Obama condemns Jerusalem terror attack

obama 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
obama 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama condemned Tuesday's terror attack in Jerusalem just a few hours before he arrived at the King David Hotel, just up the street from where the attack took place. "Today's bulldozer attack is a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long," he said at a press conference Tuesday in Amman. "I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security." Obama arrived in the country for a whirlwind trip that his staffers said was meant to show solidarity with Israel. "Senator Obama is coming to express his strong commitment to the US-Israel friendship and to Israel's security, and show his solidarity with Israel and its struggles for peace, and against terrorism," one staffer said. He said Obama also wanted to discuss with Israeli leaders the "grave threat posed by Iran, and Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." Unlike what was reported Tuesday in Jerusalem, where it was said at a lecture that Obama had never mentioned the possibility of a military option in relation to stopping Iran's nuclear march, the presidential hopeful had, at his AIPAC speech in June, explicitly talked about military action. "Finally, let there be no doubt - I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel," he said at the time. "Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation. But that only makes diplomacy more important." The Iranian issue is expected to be a central focus of the talks Obama will hold with the top tier of Israel's leadership, including President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Obama is being accompanied on this trip by a number of foreign policy advisers, including former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and former US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer. One diplomatic official said Israel's leaders were "scrambling" for time with Obama, not only to pass on Israel's message, but also to strengthen themselves as significant players on the Israeli domestic scene by being seen with the man who may become president. Government officials said that Barak, who was not originally slated to join Obama on a helicopter tour around the country, had asked Livni - who was to take Obama on the tour - if he could join. Livni agreed, the sources said, on condition that when they landed in Sderot and held a press conference, Barak would not participate. "One Bara[c]k would be enough there," the official quipped. At the police station in Sderot, Dichter will brief Obama on the situation in Sderot and show him an "exhibit" of Kassam rockets that have fallen on the town. Livni's agreement to include Dichter in the Sderot tour, the government officials said, was a sign of a growing alliance that has recently developed between the two likely candidates in the upcoming Kadima primaries. In addition to meeting with a bevy of Israeli officials, Obama is also scheduled to travel to Ramallah and meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He is also scheduled to squeeze into Wednesday a visit to Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. Asked how he answered critics who said that Obama's visit was a blatant play for Jewish votes in the upcoming election, one Obama staffer said the Democratic candidate's trip abroad was "to consult with leaders of friendly nations and hear their perspectives, and talk about how we can talk about our shared challenges and shared opportunities." While Obama's trip to Afghanistan and Iraq were congressional delegation (Codel) trips paid for by the US government to allow lawmakers to get a firsthand look at issues, his trip to Israel and then to Europe is being paid for by his campaign. McCain's trip to Israel in March was a Codel. At his press conference in Jordan before arriving in Israel, Obama vowed to work for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office." He also said any US involvement in peace talks must recognize not only Israel's security concerns, but also the economic hardships facing Palestinians. He said he would continue to regard Israel as a valued ally. "That policy is not going to change," he said. "What I think can change is the ability of the United States government and a United States president to be actively engaged with the peace process and to be concerned and recognize the legitimate difficulties that the Palestinian people are experiencing right now." Obama is scheduled to leave Israel early Thursday morning for the European part of his tour. AP contributed to this report.