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Obama: US Must End 'Single-Minded' Focus on Iraq

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama says a single-minded focus on the war in Iraq has distracted the United States from other threats, including Afghanistan. Obama gave a major foreign policy speech in Washington that brought quick responses from his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, and from President Bush. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more.

Senator Obama laid out a five-part foreign policy strategy that begins with keeping his commitment to pull most U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

"This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century," he said. "By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe. I am running for president of the United States to lead this country in a new direction."

Obama is preparing for a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan later this month.

He said he intends to shift some combat brigades from Iraq to Afghanistan if he is elected in November.

"The central front in the war on terror is not Iraq and it never was. And that is why the second goal of my new strategy will be taking the fight to al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Obama.

Obama also pledged to lead an international effort to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states, to move the U.S. towards energy independence, and to rebuild international alliances.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also vowed to use what he called all the tools of statecraft to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Obama's speech brought a quick response from the presumptive Republican candidate, Senator John McCain.

McCain criticized Obama for laying out a strategy on Iraq and Afghanistan before consulting with U.S. and local officials in those two countries.

"I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General [David] Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time," he said. "In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."

McCain has long been a champion of the Bush's administration's military surge strategy in Iraq and says a similar approach is required in Afghanistan.

McCain also told his audience in New Mexico that he knows how to win wars and that his military experience would make him a better commander in chief.

He also got some help from President Bush. Mr. Bush told a news conference that Senator Obama should consult with U.S. and Iraqi leaders before making decisions about the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"The question really facing the country is will we have the patience and the determination to succeed in these very difficult theaters," he said. "And I understand exhaustion and I understand people getting tired, but I would hope that whoever follows me understands that we are at war, and now is not the time to give up in the struggle against this enemy."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds voters split on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Fifty percent in the latest survey favor setting a timetable, which is Obama's position, 49 percent oppose a timetable, a view McCain supports.

But 63 percent still believe the Iraq war has not been worth the costs, a figure that has remained fairly constant for the past two years.