- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Tuesday that security in Iraq has improved and that the country’s needs must now begin to be addressed politically and diplomatically.

“There is security progress, but now we need a political solution,” Obama said in the first news conference of his highly publicized trip abroad.

He reiterated his goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of becoming president. But he said he would consult with military commanders to determine how many troops to keep in the country to protect diplomatic and humanitarian operations, to train Iraqis and to conduct counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida in Iraq.

“My goal is to no longer have U.S. troops engaged in combat operations in Iraq,” he said.

Obama and his two traveling Senate companions, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, emphasized the need to turn U.S. attention to Afghanistan and to help Pakistan confront a growing terrorist presence within its borders.

“The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent,” he said. “We must act now to reverse that deteriorating situation.”

Afghanistan is now the “central front in the war against terrorism,” he added.

Obama arrived in Jordan after a tour of war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. He stepped off his military aircraft carrying body armor, orange earplugs sticking out of his ears.

His joint news conference with Reed and Hagel was at the Amman Citadel, an ancient hilltop ruin that bears evidence of settlements dating to 2000 B.C. The skyline of modern-day Amman, cement dwellings and the occasional mosque, formed a made-for-television backdrop.

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