With an eye on his re-election campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama in a speech to arguably the most powerful pro-Israel lobby sought to carefully balance his commitment to Israeli foreign policy interests with a stern note of caution to stem “too much loose talk of war” with Iran and his intention to continue pursuing diplomatic solutions with the Ahmedinejad regime.
Repeated references to his record of unwavering commitment to Israel's security got Mr. Obama applause every time from the 13000-strong crowd of delegates attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
However Mr. Obama's remarks that “We all prefer to resolve [the Iran nuclear] issue diplomatically,” and that loose talk of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities “has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil,” were greeted with a cold silence from the delegates.
His speech comes a day before he is scheduled to meet with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, where they will discuss a range of strategic issues of mutual concern, according to an official statement. Mr. Netanyahu will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration leaders in Washington.
Reacting to Mr. Obama's speech Mr. Netanyahu was said to have welcomed in particular the American President's statement on Israel's right to defend itself by itself against any threat. “I appreciate all of these statements and expect to discuss them tomorrow with President Obama,” Mr. Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
Mr. Obama's speech, which was littered with allusions to the U.S.' “unbreakable” bond with Israel including terms such as “sacrosanct,” “non-negotiable,” “unprecedented,” however reiterated his administration's belief in the two-state solution to the Palestine question.
He said, “I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel's own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defence Minister [Ehud] Barak, President [Shimon] Peres — each of them have [sic] called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.”
That the President had the November elections in his mind became obvious when he hit back at Republican nominee candidates' past comments questioning Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel's security interests.
Mr. Obama said, “If during this political season... you hear some questions regarding my administration's support for Israel, remember that it's not backed up by the facts... Remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.”