Obama pledges to coordinate Iran policy with Israel
Official in PM's bureau says Obama 'certainly understands the seriousness of the Iranian threat.'
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama pledged to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday that if elected, he will coordinate his policy on Iran with Israel.
Iran was the major issue of the senator's hour-and-a-half meeting with Olmert, which was also attended by advisers of both leaders. Olmert told Obama that the timetable on Iran was very short. He said Israel believed that Iran could achieve the technology to manufacture a nuclear bomb by the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. He said there was no time for long-term policy and that action had to be taken quickly.
Olmert told Obama that between the insufficient steps currently being taken and aggressive all-out military action, there were a number of other possible steps. According to Olmert, these moves must be made urgently, while not taking any option off the table.
A senior official in Olmert's bureau said that "Obama's remarks about Iran led us to believe that he certainly understands the seriousness of the Iranian threat."
Olmert and Obama also discussed the Palestinian issue. Obama said he had the impression that the Palestinians feel there have been great progress in negotiations. Olmert responded that the gaps were smaller than ever before, and now was the time for brave decisions on both sides so an agreement could be reached.
Olmert briefed Obama on the state of negotiations with Syria and said that weapons continued to be smuggled to Hezbollah via Syria, which was a matter of great concern to Israel.
Obama told Israeli officials that he supported negotiations between Israel and Syria and that he would work to cut Syria off from Iran. He said at a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he had talked about Syria with other leaders in the region and the talks were worth a try.
Obama said in all his meetings that the Iranian question was at the top of his priorities and that a nuclear Iran would have negative implications for the entire Middle East, in terms of American interests as well. Barak said it was clear to him that the Iranian issue was urgent because a nuclear Iran would be intolerable.
Officials who were at the meetings with Obama said he reiterated that he had come to Israel to learn but also to explain his positions. He said he recognized that there were concerns about him and that he knew he was being closely scrutinized, the officials said.
On his arrival at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Obama greeted President Shimon Peres warmly. The two walked arm-in-arm on the red carpet and held a working meeting in the garden. Obama said during his meeting with the president that he wanted Peres' "recipe for looking as good he does." Peres gave Obama an autographed copy of the English translation of his book "Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel."
Before Obama's meeting with Peres, the candidate visited Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the commemoration hall. "I am always taken back to sort of the core question of humanity that the Holocaust raises. That is, on the one hand, man's great capacity for evil, and on the other hand, our ability to come together to stop evil," Obama said.
Toward evening Obama headed south by helicopter to Sderot, accompanied by an entourage of cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Barak and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter.
Obama met in Sderot with Osher Twito, who was seriously wounded in a Qassam rocket attack. He embraced Twito and had his picture taken with him. Dichter described to the senator the situation in Sderot before the current lull took effect. He also told Obama that his 85-year-old mother, who lives in Ashkelon and lost her entire family in the Holocaust, now had to live in fear of Qassam and Katyusha rockets. Dichter said he had visited the U.S. border with Mexico and that if rockets were being fired from Mexico, the U.S. would bomb Tijuana.
Former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai was also on hand to greet Obama when his helicopter landed, although he had not been invited.