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Obama, Clinton Follow McCain to AIPAC


As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, it was a chance for Obama to woo Jewish voters.

MICHELE KELEMEN: This was expected to be a fairly tough crowd for Barack Obama. They had heard from Republican John McCain earlier in their conference, and McCain came out hard, describing Obama as someone who would sit down with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

JOHN MCCAIN: Yet, it's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another.


KELEMEN: A confident-looking Obama came out on stage today wearing a lapel pin with the Israel and U.S. flags, trying to counter, as he put it, the willful mischaracterizations of his policy. He told the thousands gathered for the annual AIPAC policy conference that he will do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon - and he stressed the word everything.

BARACK OBAMA: That starts with aggressive, principled, tough diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions, but with a clear-eyed understanding of our interests. We have no time to waste.

KELEMEN: He said Senator McCain is not offering a break from Bush administration policies, but only, in Obama's words, an alternative reality. Obama also talked tough about the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. He said, quote, "There's no room at the negotiating table for terrorists." Some AIPAC members came out saying they feel more confident now about the presumptive Democratic nominee. It helped that Obama got this endorsement from Hillary Clinton, who ran into Obama backstage where they had a brief chat about bringing the Democratic Party together.

HILLARY CLINTON: I know Senator Obama understands what is at stake here. It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend. And let me be very clear, I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.


KELEMEN: All the candidates spoke about issues on the minds of this influential lobby group, sanctions on Iran, and increased U.S. military assistance for Israel. There was not too much talk about Middle East peace talks, though Senator Obama tried to make a clean break from the Bush administration, saying, if elected, he won't wait until the waning days of his presidency to take a personal commitment to advance Middle East peace.

OBAMA: The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper. But any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.


KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.