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President Barack Obama reaffirms US ties with Israel as he was prepared to sign a bill to strengthen military cooperation, upstaging Mitt Romney one day before the Republican challenger visits Jerusalem

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President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres share a toast after Obama presented Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a dinner in the White House in Washington June 13. AP photo

President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres share a toast after Obama presented Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a dinner in the White House in Washington June 13. AP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama was set to sign a bill to strengthen U.S.-Israeli military cooperation on July 27, on the eve of a visit to Israel by his Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, signaling that the two rivals are going to begin playing the foreign policy card.

Obama will seek to stress his commitment to Israel’s security for American Jewish voters at a White House ceremony that appeared timed to upstage Romney, who has accused the president of undermining U.S.-Israeli ties. Congress passed the legislation, the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, with broad support from Obama’s Democrats and Republicans last week.

“The bill deepens our security cooperation with Israel by expanding our military assistance and providing Israel with access to additional equipment,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said on July 26. Obama, criticized by some of Israel’s U.S. supporters for being too tough on a close ally, wants to shore up his support among Jewish voters, who could prove critical in battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania in the Nov. 6 election. Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the 2008 election, but a nationwide Gallup poll in June showed him down to 64 percent backing versus Romney’s 29 percent.

Romney to meet Netanyahu
Romney is a critic of Obama’s policy toward Israel. He is set to arrive in Jerusalem on July 28 as part of an overseas trip that includes Britain and Poland. Romney on July 26 caused a stir by calling London’s problems with Olympics preparation “disconcerting.” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “has the utmost confidence” in Britain’s ability to host the games.

Romney hopes his trip to Israel will resonate with Jewish voters at home. He will arrive there from London and plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a strained relationship with Obama. Obama angered many Israelis and their U.S. supporters last year when he insisted any negotiations on the borders of a future Palestinian state begin on the basis of lines that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war. Obama visited Israel as a candidate in the 2008 campaign, but has not done so as president.

US poll shows persistence of Obama Muslim lie
In the meantime, more than one in three conservative Republican voters still thinks Obama is a Muslim, nearly four years after he won power, said a Pew Research Center survey on July 26. “The number of Americans who say Obama is a Muslim is up since 2008, similar to 2010,” senior Pew researcher Greg Smith said.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

July/28/2012

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