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Obama's talk with Iraqi foreign minister

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
FLINT, Mich. -- Obama reiterated his commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq during a telephone conversation this morning with the country's foreign minister, he told reporters in a 10-minute press conference on the tarmac here.

The presumptive Democratic nominee told Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari that he looked forward to seeing him in Baghdad and told reporters he also wanted to visit Afghanistan, saying the situation there continued to deteriorate -- noting a prison break this past weekend. He declined to specify when such trips would take place, but said he would like to go before the election.

VIDEO: NBC's Richard Engel, author of "War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq" joins the "Morning Joe" team to discuss the progress of the war.

The men spoke about the progress U.S. troops have made in helping to reduce the violence in Iraq but Obama told Zebari troop withdrawals must go forward.

"I emphasized to him how encouraged I was by the reductions in violence in Iraq, but also insisted that it is important for us to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. troops, making clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq," the senator said. "I gave him an assurance that should we be elected, an Obama administration will make sure that we continue with the progress that's been made in Iraq, that we won't act precipitously, but that we will move to end U.S. combat forces in Iraq in a manner that's as careful as we were careless getting in."

The need to withdraw is twofold, Obama said. Reprising an argument he has been making for months, he cited the need to encourage the Iraqi government to make the political accommodations on matters like oil revenues and provincial elections, which the surge was supposed to help happen. He argued that the progress made in the South and in Sadr City showed the need not for a longer commitment but a shorter one, because they indicate a greater capacity on the part of Iraqis to deal effectively with their security. Obama said the second reason was the $10- to-12 billion being spent each month in the country, a statistic he often cites when discussing the need to withdraw.

In response to a question about how much flexibility there would be to withdrawal plans, Obama said he still believed U.S. forces could be out of the country within about 16 months and that "I've also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments. The important thing is to send a clear signal to the Iraqi people and most importantly to the Iraqi leadership that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is finite, it is gonna be coming to a foreseeable end."

He said he told Zebari that negotiations for a Status of Forces agreement or strategic framework agreement between the two countries should be done in the open and with Congress's authorization and that it was important that that there be strong bipartisan support for any agreement so that it can be sustained through a future administration. He argued it would make sense to hold off on such negotiations until the next administration.

"My concern is that the Bush administration--in a weakened state politically--ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it was my administration or Sen. McCain's administration," Obama said. "The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that's currently made."

MI GOP hits Obama
From NBC's Caroline Gransee

It is clear from the Michigan Republican Party's conference call that the GOP is trying to target middle-class Michigan voters. Rep. Mike Rogers portrayed Obama as being "completely out of touch with the average Michigan family."

Rogers continued to attack Obama's proposed tax proposals. He said they would have "very real consequences," such as hindering Michigan's auto industry, an already struggling industry, from producing. In general, Obama's plan would be "completely destructive" and "punish America," argued Rogers. Michigan is a toss up, but the GOP depicted the state as a stronghold for McCain. Kerry won Michigan 51.2% to 47.8% or about 165,000 votes.