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McCain praises Iraqi president

From NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- McCain praised Iraq's president Saturday for "significant but fragile progress" and said he is committed to continuing the work that needs to be done in the country.

The Arizona senator met for 45 minutes with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the morning, calling him an "old friend" and discussing plans for elections.

"I have the greatest respect and affection for the president," McCain said. "It's a great pleasure to get updated on the situation in Iraq."

Talabani said the two spoke of "national unity and reconciliation, and also having this year good economy and good budgets." He said the length of American presence in Iraq "depends on the United States" but said Iraq needs their presence.

"How much they will remain there in my personal opinion, we need to have some at least some military bases as a symbol for preventing others in interfering [with] internal affairs of Iraq," Talabani said. "Now, with the presence of United States of America, some neighbors interfering in our internal affairs, what will happen if they leave before preparing Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police forces?"

McCain said a certain date of withdrawal would lead to increased Iranian influence and described current success as "fragile." At one point, according to the pool report, McCain winked at the soft-spoken Iraqi leader.

"The point is, again, it seems to be missed, unfortunately, is that we are winning in Iraq, and we will withdraw," McCain said. "But we will withdraw with victory and honor."

He held a briefer meeting with Philippines President Gloria Arroyo after his speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. McCain said the two spoke of oil interests, as well as trade and the current situation in Burma.

"We have a longstanding friendship and it's one that we all appreciate very much, including the fact that there are four million Filippino-Americans who are in the United States of America who are our most valued citizens as well as allies," McCain said. "So it's a great opportunity to have the chance to discuss issues of mutual interest."