Obama Vows to Support Israel Sen. Barack Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he is a "true friend" of Israel. At the same event, his rival, Hillary Clinton, did not concede her role as the Democratic presidential candidate, but said she shares his support of Israel.
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Obama Vows to Support Israel

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Obama Vows to Support Israel

Obama Vows to Support Israel

Obama Vows to Support Israel

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Sen. Barack Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he is a "true friend" of Israel. At the same event, his rival, Hillary Clinton, did not concede her role as the Democratic presidential candidate, but said she shares his support of Israel.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day - history cracked. And now what? I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. We'll follow this stunning political story throughout the show today. A black American clinches the Democratic presidential nomination. We'll speak with political leaders and analysts here and overseas.

CHADWICK: But we'll begin with a reporter. NPR's Scott Horsley, he watched a victorious Barack Obama today give a speech in Washington. Scott, welcome back. Senator Obama was speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that's a major organization for a traditional Democratic group that's been a little nervous about him, American Jews. What did he say?

HORSLEY: That's right, Alex. And the first thing Obama did, in an effort to reassure Jewish voters, is to just give a straightforward declaration of his unqualified support for Israel. He also talked in sort of personal terms about his own understanding of the Jewish state, which he got from a camp counselor as a child. He talked about the history of Jews and African-Americans standing shoulder-to-shoulder, even shedding blood together during the civil rights struggle.

And he confronted head-on some of the Internet rumors and the false emails that continue to circulate suggesting that he's a closet Muslim or that somehow he wouldn't stand up for Israel.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president and all I want to say is, let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama because he sounds pretty scary. But if anybody's been confused by these emails, I want you to know that today, I'll be speaking from my heart - and as a true friend of Israel.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHADWICK: Scott, it was Senator McCain speaking to this same group on Monday, and he was very critical of Senator Obama for his willingness to negotiate with Iran's president. So did the senator speak about that today? Was there a response on that point?

HORSLEY: Yes, Senator Obama said he was hesitant to be too partisan because he didn't want anyone watching in this country of another country to think that America's support for Israel was somehow a partisan thing. He said it crosses party lines; both Democrats and Republicans support Israel. And he acknowledged that Iran is a serious threat throughout the Middle East. But he also argued that Senator McCain's policy, in particular McCain's ongoing support for the Iraq War, have not made either Israel or the United States more safe.

Senator OBAMA: Senator McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy he would continue. He criticizes my willingness to use strong diplomacy, but offers only an alternate reality - one where the war in Iraq has somehow put Iran on its heels. The truth is the opposite.

CHADWICK: And you know, these events are scheduled, I guess, months in advance, so the speaker following Senator Obama was Hillary Clinton. She spoke just moments after he did - didn't begin her speech with any reference to the events of yesterday, didn't in any way concede her role as a Democratic candidate. She did offer a note of support for Senator Obama.

HORSLEY: That's right. For a while, it looked as if Hillary Clinton might just ignore what happened yesterday altogether. But then she did pivot a bit and tried to reassure the AIPAC audience that Barack Obama shares her unqualified support for Israel now and forever, she said.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend. And let me be very clear, I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: Senator Clinton also gave a partisan plug for electing a Democrat in November, whichever Democrat may be on the ballot, and she said it's not just Israel that faces challenges. She said the U.S. can only be a strong ally to Israel if it gets stronger here at home and strengthens its reputation in the world. I should say, by the way, that Senator Obama certainly congratulated Clinton for the way she had run the campaign, as did Senator McCain today. Both Obama and McCain are going to be working hard to win over Hillary Clinton's supporters.

CHADWICK: NPR's Scott Horsley in Washington for us today. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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Clinton Praises Obama But Doesn't Concede

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama arrives to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama arrives to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2008. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

On the morning after the last Democratic primaries, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama heard himself introduced as the party's "presumptive" presidential nominee.

Obama spoke at the Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he promised to keep the United States closely allied with Israel.

Following last night's primaries in South Dakota and Montana, Obama has enough delegates to secure the party's nomination, according to the Associated Press' delegate count.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton also spoke at AIPAC this morning, following Obama by just a few minutes. Clinton did not directly acknowledge Obama as the presumptive nominee.

The closest she came was to say, "I know Sen. Obama will be a good friend to Israel." She refrained from criticizing Obama, and in particular, she made no mention of Obama's controversial pledge to negotiate with Iran — an issue that came up frequently during foreign policy debates on the campaign trail.

Washington is watching Clinton closely for clues as to whether she will concede the race to Obama, and under what conditions. At her rally marking the end the primary season last night, Clinton said she was not yet ready to make a decision on her next step.

When asked by NPR this morning if he was disappointed by Clinton's tone, Obama said no. "I thought Sen. Clinton, you know, after a long-fought campaign, was understandably focused on her supporters," he said.

He said he spoke with her briefly today, and that they would be "having a conversation in the coming weeks."

Clinton may be holding out for an invitation to be Obama's running mate. Her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, said, "I think a lot of her supporters would like to see her on the ticket." The Obama camp denies any deal is in the works.

At AIPAC, Obama praised Clinton. Echoing the compliments he paid her at his victory celebration last night, he called her "an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party." But Obama also made a point of putting their rivalry in the past tense, saying, "I'm very proud to have competed against her."

Obama dedicated most of his speech to reassuring his pro-Israel audience that he shared its cause.

"I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security," Obama said. He also addressed the existence of e-mails questioning his support of Israel.

"They're filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president. Let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama," he joked, "because he sounds pretty scary."

Obama has consistently trailed Clinton among Jewish voters, and he's been working hard in places such as Florida — the home of many Jewish retirees — to bolster his pro-Israel bona fides.

Addressing the sometimes contentious relationship between blacks and Jews, Obama recalled past cooperation. "In the great social movements in our country's history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder," Obama said. "They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together."

Obama also defended his policy of negotiating with Iran, saying he was calling for "tough diplomacy," with strong penalties for Iran if it develops nuclear weapons.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, is already treating Obama as his presumptive opponent. Today he repeated his criticism of what he calls Obama's "bad judgment on national security issues," and he once again called on Obama to join him for a series of "town hall" debates.