McCain: US won't allow a second Holocaust

Ahead of Obama's arrival, analyst cites "deep differences" between candidates' approaches to ME.

McCain 224 88 AP (photo credit: AP)
McCain 224 88 AP
(photo credit: AP)
US Democratic presidential aspirant Barack Obama will bring his campaign to Israel Tuesday evening for a whirlwind tour that Israeli diplomatic officials say is meant both to present him as a foreign policy maven and to court Jewish votes in the US. "Obama is not only coming here, but we are a stop on his world tour meant to show voters that he understands the world," a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Monday. "At the same time, his visit here is meant to reassure Jews in the US who usually vote Democratic, but have their doubts about Obama." In an interview on Channel 2 Monday night, Republican candidate John McCain repeated his tough stance on Iran, saying that more significant and painful sanctions should be clamped on Iran to get it to modify its behavior. "I think we have a lot of options to explore before we seriously explore the military option, and I don't think we have exercised those enough," he said. Asked about Israel feeling the need to attack Iran, McCain replied, "I would hope that would never happen. I would hope that Israel would not feel that threatened." He said the US and Europe could impose "significant, very painful sanctions on Iran, which I think could modify their behavior." Then he added: "But I have to look you in the eye and tell you that the United States of America can never allow a second Holocaust." Obama, who was here in 2006, will cram meetings with five Israeli leaders and the Palestinian Authority president, and visits to the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, Sderot and Ramallah into a trip of just over 24 hours. Although his exact schedule has not been publicized, Obama is expected to land Tuesday evening and hold meetings the next day with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu. He is scheduled to leave early Thursday morning. Unlike McCain, who was here in March, Obama has scheduled a meeting in Ramallah with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. From Ramallah he is scheduled to take a helicopter to Sderot, a stop that McCain did make. Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, said the prime minister was "looking forward" to his meeting with Obama, and "to exchange views on the issues." This will be the first meeting between the two, although they have spoken on the phone. The Jewish vote is expected to be extremely important in the upcoming elections in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada. According to Kory Bardash, chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel, there are currently some 250,000 American citizens in Israel, which means about half as many Americans live in Israel as live in Wyoming. Of this number, about 120,000 to 130,000 are eligible to vote, the rest being under 18. Bardash said that in the last election, some 35,000 absentee ballots were cast from Israel, the most ever. Recent polls on whom Israelis favor in the US elections gave McCain a lead of about nine percentage points. Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, said Monday at a lecture at Media Central in Jerusalem that after studying the public statements and positions of Obama and McCain over the last 18 months, he had discovered a "deep and profound difference between them" regarding the Middle East. While both Obama and McCain have taken up President George W. Bush's legacy of a deep commitment to Israel, and both have said that in contrast to Bush's first seven years in office they would be "hands-on" when it came to the peace process, there would be differences be on "the way the hands would be applied," Oren said. For instance, Oren said, while Obama has adopted the idea of territorial contiguity for any Palestinian state, meaning some kind of road or rail link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, "contiguity" is not in McCain's vocabulary. Other differences, at least in the candidates' statements, are that Obama has talked about the settlements, whereas McCain has never mentioned them; Obama has discussed his reservations regarding the Likud Party, while McCain has stayed completely out of domestic Israeli politics. While Obama has praised the cease-fire with Hamas and the indirect talks with Syria, McCain has expressed reservations about both, Oren said. And, Oren said, whereas Obama subscribed to the assumption - long held by the State Department - that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the core regional problem and that if it were dealt with, others could be tackled, McCain has rejected that assumption. Instead, Oren said, he subscribed to the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can't be addressed until the issue of Islamic radicalism - especially supported by Iran - is. Oren said McCain believed that the problems presented by Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas must be addressed before beginning an effective peace process. Based on their public positions, Oren said that Obama would be interested in a more regional peace process, perhaps taking in Syria and other actors as well, and would take Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem into greater consideration. A peace process Obama would champion, Oren said, would probably be more likely to pressure Israel on the settlement issue. He also said that instinctively, not basing his belief on any of the candidates' statements, Obama would probably be more willing to deal with a PA that