From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
Obama said today the campaign would be making an announcement as to when, but he said he he wanted to visit both Iraq and Afghanistan before the election in November.
"I told him that I look forward to seeing him in Baghdad," Obama said of his conversation with Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. "You know, we'll make an announcement about that [as to when], but as I said, I'm interested in visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election."
Obama spoke briefly (about 10 minutes) with reporters about his telephone conversation with Zebari. He said he was encouraged by the progress made in reducing the violence in Iraq, but believed troops should be withdrawn, and they should do so carefully.
Obama also told Zebari, he said, that Congress should be involved in any negotiations regarding a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq. He suggested it may be better to wait until the next administration to negotiate such an agreement.
Asked by NBC's Lee Cowan if a timetable for the status of forces agreement was discussed, Obama said, "Well he, the foreign minister, had presented a letter requesting an extension of the UN resolution until the end of this year. So that's a six-month extension.
"Obviously we can't have U.S. forces operating on the ground in iraq without some sort of agreemnt, either a further extension of the U.N. resolution or some sort of Status of Forces agreement, some strategic framework agreement. As I said before, 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.
"The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that's currently made, but I think the only way to assure that is to make sure that there is strong bipartisan support, that Congress is involved, that the American people know the outlines of this agreement, and my concern is that if the Bush administration negotiates, as it currently has, and given that we're entering into the heat of political season that we're probably better off not trying to complete a hard and fast agreement before the next administration takes office, but I think obviously these conversations have to continue. As I said my No. 1 priority is making sure that we don't have a situation in which us troops on the ground are somehow vulnerable to, are made more vulnerable, because there is a lack of a clear mandate."