McCain Dismisses Iraqi Idea of Troop Withdrawal

Jul 8, 2008

Michael Cooper

The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — The Iraqi government's decision to raise the possibility of making a scheduled withdrawal of American troops a part of an agreement on their future status in Iraq poses special complications for Senator John McCain, whose opposition to a timetable for withdrawal is central to his candidacy.

During a stop at Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh sandwich shop famous for stuffing French fries into its sandwiches, Mr. McCain sounded a dismissive note when asked about the latest statements by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Mr. McCain said it was the same as when Iraqi officials said recently that they doubted an agreement with the United States could be struck over the status of American forces. "Prime Minister Malki, is, has got his, he is a leader of a country,' Mr. McCain said, according to a pool report. "And I am confident that he will act, as the president and foreign minister have both told me in the last several days, that it will be directly related to the situation on the ground, just as they have always said. And since we are succeeding and then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I'm confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about since he has told me that for the many meetings we have had."

Asked if he thought Mr. Maliki was aiming his statements at a domestic political audience, Mr. McCain said: "I don't know. Ask him.'

The Obama campaign sent reporters a statement that Mr. McCain made in 2004 to the Council of Foreign Relations, when he said "it's obvious that we would have to leave" Iraq if a sovereign Iraqi government asked the United States to so, even if Washington was wary of the security situation on the ground there.

Susan B. Rice, a senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Barack Obama, said in a statement: "It's time for John McCain to explain why he refuses to ask Iraq's leaders to take responsibility for their own future, and why he has completely changed his own stated position that he would leave Iraq when the Iraqis ask us to. The American people need a strategy for succeeding in Iraq, not just a strategy for staying, and John McCain's stubborn refusal to adjust to events on the ground just shows that he has no plan to end this war."
At the sandwich shop in Pittsburgh, Mr. McCain was also asked about rising exports of cigarettes to Iran, a country he has often taken a bellicose stance towards.

"Maybe that's a way of killing them," he said, hastening to add: "I meant that as a joke."

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