President Barack Obama signed a bill to enhance security cooperation between the United States and Israel on Friday, ahead of Republican challenger Mitt Romney's trip to the U.S. ally on Sunday.
"As many of you know, I have made it a top priority for my administration to deepen cooperation with Israel across the whole spectrum of security issues - intelligence, military, technology," the president said during the signing Friday.
He added, "What this legislation does is bring together all the outstanding cooperation that we have seen, really, at an unprecedented level between our two countries that underscore our unshakable commitment to Israel security."
The United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act reconfirms strong U.S.-Israeli ties in the aftermath of repeated attempts on the lives of Israeli citizens and diplomats worldwide, including the recent attacks in Bulgaria that left six people dead and the February attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and Thailand.
"I hope that, as I sign as this bill, once again everybody understands how committed all of us are - Republicans and Democrats - as Americans to our friends in making sure that Israel is safe and secure," Obama said.
He also noted the U.S. would be making a $70 million additional contribution to Iron Dome, a mobile, all-weather missile defense shield designed to protect Israel's northern and southern borders.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will also be making a two-day visit to Israel beginning on Monday.
Obama was accompanied by bill sponsors Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Richard Stone, AIPAC Board Chairman Lee Rosenberg and Howard Friedman, past chair of the AIPAC board.
The signing came two days before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will stop in Israel during his three country trip that also takes him to the U.K. and Poland.
During Romney's stop in Jerusalem, he will make his first major foreign policy speech and also have meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz and Labor Party Leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog.
The move also comes as the president gets hit with criticism from the right over whether his administration will call Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
In a Romney campaign press release sent Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virg., called on the president to make the distinction, saying, "This Administration refuses to say if Jerusalem is the true capital [of Israel]."
"At a moment when Israel is facing so many perils, the United States should be standing by our ally, not quibbling or quarreling about its capital city," Cantor added.
Yesterday during a press briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney was repeatedly hounded by a reporter asking whether the administration considered Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to be the capital.
"Our position hasn't changed," Carney repeated, finishing with "You know the answer."
The White House eventually issued a follow-up answer to the question, released as an asterisk attachment to the press briefing transcript sent to reporters.
"The status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians," the follow-up read. "We continue to work with the parties to resolve this issue and others in a way that is just and fair, and respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians."
by RTT Staff Writer
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