Obama Reiterates Commitment To Israel

Barack Obama has met with top Israeli and Palestinian officials. His basic message has been that he is a friend of Israel who is committed to the special relationship between the two countries. He also said he would use "big sticks and big carrots" with Iran.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The future is before you, so is the world, and so are we with you. That warm welcome to Senator Barack Obama from Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem today. Capping his travels through the Middle East, Obama had a packed schedule. He visited with top Israeli leaders and the Palestinian president and prime minister in the West Bank. There, Obama posed for photos but made no public statements.

The presidential candidate then flew by helicopter to the southern Israeli city of Sderot, near Gaza, a frequent target of Palestinian rockets. Obama held a news conference there standing in front of rows of spent Qassam rockets.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I'm deeply committed to helping Israel achieve a lasting peace with Palestinians who are prepared to accept the state of Israel, renounce violence and terrorism, and abide by agreements. Israelis desire a secure peace in which both they and the Palestinians can fulfill their legitimate aspirations: A strong, secure state of Israel living alongside a viable and peaceful Palestinian state.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with Senator Obama. And Don, just by going to Sderot, the target of these attacks, he's sending a message there as well.

DON GONYEA: He's basically saying that he understands. He's - in a place like this, gets a real appreciation for the kind of security concerns that Israel lives with and that the people here live with every single day. At event after event today, his basic message was that he is a friend of Israel, that this is a very special relationship that these two nations have, and that it will always remain so, regardless of who is president but certainly under an Obama presidency.

BLOCK: We mentioned that earlier in the day, Senator Obama met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank. How was he received there?

GONYEA: He was well-received. They were happy that he worked them into his visit here. It's something that Senator John McCain did not do when he visited this same area some months ago. He met separately - Senator Obama did today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

These meetings were not as big of a production as some of those he had with the Israeli leaders. Again, as you said, there were pictures, no press conference or anything. But Senator Obama says he wanted to, he needed to hear what their perspective is on the state of peace talks.

BLOCK: What else was on the senator's agenda today?

GONYEA: Well, it was a busy day. Here is the list. He met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Again, these were all separate meetings. He toured the Holocaust Museum. He met with President Shimon Peres. He made that trip out to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinians, Abbas and Fayyad. He met with Foreign Minister Tipzi Livni. He met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Throw in a meeting with the mayor of Jerusalem. And, by my count, that is eight in one day.

At one point, Benjamin Netanyahu asked him how he was doing, and Obama responded that he could fall asleep on his feet. So quite a day.

BLOCK: When he was meeting with reporters today, he was asked several times about Iran and Iran's nuclear ambitions. What did he have to say about that?

GONYEA: And he's still a little defensive about that. He did say that a nuclear Iran would pose a grave threat and the world must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He said Iran needs incentives. And, you know, that could include talking to them, if that would work. He said the world needs to use a big carrot, but also a big stick in dealing with Iran.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Jerusalem traveling with Senator Barack Obama. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: You're welcome.

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