- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday made his first speech as the presumptive Democratic nominee to a constituency leery of some of his forays into foreign policy: the Jewish vote.

The Illinois Democrat criticized his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, for supporting the Iraq war, which Mr. Obama said has made the U.S. and Israel more vulnerable to terrorism and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Because of the war in Iraq, Iran, which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq, is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge, to the United States and Israel in the Middle East, in a generation,” Mr. Obama said in remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual national conference in Washington.

Mr. Obama also sought to ease doubts about his support for Israel by staking out the hardline pro-Israeli position that Jerusalem must remain the Jewish state’s capital and cannot be divided between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. McCain, speaking to reporters in Baton Rouge, La., sought to turn the issue of foreign policy to his advantage.

The Arizona Republican said that many supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s vanquished Democratic primaries foe, “don’t want us to sit down with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and other tyrants, don’t want us to set a date for withdrawal and declare defeat in Iraq.”

The AIPAC crowd of about 7,000 inside the Washington Convention Center responded enthusiastically to Mr. Obama’s speech, applauding and cheering throughout and giving him several standing ovations.

Mr. Obama has been hounded for much of the past year by questions about his commitment to defending Israel, partly because his former pastor has made anti-Israel comments.

Mr. McCain trailed Mr. Obama in the latest poll of Jewish voters by a 2-to-1 margin, but his 32 percent was the highest level of support since President Reagan received 40 percent of the vote in a 1980 poll.

Early Wednesday, the McCain campaign began launching attacks on Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions.

This touched off a back and forth between the two campaigns throughout the day, a sign the general election had quickly shifted into high gear.

The first McCain release attacked Mr. Obama for not voting in favor of a resolution last September that would have designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

The Obama campaign fired back that the Democrat’s opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment has always been based on their concern it would give the president authority to use military force against Iran.

“But if you look at the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment as it was passed, it has none of that in it, regarding military action,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, one of the nation’s foremost Jewish politicians, who is a strong McCain backer.

Mr. Lieberman, who was Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, batted down Mr. Obama’s assertion that the invasion of Iraq led to the support in Iran of hard-line leaders like Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“If Israel is in danger today, it’s not because of American foreign policy, which has been strongly supportive of Israel in every way, it is not because of what we have done in Iraq,” Mr. Lieberman said on a conference call organized by the McCain campaign. “It is because Iran is a fanatical terrorist, expansionist state and has a leader and a leadership that constantly threatens to extinguish the state of Israel.”

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