- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

LONDON — Sen. John McCain did not publicly question Britain’s plans to cut its forces in Iraq after meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing St., but he warned that the work there is not complete.

“Al Qaeda is on the run; they are not defeated. We are going to have to continue training the Iraqi military and doing what we’ve been doing if we’re going to achieve a stable situation in Iraq,” said Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Mr. Brown did not accompany Mr. McCain to a press conference after the meeting, leaving the senator from Arizona alone to field questions about Britain’s plan to cut forces near Basra, Iraq, from 4,000 to about 2,500 in coming months.

“I believe that decision is made by the British government and people,” said Mr. McCain, adding that he understood the public’s frustration with the five-year-old war.

Still, Mr. McCain praised Britain for its sacrifices in Iraq and called Mr. Brown a strong supporter of the United States.

“I appreciate very much his commitment to the continued, unique relationship between our two countries, which will remain unique,” he said.

In Iraq, where Mr. McCain visited Sunday and Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said British forces had allowed militants to overrun Basra, the country’s second-largest city and major port.

“They should not just sit there and do nothing,” he said. “The British have disengaged, and now it’s the Iraqi commanders or officials who are handling the security.”

Renewed violence is dimming British hopes of drawing down at least half of its troops in Iraq.

Mr. McCain tried to deflect criticism from a prospective Democratic presidential rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, after he misspoke in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday. There, Mr. McCain was corrected by one of his traveling companions, Sen. Joe Lieberman, after saying Iran was training al Qaeda.

“We all misspeak from time to time, and I immediately corrected it. Just as Senator Obama said he was looking forward to meeting the president of Canada,” he said with a laugh. Like Britain, Canada has a prime minister, not a president. “It’s very clear that I have a lot of experience in Iraq,” he added.

Mr. McCain warned that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, as proposed by his Democratic opponents for the White House, would hand a victory to al Qaeda.

“That will be, frankly, a very big issue in this campaign: whether we withdraw, hand al Qaeda a win and announce to the world that they have won and things collapse there, or do we see this strategy through to success?” he said.

Mr. McCain said he was disturbed by the violence in Tibet and urged China to respect the rights of demonstrators. He expressed support for Mr. Brown’s decision to meet with the Dalai Lama when Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader visits London in May.

Mr. McCain met yesterday with Britain’s opposition Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, and Europe’s environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas.

He is on a weeklong tour in the Middle East and Europe. He is accompanied by Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and longtime friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Tomorrow, Mr. McCain meets in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

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