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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2008

Obama says Israelis, Palestinians require outside aid for peace


AMMAN, Jordan - Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama stepped into the thick of Middle Eastern politics yesterday, declaring in Jordan that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are strong enough internally to make the bold concessions necessary for peace.

Mr. Obama said he would work to bring the two sides together "starting from the minute I'm sworn into office."

But he cautioned it is "unrealistic to expect that a U.S. president alone can suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in this region."

After meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Mr. Obama flew to Israel for talks with Israeli leaders. He'll meet later with Palestinians.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, he spoke of a "historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken," and one that he hoped to bolster as president.

In Jordan, he commented on the struggle for Mideast peace within hours of stepping off a military aircraft after touring war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq with Sens. Jack Reed (D., R.I.) and Chuck Hagel, (R., Neb.).

With the Amman skyline behind him, Mr. Obama declined to concede that President Bush's decision to send 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007 had succeeded. "I believe that the situation in Iraq is more secure than it was a year and a half ago," he admitted.

The Illinois Democrat predicted when the troop increase began that it would not succeed.

He stood by his call for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq over a 16-month period and said the United States, NATO, and the Afghan government must do more to counter a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Mr. Obama said he understood Gen. David Petraeus' opposition to a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

"Not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible," Mr. Obama said of the general, with whom he met recently. "I think he wants maximum flexibility to be able to - to do what he believes needs to be done inside of Iraq.

Mr. Obama made his remarks shortly after arriving in Jordan, the initial stop of a second stage of his international trip. This part of the trip is financed by his presidential campaign after the official congressional visit to the war zones with fellow senators.

Mr. Obama has been to the Middle East before, but not as the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting.

He said an ultimate resolution in the region is going to involve "two states standing side-by-side in peace and security and that the Israelis and the Palestinians are going to both have to make compromises in order to arrive at that two-state solution."

Yet, "One of the difficulties that we have right now is that in order to make those compromises, you have to have strong support from your people. And the Israeli government right now is unsettled. ...." he added.

"The Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas. And so it's difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace the way, for example, the peace between Israel and Egypt was brought about."

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