ANDERSON, S.C. — Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday that progress in peace talks between Israeli and Arab officials is doubtful because Middle East terrorists don't want Israel to exist.
"It's complicated rather dramatically by the fact that in Gaza you have a terrorist organization in charge that is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel," the Arizona senator told about 150 people at a town hall meeting. "It's kinda hard to make progress in negotiations with a group of people who want to take you out completely."
McCain said Israel is the only freely elected democracy in that region.
"Israel deserves the right to exist," he said. "Israel, in my view, must be protected from the Iranians if they develop nuclear weapons."
McCain said he's committed to a two-state peace process and will do "everything in my power to move it forward."
"It's vital we have peace in the Middle East between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and it's vital Arab nations join in this effort and it succeeds, but I have to be a bit cautionary," he said. "I don't see how they can make an agreement with somebody who harbors organizations that want to destroy them."
On Tuesday, in an announcement at a summit in Maryland , Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to resume long-stalled talks toward a deal by the end of next year that would create an independent Palestinian state.
McCain, who visited Iraq over Thanksgiving for a seventh time, said the troop surge is working and there are signs of dramatic progress even though the country remains mired in corruption and U.S. commanders anticipate more violence. He also criticized congressional Democrats who want to cut war funding and bring U.S. forces home immediately.
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