says, “we were not jubilant, we were not really excited.”

“Because we recognized that this is a first step; it’s fragile, it remains risky; there remain very real underlying problems that need to be dealt with.”

“This was not pop-open-the-champagne time. It was job well done, and now let’s get to work on the next thing.”

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Edgar Gwartney

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  5. Percy Coe

    January 10, 2021 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  6. helenecha

    We have been told so much on American credibility and influence to the world. American people are facing the risks of meeting fiscal cliff and the tough jobs of recovering from the devastation of hurricane. Would these diplomatic efforts have its potential credibility and influence in the help of solving those problems?

    November 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  7. Mellowfellow

    The cease fire was settled before Hillary even got there. Just some more of obamas "eye candy" strategy.

    November 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • Chitral Cheetah

      The election is over. Live with it.

      November 26, 2012 at 3:50 am | Reply
  8. jonny

    Americans need to stop sending money overseas to all these basket case countries keep it at home let them live in the mess they always manage to create and blame everyone else for. As a canadian the same goes for my gov keep the money at home. Let the world pay there own way.

    November 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  9. dscon

    Yeah! Hillary made a deal with a terrorist dictator. Yeah!

    She'll probably disappear again like with Bengazi Gate.

    November 24, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
  10. Araminta Ross

    I wonder why President Obama has trouble looking Sec. Clinton in the eye?

    He's never "joined us" Hil...he doesn't have the American moral fiber.

    November 24, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
  11. Chris

    How about President James Carter for Secretary of State? HE could broker peace in the Middle East.

    November 24, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  12. glennwharris

    2 sue. Nothing wrong with any woman being a lesbian. Besides . . . U and your mother are lesbians. F..k off. Gdubglenn

    November 24, 2012 at 5:40 am | Reply
  13. Lin McKay

    Bill or Chelsea . . . Hoda and Kathy Lee . . . can SOMEONE please take charge of Hillary and get her a make-over beginning with cutting off that hair. She is so intelligent, such a great spokesperson but she diminishes her gifts by her appearance. She looks more sloppy and unkempt each time she appears. Someone help her out. How can she be president of the U.S. looking like she just got out of bed and didn't give a darn how she appeared to the world? Just saying . . .

    November 24, 2012 at 3:23 am | Reply
    • Howard

      Rest assured, IF she decides she wants to run for President (and I hope she does), she'll get a make-over. She'll also have at least a couple of years to get some badly needed rest before then.

      November 24, 2012 at 3:56 am | Reply
  14. dah00

    We have a fantastic Sec State in Hillary. She would also make a fantastic president. She's ready.

    November 24, 2012 at 2:30 am | Reply
    • Newt Gingrich

      Bill Clinton is the baggage. The 2 terms limits of being President. People voted for Obama instead because they didn't like the idea of a 3 or 4 term Bill Clinton Presidency. This will not change in 2016. She will face the same problems she had in 2008 and it will be worst because she will be much older.

      November 24, 2012 at 2:52 am | Reply
      • Howard

        Hogwash. Bill has proven he will keep his distance by his conduct while Hillary was at State. Besides, Bill's got his own big international thing without Hillary. He's so popular in his own right, why would he settle for being 2nd banana in the White House?

        Hillary's big problem with Bill, if she's elected President, will be getting him to show up for a few state dinners just for appearances sake.

        November 24, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • tang ziping

      Hillary is ready to be a flight attendant.

      November 24, 2012 at 3:25 am | Reply
  15. Jay

    Is there any way after a new Secretary of State is confirmed Hillary could go to the Middle East to broker a permanent peace between the Isreali's and Palestinians – she is probably the only person who has the relationships, skills, and credibility to do it.

    November 24, 2012 at 12:37 am | Reply

      Hillary is smart enough to run away from the buthcher commander-in-chief. I am sure she wants to enjoy days with the ugly Bill, instead corpse like Steven, the US Ambasador to Lybia!!!!

      November 24, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply
      • Newt Gingrich

        You can't even spell *Libya* right! LMAO

        And how many Americans have died under Reagan, Bush Sr, and Bush Jr?

        November 24, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • loops808

      Her visit legitimized and empowered Morsi. The result is sweeping new powers for Morsi and the beginning of a new and ruthless dictorship that is unfriendly to the U.S. And by the way, where is the reporting of why Clinton didn't respond fto the requests from Embassador Christopher Stevens for more security prior to his slayig? Getting swept under the rug by the liberal media.

