Joe Biden Nov. 7, 2010 (Reuters)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Jewish Federation's GA in New Orleans, November 7, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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NEW ORLEANS - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday told a major gathering of American Jewry here that the Obama administration is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and reiterated the White House’s oft-repeated message that the U.S. relationship with Israel is unbreakable.

Speaking on the second day of the annual the Jewish Federations General Assembly, Biden told the hundreds of delegates who crowded into plush ballroom at the Marriot Hotel to hear him, that President Barack Obama and his administration had made every attempt to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran regarding its nuclear program, which Israel and the United States believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. But, said Biden, “Iran responded to our overtures with continued defiance and the whole world saw it.”

Biden said that this defiance was the trigger for Obama’s decision to implement “the most comprehensive and far reaching sanctions Iran has ever faced.” He added, however, that the sanctions are not intended to be “an end in themselves,” but rather a way of convincing the Iranians to return to diplomacy. “We continue to seek a peaceful resolution,” he said, but clarified, “Let me be very clear: we are also absolutely committed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The vice president also mentioned American concerns over Iran’s support for “dangerous proxies,” specifically the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which Biden accused of “doing everything in its power to subvert” a United Nations tribunal into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Turning to U.S.-Israel ties, Biden raised the row that erupted during his most recent visit to Israel in March, when Israel announced new settlement construction on the day of his arrival, despite American opposition to such a move. The vice president said that he and his old friend Bibi (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname) had talked the matter through while sitting in Netanayhu’s home. Disagreements between Jerusalem and Washington “have only been tactical in nature,” he said, adding that the ties between the two countries are “literally unbreakable.”

He said that the United States had fought hard against the current wave of attempts to delegitimize Israel, and deny it the right to defend itself, in particular in the wake of the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone inquiry into the war in Gaza in the winter of 2008/9, and the condemnation that followed, and the Israel Navy raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May, in which nine activists died in fighting that erupted when passengers attacked troops attempting to board.

Biden said he “spent hour after hour in the aftermath of the flotilla” incident working to ensure Israel has the right to defend itself, and that the United States is “absolutely, unequivocally committed to Israel’s security. Period.”

The vice president warned that Israel would never be truly secure until it made peace with the Palestinians. A peace deal, he said, “is the only path to the Israeli people’s decades-long quest for security.” He also warned either side against taking any unilateral steps that could “prejudice” peace talks which Washington is working hard to revive, saying there is “no substitute for direct face to face negotiations leading eventually for states for two peoples.”

Biden speech came on the heels of a meeting earlier Sunday with Netanyahu, who is set to address the GA on Monday morning.