McCain Meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister
By Juliet Eilperin
Presumptive GOP nominee John McCain (R-Ariz.) met privately with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari this morning at his campaign headquarters, before emerging to praise the minister and take a handful of questions from a pool of reporters.
McCain, who arrived at his Crystal City headquarters with a venti Starbucks beverage in hand, joked with Zebari that his campaign had not quite mastered the hospitality standards due to foreign leaders.
"I was gonna offer you some coffee," McCain said to Zebari. He pointed to an empty table, and then made his standard joke. "We have a well-oiled machine."
After talking behind closed doors for a half hour, McCain and Zebari invited reporters into the meeting. Both men complimented each other on their work, and expressed their faith that the war in Iraq was succeeding.
Referring the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, McCain told reporters, "Any agreement will be based on partnership and in the national security interests of both countries... It's very important that we not let any of this success slip away and the relationship and partnership that has led -- and the new strategy that has led to the success that it has, I am confident will continue."
Zebari delivered his own statement, saying the evidence of the surge's progress is now visible.
"I have said to the senator that Iraq nowadays, thanks to the surge strategy and to the growth of Iraqi military security capabilities, Iraq has the lowest level of violence since the last four years," he said. "And we, I think, have the right policies, we have the right personnel now and we are working together in fact to realize a Democratic Iraq, a stable and peaceful Iraq and to be a partner to the United States."
When asked whether he would meet with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the foreign minister said he would make time to brief the presumptive Democratic nominee during his U.S. stay.
"We will have an opportunity to speak to Senator Obama also on this trip. Again to explain the same situation to him in Iraq," the foreign minister said. "I'd also give -- we are not a part, in fact, of the U.S. election whatsoever. I think this is a decision for the American public. But it's in our interest, in fact, to brief both candidates on the reality of the situation, the way we see it from our perspective, from people who've been at the thick of this conflict, so yes, indeed, we will have that opportunity."
Zebari said he and senator discussed how they both look forward to a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, but that the moment had not arrived for that exit.
"Both agreed neither of us want that state, troops to stay there for indefinitely, forever in Iraq. And we look for the day when these forces will come back, with dignity and in a victorious manner but still there is some time to realize that," he said. "Recently there has been some withdrawal of U.S. Army units that have participated in the surge strategy and the situation remains stable, this is a very positive development. So this process might continue in the future but I think this has been negotiated at the moment in this bilateral agreement."
When McCain was asked whether he would commit to defending Iraq indefinitely -- something Iraqi officials have demanded, and which Obama has refused to do -- the Arizona senator sidestepped the question altogether before ushering Zebari out of the meeting.
"Well, the fact is that the situation on the ground is that we have made enormous success and the surge has worked. Senator Obama was wrong when he said it would fail. Senator Obama was wrong when he said that we had to have an immediate date of withdrawal from troops from Iraq," McCain said. "He's just wrong. The facts on the ground clearly indicate that. As I've always said and the foreign minister just said, we have and can -- with the success of the strategy -- withdraw American troops. And that's success. That's the way wars end when you win, is that you succeed and then you withdraw."
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