At the same time the Bush administration was negotiating a still elusive agreement to keep the U.S. military in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to convince Iraqi leaders in private conversations that the president shouldn’t be allowed to enact the deal without congressional approval.
Mr. Obama’s conversations with the Iraqi leaders, confirmed to The Washington Times by his campaign aides, began just two weeks after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June and stirred controversy over the appropriateness of a White House candidate’s contacts with foreign governments while the sitting president is conducting a war.
Some of the specifics of the conversations remain the subject of dispute. Iraqi leaders purported to The Times that Mr. Obama urged Baghdad to delay an agreement with Mr. Bush until next year when a new president will be in office - a charge the Democratic campaign denies.
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Mr. Obama spoke June 16 to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari when he was in Washington, according to both the Iraqi Embassy in Washington and the Obama campaign. Both said the conversation was at Mr. Zebari’s request and took place on the phone because Mr. Obama was traveling.
However, the two sides differ over what Mr. Obama said.
“In the conversation, the senator 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 United States.
He said Mr. Zebari replied that any such agreement would not bind a new administration. “The new administration will have a free hand to opt out,” he said the foreign minister told Mr. Obama.
Mr. Sumaidaie did not participate in the call, he said, but stood next to Mr. Zebari during the conversation and was briefed by him immediately afterward.
The call was not recorded by either side, and Mr. Zebari did not respond to repeated telephone and e-mail messages requesting direct comment.View Entire Story
Barbara Slavin is assistant managing editor for World and National Security at The Washington Times and the author of a 2007 book on Iran, titled “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.” Before joining The Times in July 2008, she was senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today. She has accompanied three secretaries of state ...
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