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Obama drops visit to wounded U.S. troops in Germany

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama dropped a plan to visit wounded U.S. troops in Germany on Friday amid concerns the stop would be viewed as a political event.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama steps off his campaign plane as he arrives in Paris July 25, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

The Pentagon said arrangements had been put in place for Obama to visit Landstuhl Regional Medical Center as a U.S. senator, without his campaign staff, as political activity is forbidden on U.S. military facilities.

But an Obama adviser said the candidate was concerned the trip would have been viewed as a campaign event.

“Senator Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops, and decided instead not to go,” said retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, who advises Obama on national security matters.

Gration said the Pentagon told Obama’s campaign that the military would consider the visit a campaign event.

But the Pentagon insisted it had been ready to welcome Obama at the hospital -- without his campaign staff or accompanying reporters.

“We advised that Sen. Obama would be welcome to visit Landstuhl or any other military hospital in his capacity as a U.S. senator, but his campaign staff would not,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

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Obama recently visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the flagship military hospital in Washington, on that basis, Morrell said.

“For whatever reason, they made a determination that they did not want to proceed with the visit,” Morrell said. “We were ready, willing and able to host them at Landstuhl.”

The U.S. Defense Department has longstanding policies that prohibit military personnel and military facilities from any association with partisan political campaigns and elections.

The Landstuhl medical centre near the city of Kaiserslautern is the largest American hospital outside the United States.

Senior Obama aide Robert Gibbs noted the senator had visited troops during the earlier part of his foreign tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a stop at a combat support hospital in the secure Green Zone in Baghdad.

Obama undertook the first part of his tour as a member of a delegation of U.S. senators. The follow-on trip to Europe is in his capacity as a presidential candidate.

“The senator decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign,” Gibbs said.

Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the campaign of Republican John McCain, Obama’s rival in the November election, said: “It is never inappropriate to visit and comfort our brave men and women who have served in combat.”

Obama was to have stopped at Landstuhl after visiting Berlin on Thursday. He flew to Paris on Friday and will wrap up his trip abroad in London before heading back to the United States on Saturday.

Obama’s trip abroad, rare for a presidential candidate, is aimed at burnishing his credentials on foreign policy. McCain’s campaign has labelled the first-term U.S. senator as too inexperienced to lead on foreign policy.

The 46-year-old Obama has also visited Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and David Morgan in Washington; Editing by Sami Aboudi