Obama Embarks On Tour Of Europe, Mideast

Illinois senator Barack Obama begins his travels this weekend to meet with leaders in Europe and the Middle East. It's his first trip abroad as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Obama's campaign hopes the trip will show his preparedness to deal with foreign policy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In the next few days Barack Obama will be sending messages about this issue: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're told that he may stop in one or both of those countries. It's Obama's first time out of the country since he was assured of the Democratic nomination. He's going to talk with all three anchors of all three network evening newscasts along the way.

NPR's own Don Gonyea has covered the Obama campaign for many months, and he's on the line. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's on the official agenda here?

GONYEA: Well, it's five countries in a week. We leave Sunday. First, it's the Middle East. There's a stop in Jordan, then to Israel, obviously a very important place for Senator Obama to go. Then it's off to meet with the big three European allies, with visits and as-of-yet unannounced events in Berlin, then to Paris, then to London. And it's interesting because it tracks somewhat a trip President Bush took to Europe just last month.

And the one thing - I mean, you alluded to Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Obama has been talking about his, you know, quote, upcoming trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, when he would meet with commanders and soldiers and local leaders there.

We are all kind of assuming that will be part of this trip. It has not been announced. Obviously, if that happens, it'll happen amid, you know, great security and, likely, secrecy.

INSKEEP: And you do have to ask, if he is going on this trip or a later trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, how much can a presidential candidate learn when trailed by three network anchors, all the security and everything else that's necessary on a trip like this?

GONYEA: Yeah, it's a very good point, and we should say in dropping into Iraq and Afghanistan, if that happens, you know, the big media entourage will not be there. He'll be part of a congressional delegation on that segment of the trip.

The official campaign part of the trip will be that official itinerary that I mentioned. But even so, it is, you know, a quick stop. It is a chance to meet with commanders. It is a chance to sit down with soldiers and look them in the eye and hear their concerns. It's a chance to get some sense of the place and what it feels like today. And again, he will be able to, you know, sit down face to face with Iraqi leaders, which is always an important thing to do. And maybe just as importantly, it takes away an attack from Senator McCain during the campaign - that Senator Obama just hasn't been there in so long and that he's never been to Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Well, let me get to a question of substance that surely will be addressed at whatever time Barack Obama comes back from Iraq. Is his position on Iraq and getting troops out of Iraq changing or evolving as the situation on the ground seems to change?

GONYEA: You know, it's one of those issues that may dominate this trip, as well. He set off, you know, a debate, a bit of a controversy not too long ago, when he said he could refine his position, his Iraq policy, after meeting with commanders on the ground and actually seeing the place up close, and that set off a lot of concern that maybe he was backing away from that timetable to start pulling, you know, one to two brigades out a month over the first 16 months of his presidency.

He has said he still sticks by that plan, but he is going to get a lot of questions once he sits down with these leaders. So we'll see if there is shift.

INSKEEP: Okay, Don, safe travels.

GONYEA: All right, thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Don Gonyea, who has been covering Barack Obama's campaign. Senator Obama is expected to begin a journey to at least five nations in the coming days, and one possible place that he could go is Iraq. We'll wait for more details as we learn them.

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