Obama will 'engage immediately' on Gaza once he is president
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US President-elect Barack Obama broke his much-criticised silence on the conflict in Gaza, saying at a news conference Wednesday that once he takes office, he is prepared to work on "a more lasting peace in the region".
REUTERS - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who has avoided commenting on foreign policy matters, said on Wednesday he will "engage immediately" in the situation in the Middle East when he becomes president.
Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, repeated that he was deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza but said he it would be imprudent to send signals that his incoming administration is running foreign policy.
"I am doing everything that we have to do to make sure that the day that I take office we are prepared to engage immediately in trying to deal with the situation there," he said at a news conference. "Not only the short-term situation but building a process whereby we can achieve a more lasting peace in the region."
Obama has refused to make any lengthy comments on the violence in Gaza, where more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in the 12-day Israeli offensive to suppress rocket fire against its citizens by the militant group Hamas.
In the past two days, he has only voiced concern about civilian deaths. When asked on Wednesday why he refused to give a more in-depth reaction to the situation, he again deferred to President George W. Bush.
"We cannot be sending a message to the world that there are two different administrations conducting foreign policy," he said. "Until I take office, it would be imprudent of me to start sending out signals that somehow we are running foreign policy when I am not legally authorized to do so."
Asked if he was concerned about criticism from the region that he had been too quiet about a major foreign policy challenge that will face him soon, Obama said:
"I can't control how people interpret what I'm saying, other than to repeat what I said. Hopefully, they hear my message."
"This silence is not as a consequence of a lack of concern. In fact, it's not silence. I've explained very clearly exactly what institutional constraints I'm under when it comes to this issue."
Obama has been accused both of siding with Israel with his silence or of failing to stand with the Jewish state.
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