Obama, Clinton Follow McCain to AIPAC

Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton address the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In an earlier appearance at AIPAC, Sen. John McCain blasted Obama's willingness to meet with the president of Iran.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Barack Obama was introduced today as the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party at a convention where both he and Hillary Clinton spoke. This morning they addressed AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the country.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, it was a chance for Obama to woo Jewish voters.

MICHELE KELEMEN: This was expected to be a fairly tough crowd for Barack Obama. They had heard from Republican John McCain earlier in their conference, and McCain came out hard, describing Obama as someone who would sit down with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Arizona, Republican; Presidential Candidate): Yet, it's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: A confident-looking Obama came out on stage today wearing a lapel pin with the Israel and U.S. flags, trying to counter, as he put it, the willful mischaracterizations of his policy. He told the thousands gathered for the annual AIPAC policy conference that he will do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - and he stressed the word everything.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): That starts with aggressive, principled, tough diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste.

KELEMEN: He said Senator McCain is not offering a break from Bush administration policies, but only, in Obama's words, an alternative reality. Obama also talked tough about the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. He said, quote, "There's no room at the negotiating table for terrorists." Some AIPAC members came out saying they feel more confident now about the presumptive Democratic nominee. It helped that Obama got this endorsement from Hillary Clinton, who ran into Obama backstage where they had a brief chat about bringing the Democratic Party together.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): I know Senator Obama understands what is at stake here. 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)

KELEMEN: All the candidates spoke about issues on the minds of this influential lobby group, sanctions on Iran, and increased U.S. military assistance for Israel. There was not too much talk about Middle East peace talks, though Senator Obama tried to make a clean break from the Bush administration, saying, if elected, he won't wait until the waning days of his presidency to take a personal commitment to advance Middle East peace.

Sen. OBAMA: The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

(Soundbite of applause)

KELEMEN: State Department spokesman Sean McCormack wouldn't respond to questions about Obama's positions on these so-called final status issues. McCormack said only, the U.S. is still trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on the contours of a Palestinian state before President Bush's term ends. President Bush met today at the White House with Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert. In brief remarks to reporters their meeting, they did not repeat any of their previously optimistic talk about an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal this year.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Clinton Praises Obama But Doesn't Concede

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama at the Washington Convention Center. i i

hide captionDemocratic 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
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama at the Washington Convention Center.

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
Clinton at AIPAC

hide captionNew 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

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.

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