McCain corrects himself on which group Iran backs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who is touting his foreign policy credentials, got tangled up briefly on Tuesday on which Islamic extremist group Iran is accused of supporting.

McCain, at a news conference in the Jordanian capital of Amman, accused Iran of supporting the Sunni extremist group al Qaeda in Iraq.

U.S. officials believe Iran has been backing Shi’ite extremists in Iraq, not a Sunni group like al Qaeda.

“Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known and it’s unfortunate,” McCain said.

Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, traveling with McCain on a swing through the Middle East and Europe, whispered in his ear and McCain quickly corrected himself.

“I’m sorry; the Iranians are training the extremists, not al Qaeda. Not al Qaeda. I’m sorry,” McCain said.

Democrats quickly jumped on McCain, a strong backer of President George W. Bush’s troop build-up in Iraq.

“After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward,” said Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said McCain “misspoke and immediately corrected himself.”

“Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief,” Rogers said.

McCain’s next stop was Europe on Wednesday where Bush has been heavily criticized for a perceived “go it alone” approach on a wide range of international issues.

Before his arrival in London, McCain wrote in the Financial Times that the United States must be a “model country” and work with others to tackle challenges such as terrorism and global warming.

The newspaper said McCain distanced himself from what allies see as the unilateralism of the Bush administration, promising to “listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies.”

In a column in the newspaper, McCain promised to renew the “mutual respect and trust” between the United States and Europe and vowed to put America at the forefront of international efforts to tackle climate change.

“When we believe that international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must also be willing to be persuaded by them,” McCain wrote.

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at

Reporting by Steve Holland, editing by Stuart Grudgings