(photo credit: AP)
In a remarkable show of support for one of America's most important Jewish organizations, US President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Andrea Merkel and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended a gala event here Thursday marking the centennial of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
Bush vowed to maintain the strong ties between the US and Israel.
"America's commitment to Israel's security is strong, enduring and unshakable," Bush said.
The president said his thoughts and prayers were with former prime minister Ariel Sharon, whom he called "a man of courage, and a man of peace."
Bush reiterated the US commitment not to negotiate with Hamas before the organization accepts the conditions set forth by the international community and recognizes Israel's right to exist. He stressed that even though the Hamas was democratically elected to lead the Palestinian Authority, the US was not obliged to deal with the group.
"Democratic leaders cannot have one foot in the camp of democracy and one foot in the camp of terror," the president told the appreciative audience.
Bush underlined the concern of the international community over Iran's nuclear ambitions and stressed the need to build a united diplomatic front against Iran. "The objective among America, our European allies, Russia and China is to deny Iran a nuclear weapon," Bush said.
Merkel, who came to Washington especially for the AJC conference, shared Bush's concern over Iran and called for a concerted international effort to prevent Teheran from building nuclear weapons.
Annan did not address the Iran issue, but did offer the UN's help in working with supporters of peace in the Middle East to reach an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Annan said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas faced huge obstacles to realizing the vision of security and statehood. The secretary-general said he hoped Israel would become an equal member in all UN institutions in the near future and would be accepted by the family of nations like any other nation.
Israel did not send a senior representative to the high level conference, since the new government was being sworn in at the same time. Olmert sent a video message.
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Daniel Ayalon was also absent from the event, though Ambassador to the UN Danny Gilerman did attend.