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Obama responds to McCain's criticism

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones

LONDON -- During a 15-minute press conference outside of 10 Downing Street here today, Obama responded to McCain's criticism of his five-country swing through Europe and the Middle East, as well as his Republican rival's comments on a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"It's hard for me to understand Sen. McCain's argument. He was telling me I was supposed to take this trip. He suggested it, thought it was a good idea," the senator told reporters, some of whom were seated on the ground in front of him and or standing on the sidewalk across. 

"John McCain has visited every one of these countries post-primary that I have. He has given speeches in Canada, in Colombia, Mexico," he continued. "So it doesn't strike me that we've done anything different than the McCain campaign has done, which is to recognize that part of the job of the next president and commander-in-chief is to forge effective relationships with our allies."

VIDEO: Speaking in London, Barack Obama defended his travels to Europe and the Middle East, arguing that America faces global issues that cannot be solved independently. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

McCain's comment that a 16-month timetable for withdrawing from Iraq could be good -- adding that it would have to be based on conditions on the ground -- was a sign that "there has been some convergence around proposals that we've been making for a year and a half" on this and issues like increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and negotiating directly with Iran, Obama said.
 
"The fact that John McCain now thinks that it's possible for us to execute a phased withdrawal -- I think that's a positive thing," he said. "And if the Administration believes that as well, then I will, I will be fully supportive."

Obama held the press conference after meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and told reporters they had discussed the importance of cooperation between the United States and its European allies on a wide range of issues, including the Middle East peace process, climate change, international terrorism, and issues surrounding financial markets. Obama also said he thanked Brown for his country's help in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama talks about Landstuhl decision
In addition, Obama talked with reporters for the first time about his decision to cancel a planned visit to Landstuhl in Germany. "We had scheduled to go. We had no problem at all in leaving press -- we always leave press and staff out, that's why we left it off the schedule," he said, explaining that the campaign had planned to treat the trip the same way they treated a recent visit to Walter Reed, which the senator made without press.

Obama added, "I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisers, a former military officer. And we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person and it would therefore be perceived as political, because he had endorsed my candidacy but he wasn't on the Senate staff," Obama said, referring to Gen. Scott Gration, who had worked to organize the trip. 

"That triggered then a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political, and the last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not or get caught in the crossfire between campaigns. So rather than go forward and potentially get caught up in what might have been seen as a political controversy of some sort, what we decided was that we would not make a visit and instead I would call some of the troops who were there. So that's essentially the extent of the story."

The press conference marked the last public event of a whirlwind tour that was aimed at burnishing the first-term senator's foreign policy credentials. 

When asked to evaluate the potential political benefits of the trip, Obama suggested he might be punished for spending a week abroad rather than focusing on bread and butter issues at home.

"I'm not sure that there is gonna be some immediate political impact," he said. "I wouldn't even be surprised if that in some polls that you saw a little bit of a dip as a consequence. We've been out of the country for a week. People are worried about gas prices, they're worried about home foreclosures."

There was one interesting moment when Obama was asked what he would ask Britain and France to contribute to the effort in Afghanistan, if elected. His response suggested he was already commander-in-chief, with the ability to send more troops.

"I have already committed an increase in American troops in Afghanistan," he said. "Obviously we'd like some of that burden shared. I think it's going to be necessary in order for us to complete the job that needs to be done."