Democrat Barack Obama says he is not shifting his policy on troop withdrawals from Iraq, just hours after he said he was open to "refining" his policy.
In a town hall meeting with veterans in Fargo, N.D., on Thursday, the Democratic presidential candidate said he would use what he learns from military commanders on his upcoming trip to Iraq.
"I am going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there," he said. "I'm sure I'll have more information and continue to refine my policy."
Republicans quickly pounced on Obama's comment, saying the Democrat was altering one of his core policies "for the sake of political expedience." Obama's Republican rival in the presidential race, John McCain, is a supporter of the Iraq war, and war policy has been a central disagreement between them.
NPR's Don Gonyea says Obama's position on Iraq has always been nuanced.
"He has always said that this is not cast in stone," Gonyea tells Robert Siegel. "He has always said that any withdrawal from Iraq has to be done in a much more orderly fashion than the way we went into Iraq."
Four hours after Obama's original comments, however, the Illinois senator appeared before reporters again.
"Apparently I was not clear enough this morning," he said. He blamed any confusion on the McCain camp.
"I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end," Obama said. "I have also said I would be deliberate and careful about how we get out. That position has not changed. I am not searching for maneuvering room with respect to that position."
In remarks in February 2007, Obama said he backed a plan that would bring U.S. troops home by March 2008.
"America, it is time to start bringing our troops home," he said. "It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war.
"That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008."
He said Thursday that on his first day in office he would summon the Joint Chiefs of Staff and "give them a new mission and that is to end this war, responsibly and deliberately, but decisively."
Obama has in the past said that he will withdraw troops from Iraq at a pace of one to two brigades a month, which would mean the U.S. would be out of Iraq in 16 months.
Obama told reporters Thursday that when he talked earlier about refining his policy, he was not referring to the 16-month timeline, but to how many troops may need to remain in Iraq to train the local army and police and what troop presence might be needed to ensure "al-Qaida doesn't re-establish a foothold there."
He later acknowledged, however, that it is possible the 16-month timeline could slip if the pace of withdrawal needs to be slowed to ensure troop safety.
Obama plans to visit Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom this summer. He has also said he intends to visit Iraq and Afghanistan separately.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.