After his first visit to Iraq as the likely Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday in Amman, Jordan, that security in Iraq has improved and the U.S. should focus attention on aiding its political progress while turning more military attention to the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
“So far we have not seen the kind of political reconciliation that is going to bring long-term stability in Iraq,” Obama told reporters, while reiterating his plan to withdraw combat troops by one or two brigades a month over a 16-month period.
On Afghanistan, Obama called for more U.S. troops to secure the border with Pakistan and fight the Taliban.
“The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent. We must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation,” Obama said during his 45-minute news conference.
Obama reinforced that he would continue to consult with the commanders on the ground in Iraq, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the country.
He said Petraeus is concerned with “maintaining as much flexibility as possible” to carry out his role as the ground commander in Iraq.
“What I emphasized to him, is that my job as a candidate for president extends beyond Iraq,” Obama said. “So what we saw in Afghanistan, for example, where we have a deteriorating security situation, the only way we’re going to get those troops over there is by taking them away from someplace else.”
Republican candidate Sen. John McCain’s spokesman Tucker Bounds responded: “By admitting that his plan for withdrawal places him at odds with Gen. David Petraeus, Barack Obama has made clear that his goal remains unconditional withdrawal rather than securing the victory our troops have earned.”
The Illinois senator addressed a group of reporters in the first news conference of his highly publicized trip to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Europe. Obama is traveling with fellow Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.
The senator commented briefly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but said he would offer more observations after he travels to Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday. “It is unrealistic to think that a U.S. president alone can snap his fingers and bring peace [to] the region. What a U.S. president can do is sustain his focus.”
Still, Obama vowed to work for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations “starting from the minute I’m sworn into office.”
He said that the United States is a “strong friend” of Israel’s and that he would not change that policy.
Obama is scheduled to discuss the Middle East peace process over dinner with Jordan’s King Abdullah Tuesday night before meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Wednesday.