President Obama sent condolences to Israel Saturday on the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, but the commander in chief will not attend the upcoming memorial service, according to the White House.
Instead, the administration will send Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
“I look forward to leading the U.S. delegation to his memorial service, to pay respects to the man and to pay tribute to the unshakeable partnership between the United States and Israel,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.
In his own statement, Mr. Obama was noticeably lukewarm in his praise for the late Israeli leader.
“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel,” the president said.
His only other comment about Mr. Sharon was that the United States was joining with Israel “in honoring his commitment to his country.” The rest of Mr. Obama’s four-sentence statement focused on the ties between the U.S. and Israel.
“We reaffirm our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples,” Mr. Obama said. “We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, called Mr. Sharon “a giant.”
“Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a dream of peace in the Middle East, and he lived every day trying to realize it,” Mr. Cantor said. “He was a giant as a leader of Israel, a skilled warrior in battle and a valued friend of our nation.”
Mr. Cantor said the U.S. and Israel “are stronger partners in peace because of his efforts, and his loss is a great one.”
“Our nation mourns his passing and joins Israel in honoring his tremendous legacy of independence, strength and peace. My thoughts are with his family and the Jewish people of Israel who he devoted his life to serving,” he said.