Barack Obama spoke privately with Iraqi leaders about an agreement to keep the U.S. military in Iraq and tried to convince them to delay the deal until a new president takes office.
The Washington Times disclosed the discussions on Friday and reported that Obama campaign aides had confirmed the talks.
The conversations took place in June, just two weeks after Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, “and stirred controversy over the appropriateness of a White House candidate’s contacts with foreign governments while the sitting president is conducting a war,” The Times observed.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have been trying for months to finalize an agreement that will allow American troops to remain in Iraq after Dec. 31, when a U.N. mandate sanctioning the military presence expires. The chief stumbling blocks are said to be timeline for U.S. redeployment and immunity from Iraqi prosecution for American troops and civilians.
Obama favors a phased withdrawal of all but a residual U.S. force from Iraq over 16 months, and the Iraqi government “appears to have embraced” that position, The Times reported.
In Obama’s June 16 telephone conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, he “urged Iraq to delay the [memorandum of understanding] between Iraq and the United States until the new administration was in place,” said Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S.
The Obama campaign denies that he made such a request, according to the Times. Obama campaign spokesman Wendy Morigi said the nominee doesn’t object to a short-term agreement, but believes a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq “should be vetted by Congress.”
But a recent article in the New York Post quoted Zebari as saying Obama asked Iraqi leaders in July to put off an agreement on a troop reduction until the next administration takes office.
Morigi charged that some observers are trying to “mischaracterize” Obama’s position, and asserted that he has made it clear “that the United States only has one president at a time and that the administration speaks with one voice.”
The Times noted that the brewing controversy echoes events in 1968 when the Lyndon Johnson administration was negotiating an end to the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon was seeking the White House.
Historian Robert Dallek disclosed that Nixon’s running mate Spiro Agnew met with South Vietnamese diplomats and “signaled the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal with Richard Nixon as president instead of the Democrat,” Hubert Humphrey, Dallek said.
“Johnson was furious and said that Nixon was guilty of treason.”
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