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'Iraq Troop Pullout Would Harm Israel'


02/06/08 "
JPost" -- -- US presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain on Monday criticized Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's calls for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, saying that such a pullout would harm Israel's security.

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), McCain also blasted Obama's calls for talks with Iran.

"The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program,'' McCain said, "and the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history."

"Even so, we hear talk of a meeting with the Iranian leadership offered up as if it were some sudden inspiration, a bold new idea that somehow nobody has ever thought of before," he said.

"Yet it's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another," the Arizona senator continued. "Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability."

McCain seemed to be responding to Sen. Obama's previous statements made during a debate in 2007 in which he expressed willingness to hold talks with leaders of Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
An Obama campaign spokesman, Hari Sevugan, was quick to retort. "John McCain stubbornly insists on continuing a dangerous and failed foreign policy that has clearly made the United States and Israel less secure."

"Here are the results of the policies that John McCain has supported, and would continue. During the Bush Administration, Iran has dramatically expanded its nuclear program, going from zero centrifuges to more than 3000 centrifuges,'' the Obama camp spokesman added.

"During the Bush Administration, Iran has expanded its influence throughout a vitally important region, plying Hamas and Hizbullah with money and arms. During the Bush Administration, Hamas took over Gaza. Most importantly, the war in Iraq that John McCain supported and promises to continue indefinitely has done more to dramatically strengthen and embolden Iran than anything in a generation.''

McCain also criticized Obama's calls for removing US troops from Iraq. "You would never know from listening to those who are still caught up in angry arguments over yesterday's options, but our troops in Iraq have made hard-won progress under General Petraeus' new strategy." he said.

"[Withdrawal from Iraq] would surely result in a catastrophe,'' McCain said. "If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaida terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States.

"Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq's neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen.''

In his speech, McCain called for measures aimed at increasing pressure on Iran, such as severely limiting Iranian imports of gasoline, targeted sanctions such as denying visas and freezing assets and a worldwide campaign to divest from companies doing business with Iran.

McCain called for financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, which he said aids in terrorism and weapons proliferation, and he criticized Obama for opposing a measure to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization responsible for killing US troops in Iraq.

McCain has warm relations with the group, which is influential in the Jewish community. His call for sanctions against gasoline imports is a priority that AIPAC's members plan to lobby for in Congress later in the week.

In contrast, Obama has worked to reassure Jewish voters who have expressed some unease about his candidacy.

"I welcome the Muslim world's accurate perception that I am interested in opening up dialogue and interested in moving away from the unilateral policies of George Bush, but nobody should mistake that for a softer stance when it comes to terrorism or when it comes to protecting Israel's security or making sure that the alliance is strong and firm," Obama said in an interview last month with The Atlantic magazine. "You will not see, under my presidency, any slackening in commitment to Israel's security."


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