| FLINT, Michigan
FLINT, Michigan U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Monday he was encouraged by a reduction in violence in Iraq but underlined his support for a pullout of U.S. troops.
Obama, who secured the Democratic party nomination earlier this month and will run in November against Republican John McCain, said he spoke about improved security conditions in Iraq during a telephone conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.
"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 it clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq," Obama told reporters at the airport in Flint, where he had just arrived for an event on the economy.
Obama, an Illinois senator, spoke to Zebari a day after the Iraqi official met in Washington with McCain, an Arizona senator. McCain has made foreign policy and national security a focus of his presidential campaign and has criticized Obama as too inexperienced to run the country.
McCain, who strongly backed the buildup of U.S. troops ordered by President George W. Bush in Iraq, has pointed to the improved conditions in Iraq as evidence the troop increase has worked. McCain's campaign has accused Obama, an early critic of the war who also opposed the troop increase, of failing to acknowledge the security gains from the surge.
Obama says he would begin a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq shortly after taking office. His plan calls for the removal of one or two brigades a month which would allow a pullout of combat troops to be completed within 16 months.
The first-term Illinois senator said he told Zebari that if he wins the White House, "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 he said it was important to begin a withdrawal of troops to send a signal that the U.S. occupation of Iraq "is finite."
(Editing by David Wiessler)