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Monday, May 23, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Lawmakers: Obama speech silent on Iran, Syria while criticizing U.S. allies Israel, Bahrain

WASHINGTON — Both Democrats and Republicans said they were stunned by President Barack Obama's refusal to call for regime change in either Iran or Syria. Instead, they cited Obama's severe criticism of Israel, including questioning whether the Jewish state was a democracy.


"It was the most dangerous speech ever made by an American president for the survival of Israel," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen pointed to Obama's refusal to call for the ouster of Syrian President Bashir Assad despite his crackdown that led to the killing of a reported 1,000 civilians. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen also cited the president's failure to enforce existing U.S. sanctions on Iran and Syria, Middle East Newsline reported.

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"It is difficult to assess the president's goals and objectives for the region when considering some of his most significant decisions since taking office, which have included pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians while at the same time reaching out to the Syrian and Iranian regimes," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen," a Florida Republican, said.

On May 19, Obama, in a speech that focused on Israel, outlined what was touted as a U.S. strategy toward the Middle East. The president reserved his harshest criticism for two of the leading U.S. allies in the region — Bahrain and Israel — while failing to call for the ouster of Assad or Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

"He should have been harder," Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, said. "He should have called on [Assad] to step down."

Obama also said the United States would relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion of debt. The president did not link debt reduction to the results of presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, in which the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to win.

"Unfortunately, President Obama's important and constructive speech embracing and supporting the peaceful, democratic revolutions in the Arab world was also undermined by an unhelpful and surprising set of remarks about Israel and the Palestinians that will not advance the peace process and in fact is likely to set it back," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said.

The president called for a fast-track process that would result in a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and most of Jerusalem. Obama said such a state should be established even if Israel and the Palestinians cannot agree on so-called core principles such as the Palestinian demand for their ancestors to return to their pre-1948 homes in the Jewish state or the boundaries of Jerusalem itself.

"The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome," Obama said. "The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation."

Members of Congress also cited Obama's refusal to address the Palestinian demand for unilateral statehood in September 2011. The president also ignored the Palestinian reconciliation agreement to establish a government with Hamas, deemed a terrorist organization by the European Union and United States.

"Today, President Barack Obama has again indicated that his policy towards Israel is to blame Israel first," Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota, said.

Congressional sources said opposition to the new administration policy would be expressed by the Republican-dominated House. But they acknowledged that Obama retains significant support for his agenda, particularly among Democrats, to oversee the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2012.

"Going forward, I hope that the president will work closely with Congress to advance a comprehensive and consistent regional policy focused on protecting and promoting U.S. security," Ms. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.

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