WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday remembered former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "commitment to his country," and Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. delegation for the memorial service.
The Israeli soldier-turned-politician-turned statesman died on Saturday, eight years after a stroke put him in a coma. He was 85. "We join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country," Obama said in a written statement. Obama also used the occasion to reaffirm "our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."
"We continue to strive for a lasting peace and security for the people of Israel," Obama said. Biden said he looked forward to the opportunity "to pay respects to the man and to pay tribute to the unshakeable partnership between the United States and Israel."
Tributes poured in from Secretary of State John Kerry, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and other Washington leaders. Kerry said he would never forget meeting "this big bear of a man" after Sharon became prime minister.
"In his final years as prime minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace and, today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger," said Kerry.
Since becoming America's top diplomat last year, Kerry has made 10 trips to the Middle East, including this month, in hopes of brokering a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. "It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country," added Clinton.
Bush, who held office simultaneously with Sharon, called him a friend and "man of courage." "He was a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East," Bush said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Israel "has lost one of its greatest sons and America a friend."
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap