Tales from the Trail

U.S. lawmakers wonder, where did our love go? with Turkey

It almost sounded as if U.S. lawmakers felt jilted by Washington’s long-time NATO ally Turkey.

“How do we get Turkey back?” demanded Representative Gary Ackerman at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing exploring “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction.”

“Why is Turkish public opinion … perhaps one of the most anti-American of any of the countries of the world?” asked the committee’s chairman, Representative Howard Berman.

KENNEDY/With a panel of experts on Turkey listening, Berman and other lawmakers listed their worries about recent Turkish policy turns on Iran, Israel and the Palestinians.

Concerns about Turkey had hit a new peak with its support of an aid convoy of ships that tried to run the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip this summer, Berman said.

Obama brings out the “American” in Nobel laureate

Nobel peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari is a former Finnish president but, after looking at President Barack Obama’s speech in Turkey, he said: “I nearly felt it’s good to be an American.”

Speaking after lunch at the National Press Club in Washington, the 71-year-old winner of the 2008 prize was asked on Tuesday to assess the U.S. leader’s call for peace and dialogue with Islam.NOBEL-PEACE/

“I must say that I’m proud as a transatlanticist and democrat to see that sort of speech is made,” he told reporters.

Following McCain’s path, Obama visits rocketed Israeli town

SDEROT, Israel – Barack Obama pledged his support for Israel Wednesday while standing in front of a pile of rocket and mortar casings in a town repeatedly attacked by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.rtr20giw.jpg
 
“I am here to say as an American and as a friend of Israel that we stand with the people of Sderot and all of the people of Israel,” the Democratic U.S. presidential candidate told reporters at the town’s police station.
 
Sderot has been a popular stop on the U.S. campaign trail this year. Republican presidential contender John McCain visited the town in March — but with a smaller press contingent — and also spoke to reporters in front of the piles of rockets.
 
“If people were rocketing my state, I think that the citizens from my state would advocate a very vigorous response,” McCain said at the time.

Obama had a similar view. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that,” he said. “And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Since McCain’s visit, rocket fire on Sderot has largely stopped due to a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
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Obama’s visit is aimed at allaying wariness among some Jewish voters in the United States who are concerned about his support for Israel and his policies for the Middle East.
 
Obama, a Christian, has had difficulty dispelling rumors suggesting he is a Muslim and that his advisers have a pro-Arab bent. The New Yorker magazine lampooned the image with a cover cartoon portraying Obama in traditional Muslim garb and his wife sporting an AK-47 — a picture that sparked outrage in many circles.
 
Obama was ridiculed and criticized in April when a top Hamas adviser told a radio interviewer that the Palestinian militant group — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government — liked Obama and hoped he would win the U.S. presidential election.
 
The remarks were labeled a Hamas endorsement and McCain used them as part of a fundraising appeal to supporters.
 
Hamas changed its mind about Obama last month after he declared strong support for Israel in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The group said the two U.S. candidates had the same policy on the Mideast and so it had no preference.

Hamas unendorses Obama after speech to pro-Israel lobby

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have taken care of his Hamas problem on Wednesday with a speech to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby.
 
The Illinois senator was ridiculed, criticized and generally harassed back in April when a top Hamas adviser, Ahmed Yousef, told a radio interviewer that the Palestinian militant group — considered a terrorist organization rtx6iml.jpgby the U.S. government — liked Obama and hoped he would win the U.S. presidential election.

Yousef’s remarks were labeled a Hamas endorsement and Republican John McCain used them as part of a fundraising appeal to supporters. Obama’s denunciations of Hamas and criticism of McCain over the incident did little to undo the damage.
 
That may have changed Wednesday, when Obama went before American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington a day after clinching the Democratic nomination and declared his strong support for Israel.
 
Israel’s security is sacrosanct and it must retain a qualitative military advantage, Obama said. Any peace deal must include Palestinian recognition that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital, he said.
 
Hamas promply unendorsed Obama, a Christian who has had difficulty dispelling a rumor campaign suggesting he is a Muslim and that his advisers have a pro-Arab bent.
 
“Obama’s comments have confirmed that there will be no change in the U.S. administration’s foreign policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters in Gaza.
 
“The Democratic and Republican parties support totally the Israeli occupation at the expense of the interests and rights of Arabs and Palestinians,” he said.
 
“Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win,” Zuhri said.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

 Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama speaks at AIPAC conference)