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Ahead of Romney trip, Obama says he’s bolstered U.S.-Israel ties

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- President Obama on Thursday said strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel “has never been closer,”  as he defended his handling of the key Mideast alliance in advance of his rival’s planned trip to the region.

In an evening speech at a South Florida retirement community, the president expanded his usually brief summation of foreign policy achievements to focus on the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship at this “moment of great uncertainty,” particularly after the “barbaric attacks” on Israelis in Bulgaria.

“I know a lot of people in this community care about the state of Israel,” he said at the Century Village community. “I want everybody here to know that under my administration we haven’t just preserved the unbreakable bond with Israel, we have strengthened it.”

To date, foreign policy issues have been on the backburner in the presidential contest. Polls have shown that Obama has a decided advantage in the area, and Republican Mitt Romney has been content to focus largely on the nation’s struggling economy.

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That is likely to change next week, when both men are set to address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Reno. Romney, the unofficial Republican nominee, will then embark on a weeklong overseas trip that is to include a stop in Israel.

Obama argued that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is an issue “that should transcend party.”

“Obviously, this is a moment of great uncertainty in the Middle East given what’s happening in Syria and what’s happening in other places. So now’s the time to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect Israel’s security,” he said. “That’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue. That is an issue of how we work with one of our closest allies in the world that shares our values and believes in democracy.”

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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