Seeking to bolster his standing on foreign relations and to prove his strong ties with Israel before the November elections, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has announced plans to travel to the Middle East this summer.
Mr Obama will visit war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop in the Middle East for talks in Jerusalem and Amman, and drop in on three European capitals: London, Berlin and Paris.
His campaign would not provide dates or give any details regarding Mr Obama’s scheduled meetings while abroad, citing security concerns relating to the Iraqi portion of the tour.
The trip, formally defined as “consultations” with some of America’s “most important and close allies and friends”, is seen by political analysts as Mr Obama’s response to criticism from Republican nominee John McCain, who argued that his Democratic rival was not experienced enough on foreign policy. Mr McCain also took issue with the fact that Mr Obama visited Iraq only once since becoming a US senator.
Though Mr Obama is polling well among Jewish voters, his campaign is still struggling to make the senator’s views known to those who see him as weak on issues relating to Israel’s security. The trip to Israel, in which Mr Obama is expected to meet with heads of the Jewish state, will help highlight his warm ties with Israeli officials.
Mr Obama’s campaign, which has been under attack on issues relating to the Jewish community ever since the race began, has also launched a new outreach effort to Jewish voters, based on local leaders from the community and from Congress.
The first Obama Jewish Community Leadership Committee began its work in Los Angeles last month, recruiting Jewish members of congress to address any concerns Jewish voters might have.
The Republican candidate has tried to portray Mr Obama as soft on Iran because of his willingness to meet with leaders in Tehran and his refusal to vote for a congressional resolution designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror group.
Democrats responded last week by pulling out a 2005 vote in which Mr McCain did not support a measure aimed at closing loopholes which allowed businesses to deal with Iran. The Democrats’ message mirrored that of the Republicans: McCain, they argued, is the one soft on Iran, not Obama.