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, 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.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said they also discussed the need to engage countries surrounding Iraq.