Photo: AFP
With Olmert in Jerusalem
Photo: AFP
Photo: Alex Zeger
In Sderot - 'Israel must defend itself'
Photo: Alex Zeger
Embracing President Peres
Photo: AFP
Meeting with Opposition Chairman Netanyahu
Photo: AFP
Obama vows cooperation with Israel on Iran
Discussion centers on Iranian threat as Democratic candidate dines with PM Olmert in Jerusalem following dizzyingly hectic tour across length, breadth of Israel for Obama on Wednesday. Earlier he visited Sderot, offered hawkish rhetoric in face of Gaza rocket attacks

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hosted visiting US Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, at his Jerusalem residence on Wednesday evening for a low-key dinner.


While the discussion between the two covered a range of topics, the Iranian nuclear threat topped the agenda. Obama pledged that he intends to focus on the matter in coordination with Israel, which he said would be included in the process.


"Israel estimates the Iranians will obtain the necessary components to build a nuclear bomb by mid-2009, at the latest in 2010," Olmert told Obama. "We must move quickly to prevent Iran from arming itself with the bomb."


Olmert reiterated Israel's position regarding what must be done to deal with Tehran's nuclear program, and said the current steps being taken to that end are insufficient. "Between these measures and all-out military action there is room for a number of additional effective steps. We must move urgently to tighten the sanctions against Iran, without taking any option off the table," Olmert said.

Barack Obama in Sderot on Wednesday (צילום: reuters, shai machluf, editing: tamar avraham)


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Obama laid out the policy he would implement in regards to Iran, if elected to office in November. The prime minister's aides said Olmert felt the Illinois senator had a clear understanding of the Iranian issue and is "immersed" in the subject matter.


The aides said that the policies Obama presented to the PM indicate he appreciates the severity of the threat at hand and also believes it must be dealt with.


The two also discussed the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Olmert told his guest that the points of contention between the two sides are smaller than ever. The prime minister briefed Obama on the status of the core issues, with the exception of Jerusalem as it is not currently on the agenda in Israel's talks with the PA, Olmert's office said.

Obama with Olmert after dinner (Photo: AFP)


Obama said that it was important to advance the process opposite moderate Palestinian leaders and work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.


Olmert also briefed Obama on the recently renewed peace talks with Syria and voiced Israel's concern over the continued smuggling of arms to Hizbullah in Lebanon through Syria.


They also touched on the efforts to release Gilad Shalit and on Obama's visit to Sderot earlier in the day. The senator repeated the statement he made there, saying that if it were his home and his daughters under attack, he would do everything to stop the rockets.


Earlier in the day the visiting senator said a nuclear Iran would pose a "grave threat" and Tehran's nuclear program poses a problem for all of humanity.


"A nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama told reporters.


Talking tough in Sderot

Israel should not negotiate with Hamas so long as the Islamist group poses a threat to Israeli citizens, Obama said on Wednesday during his visit to the town of Sderot.


Obama said that if someone were firing on his home, where his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything to stop the attacks – and that this is how he expects Israel to act as well.


During his brief visit to the small town Obama also noted the terror attack in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Hizbullah attacks and the Iranian nuclear program, saying that all of these were genuine threats Israel faces alongside the Qassam rockets from Gaza.

Examining a Qassam shell in Sderot (Photo: AFP)


''America must always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself against those who threaten its people,'' Obama said.


At a press conference held towards the end of his visit, the town's mayor, Eli Moyal, presented Obama with a white T-shirt carrying the slogan, ''I (heart) Sderot,'' with a rocket piercing the heart.


Later on Wednesday Obama met with Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The mayor was accompanied by two of the victims from Tuesday's bulldozer attack.


Lupolianski told Obama that while he does not worry that anyone will divide Jerusalem, "talk of doing so may encourage terrorism." Obama said that he stands behind Israel and was moved by the stories of the two attack victims. He told the mayor there was no room for more fences in Jerusalem.


A full dance card 

In the morning Obama visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.


A visibly emotional Obama toured the center, saying he always finds himself wondering how humanity could have produced such evil.

Laying a wreath at Yad Vashem (Photo: AFP)


"At a time of great peril and torment, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man's potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world," he wrote in the visitors' book.


Later on he met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.


He was joined by Barak, and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, on a helicopter trip over central Israel.


He took a brief sojourn from his meetings with Israeli officials to travel to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  

Helicopter tour with Livni and Barak (Photo: Ariel Hermoni, MOD)


Obama, who faces Republican John McCain in the November election, is struggling to overcome wariness among some Israelis and some Jewish voters in the United States about the strength of his commitment to Israel.


McCain, it should be noted, did not meet with Abbas during his most recent trip to Israel in March.


Obama also met with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and said "I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States and my abiding commitment to Israel's security and my hope that I can serve as an effective partner, whether as a US senator or as president."


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