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Latest update : 2008-07-23

On his Israel tour, Obama promised Wednesday to defend Israel's security. He and Israeli leaders agreed on the goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

JERUSALEM, July 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential
candidate Barack Obama pledged staunch support for Israel during
a visit to Jerusalem on Wednesday and said, if elected, he would
work to invigorate the Middle East peace process.

As part of an overseas tour aimed at bolstering his foreign
policy credentials, Obama met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud
Barak and right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, a former prime minister, said Obama promised
never to seek to damage Israel's security. Both men agreed on
the "primacy" of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Obama was due later to see President Shimon Peres, Foreign
Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who could
be forced out of office by a corruption probe.

"I will share some of my ideas. The most important idea for
me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between
the United States and Israel -- one that cannot be broken,"
Obama said on arrival on Tuesday night.

Obama, who faces Republican John McCain in the November
election, is struggling to overcome wariness among some Israelis
and some Jewish voters in the United States about the strength
of his commitment to Israel.

Obama also dismayed Palestinian leaders when he said last
month that Jerusalem should be Israel's "undivided" capital.

Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in
1967, as the capital of a future state. Obama later said he used
"poor phrasing" when he made the remarks.

The Democratic candidate, an Illinois senator, will visit
the occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hoped Israel and
the Palestinians would forge a statehood agreement by the time
U.S. President George W. Bush steps down in January. If not, he
hoped his successor would "stay the course" to pursue peace.



Obama arrived in Israel just hours after a Palestinian
rammed a bulldozer into vehicles on a busy Jerusalem street near
the hotel booked for his stay. The attacker wounded at least 16
people, one seriously, before being shot dead.

He said the bulldozer attack was "just one reminder of why
we have to work diligently, urgently and in a unified way to
defeat terrorism".

Obama also expressed his wish to reinforce the "historic
special relationship between the United States and Israel".

On earlier trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama underscored
his goal of bringing U.S. troops home within 16 months and
giving more attention to Afghanistan.

Obama, who plans to visit Berlin, Paris and London next,
said on Tuesday he would work vigorously for a peace deal
between Israelis and Palestinians but said it would not be easy.

Obama will stop on Wednesday in the Israeli town of Sderot,
which sits near the border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and
has been hit by rockets fired by Palestinian militants. McCain
visited Sderot in March and did not visit the West Bank.

The cross-border rocket attacks, and Israeli military
operations in the  Gaza Strip, have largely subsided since an
Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took hold last month.

Doubts among Israelis about Obama have been fuelled in part
by his pledge to increase engagement with Israel's arch-foe
Iran, though he has emphasised any discussions would carry a
tough message that Tehran must halt sensitive nuclear work.

Date created : 2008-07-23