israel rocks up for obama

SDEROT, Israel - With a fanfare typically orchestrated for a visiting head of state, Senator Barack Obama dashed through a series of meetings with leaders on both sides of the Middle East conflict this week, pledging to protect Israel and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

SDEROT, Israel - With a fanfare typically orchestrated for a visiting head of state, Senator Barack Obama dashed through a series of meetings with leaders on both sides of the Middle East conflict this week, pledging to protect Israel and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Obama, who hoped his appearance here would open the door to a stronger bond with Jewish voters at home, pledged that if elected president he would not put pressure on Israel to accept concessions with Palestinians that would compromise security for Israelis.

He also sought to allay concerns over his proposal to negotiate with Iran.

"A nuclear Iran would be a game-changing situation not just in the Middle East but around the world," Obama told journalists.

For a day, at least, Obama tried his hand at a practice round of shuttle diplomacy.

He shared breakfast with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, travelled across military checkpoints to the West Bank for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

A controversial statement last month from Obama that Jerusalem should remain Israeli and undivided, was raised by Israeli journalists. Obama said Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel, but added: "It is not the job of the United States to dictate the form that it will take."

On his second visit to Israel he sought to reassure voters of his capacity to serve on the international stage.

The audience of the trip, despite a private series of dawn-to-dusk meetings, clearly was the American electorate as much as the foreign leaders.

Tailed by camera crews, his visit created something of a spectacle on local television, in newspapers and even among government ministers who jockeyed to join the attention. - Sapa-AFP

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