"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.
"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.