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Obama Speaks to AIPAC, Echoes McCain’s Exaggerated Remarks on Iran

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Obama speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  Obama joined the sensationalist chorus by calling Iran a “grave” threat.  However, Obama has stated that he is willing to talk to Iranian leaders, without preconditions—a remark which John McCain and President Bush have tried to exploit in front of the Israeli Knesset and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  Domestically, recent polls show that a majority of Americans favor dialog.

WASHINGTON — One day after clinching his party’s presidential nomination, Democrat Barack Obama reached out to two groups that have concerns about his candidacy: Jewish Americans and supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama won applause with a promise to “do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He also assailed his Republican opponent, John McCain, for “willful mischaracterization” of his call for diplomatic outreach to the Iranian regime and said he “has no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking.”

But as president, Obama said, “I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader at a time and place and my choosing — if and only if it can advance the interests of the United States.”

Calling the threat posed by Iran “grave,” Obama said that “as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.” He pledged $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade to “ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran.” To a standing ovation, he said, “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — everything.”

The presumed Democratic nominee took a shot at President Bush for delaying peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “I won’t wait until the waning days of my presidency,” he said. “I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.”

Saying that Palestinians “need a state that is contiguous and cohesive,” Obama said any agreement “must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders” and with Jerusalem the capital of an undivided country.

The Illinois senator sought to dispel concerns in the Jewish community, circulating on the Internet, that he is a Muslim and is allied with critics of Israel. Obama is a Christian. “If anyone has been confused by these e-mails,” he said, “I want you to know that today I’ll be speaking from my heart, and as a true friend of Israel.”

And he reminded the audience that African Americans and Jewish Americans had stood together during the civil rights era. “They took buses down South together,” Obama said. “They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man — James Chaney — on behalf of freedom of equality.” Calling the legacy of the three slain civil rights workers “our inheritance,” Obama said, “We must not allow the relationship between Jews and African Americans to suffer.”

As he began his speech, Obama acknowledged Clinton for “the outstanding race that she has run.” Calling the New York senator “a true friend of Israel” and “a great senator . . . who made history alongside me for the last 16 months,” Obama said that he was “very proud to have competed against her.”

Clinton, who next spoke to the AIPAC audience, said that Obama “understands what is at stake here,” and that it was “an honor to contest these primaries” with him.

“Let me be very clear,” said Clinton, who has yet to concede the nomination. “I know that Sen. Obama will be a good friend to Israel” and will “say to the world that America’s position is unchanging . . . that the United States stands with Israel now and forever.”

Noting that the next president “will inherit grave problems,” Clinton said that despite his tough talk to AIPAC in a speech on Monday, McCain “will continue the same policies” in the Middle East.

“America needs a new beginning in our foreign policy,” she said, arguing that failed policies in Iraq and elsewhere have cost the United States influence and “strategic leverage.”

“We cannot stand strongly with Israel,” she said, “if we are not strong everywhere else.”

Republicans today congratulated Obama on a historic race for the presidency as the first African American candidate nominated by a major party. McCain said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Obama had run “a very effective campaign” and has “motivated lots of Americans to be involved in the political process.” And in her morning briefing, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Obama’s “historic achievement reflects the fact that our country has come along way too.”

Democrats, meanwhile, attempted to coalesce around Obama. With Clinton not yet conceding the nomination, Democratic leaders gave superdelegates until Friday to make a decision. In a statement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco; West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Assn.; and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, the leaders said, “The voters have spoken. . . . We are urging all remaining uncommitted superdelegates to make their decisions known by Friday of this week so that our party can stand united and begin our march toward reversing the eight years of failed Bush/McCain policies that have weakened our country.”

But Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign, told NBC’s “Today” show that the New York senator plans to take a couple of days “to think this through and assess her next steps. And she’ll have something to announce. And when she does, everyone will know it.”

Asked about the prospect of Clinton as vice presidential nominee, Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said the process of finding a running mate has just begun. Praising Clinton for “a terrific campaign” that brought “millions of new voters into the process,” Gibbs said on “Today” that the vice presidential choice is “an important process that’s going to take some time.”

Irancove @ June 4, 2008

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