      November 24, 2012 at 2:21 am | Reply
      • Chitral Cheetah

        I guess your masters Limbaugh, Hannity, Leven and all the other RW nuts did not tell you that the election is over and you lost. Good riddance. Keep barking dittoheads

        November 26, 2012 at 4:04 am |
    • Newt Gingrich

      That would defeat the purpose of her *retiring*.

      November 24, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
  16. Mukhooli ronald

    Israel iz cooking new plan gaza

    November 24, 2012 at 12:17 am | Reply
  17. John

    I think this administration is really smart and can think outside the box. When the country was sliding down to the deep hole of recession, they prioritize their agenda to Obamacare. And now they thought they could solve the middle-east crisis by visiting Southeast Asia. LOL.

    November 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Reply
    • tang ziping

      Send Hillary back to Lybia and she can do more there.

      November 24, 2012 at 3:16 am | Reply
  18. R

    The democrats are filled with phony people who don't look at things realistically and put on big smiles that are fake and they call themselves big peacemakers but in reality they help and sympthasize with terrorist countries and can't stand israel and more importantly Obama and his buddies hate Benjamin netheniyahu because he stands up to terrorists

    November 23, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      Netanyahu is a fool, just like George W.! No original thoughts, just keep on doing the same old thing that doesn't work! Thank God (both the Christian God and the Jewish God) that Obama keeps Netanyahu at arms length and doesn't fall over himself in unrestricted praise and admiration of this Israeli fool! Congress just loves this guy! Anything Israel wants from Congress, Israel gets!
      Now, Netanyahu has lost his beloved country's "war" with Hamas! Hamas declares victory! It is a victory for Hamas, just like Viet Nam was a victory for the communists! STOP repeating what doesn't work! Peace is truly possible, but it requires new ideas and new solutions! Guns and bombs do not "create" peace!
      Netanyahu wants America to invade Iran (becasue he can't do it). American bombs will not solve anything. Hopefully Netanyahu will be voted out of office soon. Hopefully new and better logic will prevail!

      November 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  19. Suzanne

    WHEn will Hillary realize that EVEYTHING she is doing is for her BILL??? Sad, Tragic woman. Could these possible rumors of lesbianism be coming true? She ABSOLUTELY has NO relationship as man/wife with BILL!!!. She only wants to WIN HIM BACK so she does as HE TELLS HeR TO DO!. He really wants to be President again. MORE aides to pursue.!!!!
    Hillary – get Help, counseling – Get your BRAIN overwork your "BILL NEEDS"

    November 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
    • Rachel

      sue what the heck are you talking about.

      November 24, 2012 at 9:29 am | Reply
  20. tellthetruth

    The deal they made was for the U.S. to send troops to the Sinai to control the smuggling of weapons into gaza., that's what made israel ok with a truce. The media here doesn't report anything to the people. The American people should know about this. Why aren't any of the American media talking about this. Other news channels around the world reported it.

    November 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  21. kerlyn bonilla


    November 23, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Reply
  22. rand

    what??? The cease fire was agreed upon 24 hours BEFORE she arrived there. I swear, the left wing media stoops to new lows daily.

    November 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
    • Suzanne

      AMEN Randy – the press is VILE>

      November 23, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Reply

    with RISK there are CONSEQUENCES

    November 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply

    with RISK there are CONSEQUENSES

    November 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  25. gweed

    Was money pledge as part of this "diplomatic effort?" If so, in what amount, to whom and what are the terms?

    November 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      This is a joke! There was a decided cases fire before she even arrived. They are doing everything they can to make her look like a leader so she can run in 4 years. Egypt had announced the cease fire earlier but of course they will try and give her credit. This administration is full of dishonest people. Other countries had sent people to negotiate this. Of course this administration was in their late in the game and now is trying to take the credit!

      November 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Reply
      • todaymessage

        joe, it is much easier to play internet quarter-back . Why don't you shut-up and show some respect to you elected leaders.

        November 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  26. Tan

    Bravo to the Secretary of State that stood firm and reasonable to both sides. Instead of leaning toward one side, she and the president worked out the cease fire plans with both parties to stop the bloodshed. It's to show how Democratic way of bringing peace to the world without using force.

    November 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Reply
    • Name*jeff

      I agree 100 present with you tan bravo my friend. Not all who post on here are immature idiots there are those who do see the big picture god bless you friend

      November 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  27. Tembisa

    Reblogged this on World Chaos.

    November 23, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply

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