| GEO World|
| Israel's Lieberman tells Clinton no to settlement freeze|
| Updated at: 0134 PST, Thursday, June 18, 2009|
WASHINGTON: Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday reiterated the Jewish state's refusal to freeze settlements, after his first talks with US counterpart Hillary Clinton exposed gaps on Middle East peace.
Lieberman, standing next to Secretary of State Clinton after the pair had more than one hour of talks, told reporters that Israel did not have "any intention to change the demographic balance" of the West Bank.
"But we think that as in any place, babies are born, people get married, some pass away and we cannot accept this vision about an absolutely complete freezing of settlements," said Lieberman.
"I think that we must keep the natural growth," he said after the two held their first official meeting since the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in late March.
"This approach is very clear and also we had some understandings with the previous administration (of George W. Bush) and we try to keep this direction," he said.
The Israelis say they received commitments from the Bush administration permitting some growth in existing settlements. They say the US position was laid out in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Israeli premier Ariel Sharon.
Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, reiterated that the Netanyahu government is ready "immediate direct talks with the Palestinians."
Clinton stuck by early statements that President Barack Obama's administration opposes any kind of settlement activity in line with a 2003 roadmap agreed to by Israel.