Obama called Sharon — who died at age 85 on Saturday and had been
in a coma for the entirety of Obama's presidency — "a leader who
dedicated his life to the state of Israel." He said he sent his
"deepest condolences" to Sharon's family.
The United States has long been a critical ally of Israel. But Obama
has had a strained relationship with the current Israeli prime
minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on issues including Israel's
settlement policies — championed by Sharon — and the current U.S.
diplomatic drive to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons
At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is leading a
renewed effort to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in
which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian
state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands seized by
Israel in the 1967 war.
"We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel's security and our
appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries
and our two peoples," Obama said in a statement released by the
"We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people
of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two
states living side-by-side in peace and security," the Democratic
Obama will not attend the memorial service for Sharon, with Biden
instead leading the U.S. delegation. Sharon had been in a coma since
suffering a stroke at the height of his power as prime minister in
January 2006. Obama took office in 2009.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry also will not
attend the funeral "due to previously scheduled meetings in Paris
focused on the situation in Syria and the Middle East peace
Kerry issued a more personal statement concerning Sharon, referring
to him by his nickname, Arik.
"During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times
the United States had differences with him. But whether you agreed
or disagreed with his positions — and Arik was always crystal clear
about where he stood — you admired the man who was determined to
ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State," Kerry said in
[to top of second column]
"I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he
became prime minister as he sought to bend the course of history
toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own
longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions
in the process," Kerry said of the burly Sharon.
Obama's remarks about Sharon also were restrained compared with a
statement by former President George W. Bush, who formed a close
alliance with Sharon during his time in the White House and offered
"I was honored to know this man of courage and call him friend. He
was a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the
Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East. Laura and I send our
heartfelt condolences to Ariel's family and all who will dearly miss
him," Bush said.
Sharon was a controversial figure who was despised by many over a
massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps by
Israeli-allied Christian Lebanese militiamen, for championing Jewish
settlement building on captured land and other issues.
As prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he served during a Palestinian
uprising that erupted in 2000 and presided over an Israeli military
crackdown after peace talks collapsed. But he also broke sharply
with his former allies in Israel's settlement movement when he
withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 in a
pursuit of dialogue with the Palestinians.
Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, said in a statement that "it was an honor to
work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find
the right path for his beloved country."
(Editing by Sophie Hares and Dan Grebler)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.