Obama backs Israel-Syria talks

The United States should back Israel’s peace efforts with Syria without pressuring it to make dangerous concessions, Barack Obama said in Jerusalem.

The U.S. senator and presumptive Democratic candidate to succeed President Bush met Wednesday with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a visit to Jerusalem. He also met with President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu before he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and Memorial.

Obama then traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinain Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. PA officials said Abbas briefed Obama on progress in the peace process. Obama is scheduled to meet later with  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“At a time of great peril and torment, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world,” Obama wrote in the Yad Vashem visitors’ book.

Israeli sources said Obama’s discussions with Barak turned to the recent launch of Turkish-mediated negotiations between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Obama, according to one source, described the efforts to achieve peace as important but said that as president “he would never put pressure on Israel to take steps that could put its security at risk”. The senator was apparently referring to Syria’s demand for a full return of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed.

Obama further described Iran’s nuclear program as “the most important challenge facing the international community right now,” Israeli sources said, adding that it would top the agenda of his meetings later this week with the leaders of Germany, France and Britain.

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