Sen. Barack Obama spoke to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on the telephone Monday, one day after Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, met with Zebari in person in Washington, D.C.
Campaigning Monday in Flint, Mich., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told reporters he's "interested in visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election," and said he told Zebari that he looks forward to seeing him in Baghdad.
"I thought it was very constructive," Obama said of his conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister. "He emphasized to me his belief that as a consequence of the extraordinary efforts and sacrifice of U.S. military forces, we've made significant progress in quelling the violence in Iraq."
Obama said he emphasized the need for Iraqi politicians to work together on a solution for Iraq.
"Now is the time for the various political factions in Iraq to seize the moment and start making meaningful progress on political accommodations, something that was the original intention of the surge but has unfortunately, has still lagged, particularly the importance of dealing with the issue of oil revenues, provincial elections, the status of areas like Kirkuk — issues that have not been resolved but need to be," Obama said.
McCain, Obama Spar Over Iraq Policy
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly hit Obama for visiting the region once, compared to McCain's eight visits to Iraq since the war began.
The presumptive Republican nominee held his own face-to-face meeting with Zebari Sunday at the Arizona senator's campaign headquarters in Crystal City, Va., just outside Washington. McCain favors a continuing presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, while Obama advocates withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Obama said Zebari told him the Iraqi government is deeply interested in negotiating an effective Status of Forces agreement and a strategic framework agreement with the United States — agreements that would hammer out rules for U.S. troop operations in Iraq.
So far, talks between the U.S. and Iraq have stalled, and the agreements remain controversial inside Iraq and the United States. Obama said he told the Iraqi foreign minister that the U.S. has no interest in establishing permanent bases in Iraq.
"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 clear that we have no interest in permanent bases in Iraq, that any negotiations for a Status of Forces agreement or strategic framework agreement should be done in the open and with Congress's authorization, because I believe that it's in the interests of both Iraq and the United States that any such critical negotiations have strong bipartisan support and that they can be sustained through a future administration," Obama told reporters.
Obama Advocates U.S. Troop Withdrawal
The presumptive Democratic nominee said they also discussed the need to engage countries surrounding Iraq.
"The minister, I think, frankly stated that Iraq's neighbors have not always been helpful in the process, but he is working diligently to try to engage them more effectively. I gave him an assurance that should we be elected, 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 that we will move to end U.S. combat forces in Iraq in a manner that's as careful as we were careless getting in," Obama said.
Asked if there's any flexibility on how troop withdrawal would play out, Obama repeated his longstanding belief that U.S. troops can be removed from Iraq "at a pace of one to two brigades per month."
"At that pace we would have our combat troops out in approximately 16 months. I've also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments. The important thing is to send a clear signal to the Iraqi people and most importantly to the Iraqi leadership that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is finite, it is going to be coming to a foreseeable end," he said.
Asked by ABC News if Zebari expressed any concern that the withdrawal of U.S. troops under an Obama administration would undo any security gains, Obama said Zebari did not raise that issue.
Obama: Oil Price Spike Boosts Iraq Budget
"He did emphasize his belief that we've made real progress and I think was eager to see political accommodations between the factions follow up in the wake of this progress," Obama said. "The Iraqis are obviously concerned about their sovereignty and are not seeking a long term occupation by the U.S. And so my sense is that we should be able to execute a withdrawal and set a timeframe — a timetable that continues to allow U.S. forces to support Iraqi forces in going after terrorists, that continues to train the Iraqi police and military as long as we're not training militias that are turning on each other."
Obama said that "as a consequence of a huge spike in oil prices, the Iraqi government's budget is twice as large as it anticipated, and so I think it's important for the Iraqis to start picking up more of the tab both for reconstruction efforts as well as the need to continue to boost their military capacity."
A reporter pointed out that Obama has said he wants to signal U.S. troop withdrawal to send a signal to Iraqi government as a way of getting them to step up to the plate. The reporter asked: Haven't we seen that lately the Iraqis are already stepping up without having a timetable?
"What I've said is the need for withdrawal is two-fold," Obama said. "One is to spur more action out of the Iraqis, and what we haven't yet seen is more significant political accommodations. I'm encouraged by some of the actions in the south and in Sadr City, but that then shouldn't argue for a longer commitment there. That argues for the fact that they have the capacity where they have the will to act more effectively than they have in the past.
"But the second reason for withdrawal is the fact that we're spending $10-12 billion a month in Iraq. And the people here in Flint, Mich., who I'm going to be talking to, would like to see some of that investment made here at home. That's part of our overall national security posture is ensuring that we've got a strong economy. It is also of great concern that the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. We saw some of the signs of that this weekend, where you have a prison breakout of hundreds, you're continuing to see Al Qaeda and the Taliban strengthen themselves. That has to be part of the overall strategic equation as well."
ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.