Biden: Israel must decide on Iran

Joe Biden pledged to respect Israel’s autonomy, but defended his willingness to oppose some AIPAC-backed measures.

In a 20-minute conference call Wednesday with members of the Jewish media, Biden said it was up to the Israelis to make decisions about war and peace, including the question of whether to launch a strike aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear program.

“This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” said the Democratic vice presidential candidate said. ”I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”

That said, Biden added, the Bush administration could have done much more on the diplomatic front to help avert the potential need for military action. He also accused the White House of not doing enough to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and faulted it for reportedly ordering Jerusalem not to engage in talks with Syria.

Even as he pledged to respect Israel’s decisions on peace and security, Biden vigorously defended his record of occasionally breaking ranks with the pro-Israel lobby. “AIPAC does not speak for the entire American Jewish community,” Biden said. “There’s other organizations as strong and as consequential.”

Despite any occasional claims to the contrary, AIPAC does not speak for Israel, the longtime Delaware senator added.

Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made a point of stressing that he and the organization agreed on the fundamentals. “I’ve never disagreed with AIPAC on the objective,” Biden said. “Whenever I’ve had disagreement with AIPAC it has always been a tactical disagreement, not a substantive disagreement.”

Biden then addressed his opposition last year to an amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Kyl (R-Ariz.), and heavily backed by AIPAC, that called on the Bush administration to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group.

During the conference call, Biden stressed that he shared the view that the Iranian group is a terrorist organization and said the Bush administration already had the power to designate it as such. His fear was that the White House would misuse the measure to justify a military attack against Iran.

In response to the call, AIPAC spokesman Josh Block praised Biden’s leadership efforts on several fronts.

“We look forward to continuing to work with him in the Senate or in the White House,” Block said.

A statement the Obama-Biden campaign issued after the call echoed that amity.

“Barack Obama and Joe Biden have both enjoyed close and effective cooperation with AIPAC over many years, grounded in their respect for its important mission to support Israel’s security and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said spokeswoman Wendy Morigi. “That is a mission they share, and they look forward to continuing to work closely with AIPAC on their common goals.”

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