Regading the Middle East peace process, Obama declared that Israel should never feel "dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table" by the United States.
Senator Obama appeared Friday in Chicago before an audience of hundreds of lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“The world must work to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy,” he said.
Even though all options were on the table, Obama said the utmost efforts should be devoted to “sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions”.
Obama stressed the importance of preventing Iran’s nuclear armament, which could lead weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists, inevitably causing other Middle East nations to join the race for nuclear weapons. “To prevent this worst-case scenario, we need the United States to lead tough-minded diplomacy,” he said.
“This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War, laying out in clear terms our principles and interests,” he said.
Obama also said pressure must be applied to Egypt to crack down on the smuggling of weapons and Iranian money into the hands of terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs. This would help Israel maintain its military edge and deter and repel attacks from as far as Tehran and as close as Gaza,” he said.
'Right to defend'
Obama stressed that “when Israel is attacked, we must stand up for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself.” To illustrate his point, the Illinois senator used the example of last summer’s war in Lebanon, and reiterated the United States’ commitment to press for the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resoultion 1701.
“In moments like these, true allies do not walk away. For six years, the administration has missed opportunities to increase the United States' influence in the region and help Israel achieve the peace she wants and the security she needs. The time has come for us to seize those opportunities,” Obama noted.
Obama said he was concerned by the agreement reached last month in Mecca between Fatah and Hamas to establish a coalition government in the Palestinian Authority.
“This should concern us all because it suggests that Mahmoud Abbas, who is a Palestinian leader I believe is committed to peace, felt forced to compromise with Hamas. However, if we are serious about the Quartet's conditions, we must tell the Palestinians this is not good enough,” he declared.
Obama referred to past peace efforts, saying, “Rabin had the vision to reach out to longtime enemies. Ariel Sharon had the determination to lead Israel out of Gaza. These were difficult, painful decisions that went to the heart of Israel's identity as a nation.”
The senator promised to act with determination to advance peace and to send diplomatic delegations with true goals to the Middle East, rather than “continuing to have trips consisting of little more than photo-ops with little movement in between.”
“But in the end,” he added, “we also know that we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests. No Israeli prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States.”