McCain Tells Jewish Leaders He Favors 'Step-by-Step' Peace Process in Mideast

Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Tuesday advocated taking one step at a time in approaching Mideast peace negotiations.

The statement precedes a planned summit of Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab leaders scheduled next month in Annapolis, Md. McCain's statement may be seen a gentle criticism of the Bush summit, which aims to jump-start peace talks.

“I think that process has to be a step by step process. An encompassing, all encompassing, one-step solution was tried by former President Clinton, and I think that’s probably a very, very difficult accomplishment,” the Arizona senator told a conference of Jewish leaders in New York.

McCain said he couldn’t put a timeline on an his approach, noting that terrorists like Hamas continue to be the unknown factor.

“I’m not sure frankly how you, how you deal with Hamas. If they’re dedicated to your extinction it’s hard to sit down and negotiate with somebody that says we’re going to destroy you,” he said.

In a forum devoted almost exclusively to foreign policy, the senator criticized Russia and China for blocking the U.S. and it’s allies when it comes to putting pressure on Sudan, North Korea and Iran. He proposed creating a league of democracies with countries that share American values and control the world’s economy.

“Why don’t we act together with these countries and impose meaningful sanctions on Iran today?” he asked.

McCain said the U.S. is facing a U.N. Security Council which has created difficulties for the U.S. However, he made it clear that he does not favor abandoning the United Nations.

McCain spoke to about 50 people at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, including the heads of major Jewish groups and members of the Jewish media.

He received positive reviews for his candor and tough talk on combating Islamic terrorism. But for some, McCain didn’t measure up to rival Republican Rudy Giuliani, who has stronger ties to New York’s Jewish community.

“They respect (McCain) and they appreciate him, but I have to imagine, it’s not, it’s not like love in the room in the same way that it would be for Guiliani” said Ami Eden, a journalist with a Jewish wire service.