Obama Continues Mideast Trip
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Barack Obama is in Israel tonight. He arrived there after stopping today in Jordan where he met with King Abdullah. He also fielded reporters' questions about his stops in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he sounded fortified in his conviction that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq must start by early next year.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): I welcome the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline. My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010. As president, I intend to work with our military commanders to assure that we redeploy out of Iraq carefully with the safety of our troops in mind.
SIEGEL: Senator Obama added that he would keep U.S. forces in Iraq to protect American personnel, to train Iraqi forces, and to target terrorists. As for Afghanistan, he spoke of increasing troop levels there.
Sen. OBAMA: All the commanders uniformly indicated that two to three brigades would be extraordinarily helpful in allowing them to accomplish their goals. The only way we're going to get those troops over there in a meaningful way is if we are taking them from someplace else.
SIEGEL: Presumably from Iraq. NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with Senator Obama. And Don, you've heard Barack Obama's positions on Iraq and Afghanistan for months now, any change on this trip?
DON GONYEA: You don't see any change today. In fact, in some ways it seems to be solidifying. He's not talking, today at least, about possibly, you know, revising his Iraq policy now that he's been there - something that a few weeks back he suggested that he might do.
SIEGEL: Now, in Iraq, Senator Obama met with General David Petraeus and he was asked at the news conference today about what Petraeus told him.
Sen. OBAMA: In his role as commander on the ground, not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing that goal. And what I emphasized to him was, you know, if I was - if I were in his shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander-in-chief extends beyond Iraq.
SIEGEL: Now, here's what Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said about that. He said, by admitting that his plan for withdrawal places him at odds with General David Petraeus, Barack Obama has made clear that his goal remains unconditional withdrawal rather than securing the victory our troops have earned.
How did you hear that Obama comment on what Petraeus wants what he wants?
GONYEA: Well, he was asked explicitly if he is rejecting the advice of Commander Petraeus, and he said, no, I am taking it into account along with everything else I am hearing. He says I'm not rejecting it; it is part of the decision that still leads Senator Obama to believe that the U.S. has to start withdrawing from Iraq.
SIEGEL: Don, your sense of the Afghanistan and Iraq legs of this Obama trip overseas. Do you get the sense that this really is, in any serious way, a learning experience for Barack Obama or is it a very big photo op in which he gets a chance to say - overseas, on location - what he's been saying in the U.S. all along?
GONYEA: It is certainly a learning experience. You can't go to these places - especially his first trip to Afghanistan - and not see things and learn things. Now, whether those things that you see and learn actually change your mind or reinforce where you're coming from is a whole another thing.
If it was a photo op, he did get the photo they wanted, which was him flying over Baghdad in a helicopter with General Petraeus, the two of them engaged in discussion. It is the kind of picture that shows him on the scene, that absolutely they were looking for, though they will never admit that.
SIEGEL: NPR's Don Gonyea traveling with Barack Obama in the Middle East. Don, thank you very much.
GONYEA: It's a pleasure.
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