Israeli Prime Minister Addresses Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday addressed a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on Capitol Hill. Madeleine Brand speaks with Luke Burbank, reporting from Capitol Hill, about Olmert's remarks and the congressional response.

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Noah Adams. Coming up, the black-market value of 26.5 million Social Security numbers.

BRAND: But first:

(Soundbite of Prime Minister Olmert's Address)

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): Israel is grateful that America believes in us. Let me assure you that we will not let you down.

BRAND: That's Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressing a joint meeting of Congress today. It's Olmert's first visit since his election in March.

NPR's Luke Burbank is on Capitol Hill. And Luke, it sounds like he was well received. Was he?

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Certainly. And, in fact, Madeleine, if we would have let that clip roll, you would have heard some pretty exciting cheering. There was a number of standing ovations. I was in the chambers for the speech.

Of course, these sorts of things are joint House and Senate, and they can bring a lot of interns and staffers. And so people who were particularly excited to see Olmert were able to bring friends and family. And so it was a pro-Olmert crowd.

BRAND: Hmm. And tell us about what he had to say. What was the most important thing?

BURBANK: Well, the big highlight was probably that he said he was extending his hand to Mahmoud Abbas and that Israel was willing to be a partner in peace with the Palestinians.

But then he was quick to say that they would not wait for the Palestinians forever, and that if negotiations broke down or couldn't get started within a certain amount of time, that Israeli was going to draw up its own borders, you know, one way or the other.

He talked about Iran, their nuclear threat, which he said is their anti-Semitism as a country. He said that if the world doesn't take Iran's bellicose rhetoric seriously now, it'll be forced to take Iran's nuclear aggression seriously later.

And then he tried really to connect Israeli and the U.S. He brought the family of an American high schooler, who was actually killed in Israel in a suicide bombing recently during Passover; he had his family there in the chambers. They were crying. It was a kind of emotional moment. It was definitely purposefully to sort of let everybody know that Israel and America are in this together, as he sees it.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. And the Bush administration also signaled that yesterday when the administration basically gave its blessing to Israel's proposal to unilaterally set its borders. How is that being received on Capitol Hill today?

BURBANK: Well, considering that yesterday the House overwhelmingly passed a piece of legislation that would actually be tougher on Hamas than even the president would propose, or has proposed, I think it's safe to assume that many members of the House definitely sort of welcome that.

BRAND: Well, tell us about that piece of legislation. What is it?

BURBANK: Well, it calls for the Palestinian Authority to be designated a terrorist sanctuary. It bans Visas for entry into the U.S. from any member of the Palestinian Authority. It cuts off direct and indirect U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority, except for aid meant to meet basic human health needs.

The Bush administration was not very excited about this, because they actually already cut off aid to Hamas. But they felt like the provisions laid out in this particular piece of legislation were too sweeping and it was going to make their life a little bit harder.

And it's also worth noting, that the Senate will probably not get an agreement with the House on this. So this is sort of blowing of steam for the House, but it's probably not going to ever become an actual law or bill.

BRAND: Well, thanks a lot, Luke.

BURBANK: Sure, Madeleine.

BRAND: NPR's Luke Burbank on Capitol Hill.

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