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McCain says Obama Europe trip amounts to politics

GRAND HAVEN, Michigan (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday he believes Democrat Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Europe is tantamount to holding political rallies abroad.

Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addresses supporters during a campaign stop at the NAACP National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 16, 2008. REUTERS/John Sommers II

McCain, speaking to reporters, also ridiculed Obama’s vow to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months as risking losing the hard-fought gains won by U.S. soldiers under a troop build-up ordered 18 months ago.

Obama is soon to leave on a trip that will take him to Europe and the Middle East. At some stage the trip is also expected to take him to Iraq and Afghanistan, the two thorniest foreign policy challenges that will face the next president.

McCain sought to clarify remarks he made on his campaign bus in Kansas City, Missouri, in which he said he disagreed with his communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, who told the Fox News Channel that Obama’s trip is “the first of its kind campaign rally overseas.”

The McCain campaign had emailed out Hazelbaker’s statement.

McCain said he did not consider Obama’s upcoming visits to Iraq and Afghanistan political, saying he had offered to go with Obama. But Obama’s other stops abroad, he said, seemed to have a political element, particularly a planned event at Germany’s Brandenburg Gate.

“If he’s going to have a rally at the Brandenburg Gate, which is what is being publicly stated -- of course if you have political rallies, it’s a political event,” he said.

McCain visited Colombia and Mexico earlier this month.

MCCAIN TRAILING IN OPINION POLLS

And the Arizona senator pounded Obama anew for laying out his 16-month withdrawal plan without having traveled to Iraq or Afghanistan yet for a first-hand look and talks with commanders. He said if the current strategy is pursued, “we will win this war, and I know how to win wars.”

McCain, 71, a four-term Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, is running behind the 46-year-old Obama in public opinion polls. He was trying to make a major campaign issue of Obama’s Iraq policy in hopes of convincing Americans that the first-term Illinois senator is too inexperienced to be trusted to lead the country as commander in chief.

“This is a fragile success. This is a fragile victory,” McCain said. “It can be reversed by doing what Sen. Obama has advocated and that’s setting a date for withdrawal.”

The Obama campaign fired back that “it appeared the McCain campaign was “getting nervous about being on the wrong side of the Iraq debate.”

“The McCain campaign should stop worrying about Barack Obama’s travel plans and start focusing on addressing the pressing challenges that the Bush-McCain foreign policy has made worse,” said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.

Wearing a Navy cap, McCain spoke beneath a shade tree after eating a corn-breaded hot dog on a stick purchased at “Pronto Pups,” a roadside hot dog stand with a sign that said “This is Cholesterol Country -- Health Addicts, please continue on.”

McCain, who had advocated a summer-long suspension in the federal gasoline tax to no avail, said U.S. lawmakers should consider whether an even longer suspension could be needed to give drivers relief from $4-a-gallon gasoline.

“I think we ought to seriously look at whether we need to have it longer or not,” he said.

On his bus in Kansas City, he said he hoped Obama would listen not only to commanders on the ground in the two war zones but also to the troops.

“They’ll tell him that we’re winning this war, will win it, if we don’t do what he wants to do, which is to set a date for withdrawal,” he said.

(Edited by Patricia Zengerle)

To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

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