would incorporate Hamas after unity talks, than would a McCain administration. By contrast, Oren said, McCain would probably focus narrowly on the Israeli-Palestinian track and not try to make it more regional, unless the Syrians stopped supporting Hizbullah and ended border crossing of terrorists into Iraq. Likewise, he said, a McCain administration would be more sympathetic to Israel's position on the settlements, less likely to pressure Israel on Jerusalem, and be more averse to dealing with a Hamas-Fatah PA. Regarding Iran, Obama is in favor of opening dialogue with Teheran, and while he has said that all options were on the table in dealing with Iran's nuclear threat, he has not explicitly ever mentioned a military option. McCain has talked about a military option and rejected the idea of negotiations with Iran unless it stopped supporting terror and talking about destroying Israel. While Obama praised last year's National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, McCain - Oren pointed out - said, "the intelligence agencies aren't going to make my policies." Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Abu Dhabi on Monday, accused Iran of not being serious at weekend talks about its disputed nuclear program, despite the presence of a senior US diplomat, and warned it may soon face new sanctions. In her first public comments since Saturday's meeting in Switzerland, Rice said Iran had given the run-around to envoys from the US and five other world powers. She said all six nations were serious about a two-week deadline given to Iran to agree to freeze suspect activities and start negotiations, or be hit with new penalties. Rice was briefed on the meeting by the State Department's No. 3 diplomat, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who attended the session in a shift from Washington's previous insistence that it would not meet with the Iranians unless enrichment of uranium had stopped. Rice arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday and was to get a face-to-face briefing on the talks from Burns. Both were then to discuss Iran and other issues in closed-door meetings with foreign ministers and senior officials from six Gulf Arab states along with Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. At Saturday's meeting, Iran had been expected to respond to a package of incentives offered in exchange for halting enrichment of uranium, which can be used to fuel atomic weapons. The Bush administration broke with long-standing policy to send a top diplomat to support the offer. However, Rice said that instead of a coherent answer, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili delivered a "meandering" monologue full of irrelevant "small talk about culture" that appeared to annoy many of the others present at the table in Geneva. "We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians but, as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious," Rice told reporters aboard her plane as she flew to the United Arab Emirates. "It's time for the Iranians to give a serious answer." "They can't go and stall and make small talk about culture, they have to make a decision," she said. "People are tired of the Iranians and their stalling tactics." Rice's remarks about the Iranian presentation were much harsher than those of the host of the meeting, European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who lamented only that Iran had not provided "all the answers to the questions." The Iran nuclear question is expected to top the agenda at a gathering of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday in Brussels, officials said. On Sunday, Iranian state radio reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called the talks a "step ahead" and said the country's formal assessment would be issued soon. On Saturday, one member of the Iranian delegation said there was "no chance" Iran would suspend uranium enrichment, again denying assertions that Iran's nuclear program was for anything other than power production. Jalili avoided the suspension issue entirely. Unless Iran responds positively in the next two weeks, it can expect more sanctions to be imposed by the United States and the EU as early as late August or September and may then be hit with a fourth sanctions resolution at the UN Security Council, Rice said. "We will see what Iran does in two weeks, but I think the diplomatic process now has a new kind of energy to it," she said. "If they do not decide to suspend then we will be in a situation where we have to return to the Security Council." High-level contact between the United States and Iran is extremely rare, and Burns's presence at the talks may have confused the Iranians, Rice said, acknowledging a tactical change to demonstrate US unity with the other five powers: Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. "From time to time, it is important to invigorate the diplomacy," she said. "I think that the fact that we went may have been a bit surprising to the Iranians, and they didn't react in a way that gave anyone any confidence." The offer envisions a six-week commitment from Iran to stop expanding enrichment, during which time no additional sanctions would be imposed. That is intended to create the framework for formal negotiations that, it is hoped, will lead to a permanent halt of enrichment. Rice was dismissive when asked if Burns or another US diplomat would be present to hear Iran's response in two weeks. "I think we've done enough to demonstrate that the United States is serious and to assure our partners that we're serious," she said. AP contributed to this report.