From NBC's Andrew Merten
McCain spoke to the group Christians United for Israel today here in Washington, drawing loud applause and several standing ovations for some harsh anti-Iran rhetoric and his continued opposition to withdrawal from Iraq. During his brief speech, which was billed as a surprise visit (although cameras from nearly every major media outlet were present), McCain stressed the importance of continued support for Israel. He called the country the "only and best democracy in the Middle East," warning that withdrawal from Iraq now would only embolden anti-Israeli nations like Iran.
Although members of the group -- which boasts a membership of over 50,000 Christian pastors across the country -- decried President Bush's use of the word "occupation" to describe Israeli activities in Palestinian territories during yesterday's White House briefing, McCain refrained from criticizing the president directly. Instead, he focused more on addressing the issues of Iraq and Iran rather than wading into the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. McCain commented that he was "proud" of Bush, saying, "We will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons."
The Arizona senator concluded his remarks by commenting on his own faith -- something he doesn't speak about as often as other presidential hopefuls. He said that his own personal religious beliefs helped get him through his time in a Vietnamese prison camp, telling a story of a guard who drew a crucifix on the ground for him when he was allowed to go outside on Christmas Day one year.