JERUSALEM -- President
Statements poured in from Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State
Sharon was a man of controversy but the statements reflected a consensus of respect for the former leader's dedication to his country, his courage to change his mind and his working friendship with the U.S.
"On behalf of the American people," the president's statement said, "Michelle and I send our deepest condolences ... on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel."
Obama stressed the enduring friendship between the two nations and reiterated U.S. commitment to bring peace and security to Israel, including a continued commitment to the goal of the two-state solution.
"Ariel Sharon's journey was Israel's journey," said Kerry, who recalled reading about "Arik" in the papers as a young lawyer and marveling at his "commitment to cause and country."
Kerry said he would never forget his eventual meeting with "this big bear of a man" who had become prime minister by then and sought to "bend the course of history toward peace" with his plan to withdraw Israel from the Gaza strip.
"Today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger," Kerry said. "We honor Arik's legacy…by working to achieve that goal."
Biden will lead the U.S. delegation to Israel for the memorial service for Sharon, scheduled for Monday.
Sharon always maintained the courage of his convictions yet "had the courage to alter his course as well," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza was "not taken lightly" but was anchored in his guiding concern for Israel's security. His death "marks the end of an era," she said."
"Israel has lost a great warrior and the United States has lost a great friend,” said Sen.
A statement from the Clintons reflects much of the experience of interacting with Sharon. "It was an honor to work with him, argue with him."