NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that Israel's security requirements would be fully taken into account in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
In a move that could allow Netanyahu to persuade his governing coalition to back a new freeze on Israeli settlement construction, Clinton and the visiting Israeli leader ended a marathon round of talks in New York with a strong declaration of Washington's "unshakable commitment to Israel's security and to peace in the region."
"The prime minister and the secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals," the two sides said in a joint statement, which did not mention the settlement issue directly.
But Clinton repeated that the peace talks -- which have hit an impasse over the settlement issue -- could yet yield an independent Palestine living next to Israel "with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."
"Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement," the joint statement said.
It added that any future Palestinian state should be based on its 1967 borders with "agreed swaps" of territory, holding out the prospect that Israel might retain some of the occupied West Bank in exchange for giving the Palestinians other Israeli territory.
Israeli officials said Netanyahu has pushed Clinton for broad new U.S.-Israel understandings on Israel's security needs in any eventual peace agreement.
"The chances of reaching a peace agreement will be improved significantly by achieving comprehensive security understandings between Israel and the United States," Netanyahu said before Thursday's talks began.
Israel wants a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley along the eastern border of a future Palestinian state as well as financial help to pay for security arrangements that would be necessary if a peace deal is achieved.
Thursday's talks marked the Obama administration's latest attempt to restart the direct peace talks that began in Washington on Sept. 2 but were suspended by the Palestinians three weeks later when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month limited building freeze in West Bank settlements.
(Writing by Andrew Quinn; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Stacey Joyce)