Biden on Israel: I'm friends with Netanyahu, too

Vice President Joe Biden.

(CBS News) Underscoring the importance of Jewish voters in the presidential election this fall, Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday told the Rabbinical Assembly that President Obama "deserves the credit" for restoring U.S. influence in the global community, protecting Israel and mobilizing other nations to put pressure on Iran.

"No president since Harry Truman has does more for Israel's security than Barack Obama," Biden said in his keynote address to the group's annual conference in Atlanta.

As Biden took the podium, the rabbi who introduced him told him, "You are with friends, sir."

Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, exit polls showed. A recent poll by the American Jewish Committee found that if the 2012 election were held today, 61 percent of Jews would vote for Obama, as opposed to 28 percent who would support presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney is trying to shrink that disparity, in part with hawkish rhetoric against Iran. His longtime ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are well documented. Last month, The New York Times ran a piece that dubbed the two "old friends" and detailed their 36-year relationship.

Making an implicit point that Netanyahu has more than one friend in the United States, Biden on Tuesday called for a moment of silence for the passing of the prime minister's father, Benzion. Biden - a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- then added an anecdote about once signing a photo for "Bibi" with this inscription: "I don't agree with a damn thing you say, but I love ya."

Biden vowed to "prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by whatever means we need, period," and talked up the administration's role in winning international support for tough sanctions against Iran. "When we took office, we were the problem; we were diplomatically isolated in the world, in the region, in Europe," Biden said to prolonged applause. Four years ago, he continued, America "was neither respected by our friends nor feared by our opponents. Today it is starkly, starkly different."

The Romney campaign called Biden's remarks reckless and reiterated its charge that Obama is naive. "Vice President Biden's reckless statement today blaming America for -- of all things -- the progress of Iran's nuclear weapons program, has reached a new low," campaign policy director Lanhee Chen said in a statement. "President Obama's naive approach to Iran has given the regime valuable time to get closer than ever before to a nuclear weapons capability. Vice President Biden's comments are wrong and completely inappropriate. Mitt Romney will stand up for America and our allies, and he will not apologize for America's leadership role in the world."

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