Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama on Monday promised no let-up in US support for Israel, after his Republican foe repeatedly claimed he is the favored pick of the Islamist movement Hamas.
"You will not see, under my presidency, any slackening in commitment to Israel's security," Obama said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine online.
"My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I've repeatedly condemned them," Obama said.
"I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism."
An informal advisor to Obama's campaign stepped down last week after a British newspaper inquired about his contacts with Hamas.
The advisor explained that his paid job with the International Crisis Group required him to have such contacts and he did not want those associations to reflect negatively on Obama's campaign.
McCain, the likely Republican nominee, has repeated the assertion that Hamas supports Obama, while painting himself in contrast as a candidate who would be tougher on groups considered "terrorists" by the United States.
The Illinois senator, who is the son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, acknowledged that the portions of his childhood he spent outside the United States could lead to the perception that he is more "worldly" than President George W. Bush.
"It's conceivable that there are those in the Arab world who say to themselves, 'This is a guy who spent some time in the Muslim world, has a middle name of Hussein, and appears more worldly and has called for talks with people, and so he's not going to be engaging in the same sort of cowboy diplomacy as George Bush,' and that's something they're hopeful about.
"I think that's a perfectly legitimate perception as long as they're not confused about my unyielding support for Israel's security."
He added that he had made his position clear during a visit with Palestinian students in Ramallah.
"One of the things that I said to those students was: 'Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: If you're waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional.
"Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel's security is non-negotiable."
Obama has also condemned the recent meeting between Democratic former president Jimmy Carter and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus.
During the campaign, he sparked controversy by saying he was ready to meet with Iranian, Cuban or North Korea leaders if he is elected president, but said he would not meet with the leaders of Hamas.
McCain's campaign has said it ""never suggested that Senator Obama supports Hamas' agenda" but said it was "more than fair" to raise comments by a senior Hamas aide that the movement hoped the Democrat would win the election.
The Republican's campaign cited a quote from April 13, in which Hamas aide Ahmed Yousef reportedly said: "We like Mr. Obama. We hope he will (win) the election.
"And I do believe he is like John Kennedy, great man with great principle, and he has a vision to change America to make it in a position to lead the world community but not with domination and arrogance."
In a conversation with conservative bloggers last month, McCain said it was "very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president," adding: "If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas I think people can make judgments accordingly."
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