Obama Surprises Peres Gala Event With Special Message

U.S. president lauds Peres as 'great statesman', emphasizes 'deep bond' between Israel and America.

U.S. President Barack Obama surprised attendants of the 2009 Presidential Conference with a special recorded message, in which he called Israeli-U.S. relations a "bond that is much more than a strategic alliance."

"The American people and the Israeli peoples share a faith in the future and believe that democracies can shape their own destinies and that opportunities should be available to all," said Obama, in a message apparently unanticipated by the conference participants, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a personal greeting to President Shimon Peres, Obama called his Israeli counterpart an "extraordinary example how courage and perseverance help shape the future.

"I'm especially honored to send my greetings to a great statesman, the host of this Conference, President Shimon Peres," said Obama. "His life stands as an extraordinary example how courage and perseverance help shape the future. Turning harrowing challenges into historic opportunities."

"In his lifetime he helped build and secure the State of Israel he faced great threats and forged peace. Always challenge us to seek the promise of a better day. Shimon has contributed to a deep and much abiding friendship between the U.S. and Israel."

Obama expressed his regret for not being able to come to the conference, but said he was satisfied that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was able to take his place.

The second annual Presidential Conference runs October 20-22 at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.