Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama: 'Much more determined' to break Mideast deadlock

From and Washington Post

President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday the suffering on both sides of Gaza's borders has led him to ramp up his commitment to working for a peace deal in the Middle East.

"When you see civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli, harmed, under hardship, it's heartbreaking. And obviously what that does is it makes me much more determined to try to break a deadlock that has gone on for decades now," he told ABC's "This Week."

Rejecting criticism that he has been relatively quiet on the violence in Gaza, Obama said he believes "the one area where the principle of 'one president at a time' has to hold is when it comes to foreign policy. We cannot have two administrations at the same time simultaneously sending signals in a volatile situation.

"But what I am doing right now is putting together the team so that on January 20, starting on day one, we have the best possible people who are going to be immediately engaged in the Middle East peace process as a whole, that are going to be engaging with all of the actors there, that will work to create a strategic approach that ensures that both Israelis and Palestinians can meet their aspirations," he said.

Asked whether he will be building on President Bush's policies toward the region or offering "a clean break," Obama responded: "I think that if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach. And I think that players in the region understand the compromises that are going to need to be made."

Dealing with Iran, Obama said, will be "one of our biggest challenges. ... Not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah, but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

Iran insists it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, only nuclear energy. But the Bush administration has said Iran's nuclear energy program is a guise to build nuclear weapons. European officials -- some of whom share the U.S. concerns -- have repeatedly tried to broker a resolution to that stalemate.

Smoke billows over Jabalya, Gaza, after an Israeli airstrike on Sunday.
Smoke billows over Jabalya, Gaza, after an Israeli airstrike on Sunday.

During the presidential election, Obama vowed to meet with leaders of Iran and several other nations without preconditions during his first year, though his campaign later added that there would be "preparation."

Obama said Sunday that his commitment to "engagement" early on will help send a "signal that we respect the aspirations of the Iranian people, but that we also have certain expectations in terms of how a international actor behaves."

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