Text size

United States Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama reiterated his support for Israel on Friday, while at the same time calling on the U.S. to make a concerted effort to revive the peace process.

"Our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region," Obama said during a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago. "Our job is to do more than lay out another road map."

"That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: Our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy," he added. "That will always be my starting point."

In what may have been a veiled reference to reports of American opposition to Israeli negotations with Syria, Obama said: "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."

The Illinois senator also called for continued American military assistance to Israel. "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," he said.

Obama added that he was concerned about the Palestinian unity government accord.

Turning to Iran, the presidential hopeful called for direct engagement with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program.

"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."

"Tough-minded diplomacy would include real leverage through stronger sanctions," Obama continued. "It would mean more determined U.S diplomacy at the United Nations. It would mean a cooperative strategy with Gulf States who supply Iran with much of the energy resources it needs. It would mean full implementation of U.S. sanctions laws."

Obama blamed what he called the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq for strengthening the Iranian position, placing "Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril."

Related links:Obama supports Israel. Period.