Obama carves out hard stance on Iran

Tough talk on Iran dominated Barack Obama's meetings Wednesday in Israel and the West Bank, as Israeli officials amplified their enemy's threat and the Democratic presidential hopeful declared that a “nuclear Iran would be a game-changing situation.”

Speaking at an afternoon news conference in Sderot, a city near the Gaza Strip, Obama said that “the world must prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and that “America must always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself against those who threaten its people.”

The Illinois senator warned pointedly that no options are “off the table” in confronting a nuclear threat from Iran, though he added that Iran should be offered “big carrots” as well as “big sticks.”

Obama's aggressive rhetoric on Iran followed his emphasis earlier this week on his plan to send more U.S. troops to fight terrorism in Afghanistan should he defeat Republican John McCain in November. Obama also has made clear that he remains committed to withdrawing combat troops from Iraq over 16 months, and that he still sees merit in talking to enemy nations including Iran. But his rhetoric has taken on a more militaristic tone in recent days than was typical in his primary election campaign.

Iran also was a recurring theme throughout Obama's private meetings Wednesday with Israel's President Shimon Peres, Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert told Obama in remarks to reporters before they began a private meeting shortly before 9 p.m., Obama's last meeting of the night, that “the situation in Iran is of course a main concern for the people of Israel” as well as tensions involving the Palestinians and Syrians.

Iran seemed to eclipse the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians as a concern, although the latter remained on everyone's agenda.

Obama also traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank for an hourlong visit with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad, and at his news conference in Sderot said Israel and the United States need to support moderate Palestinian leaders such as those two, who accept the legitimacy of Israel and renounce violence.

Obama made no statement following his meeting with Abbas and Fayad. Abbas walked him out to his motorcade afterward and the two appeared comfortable with one another.

Obama later told Olmert that he learned from leaders in Ramallah that “there's a strong sense that progress is being made” in approaching peace with Israel. Olmert said, “That's right,” and nodded.