Lieberman lends McCain an assist after gaffe in Jordan
Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, expressed fresh concern Tuesday about Iran's influence in Iraq and rising sway in Mideast.
However, as the Washington Post's campaign blog points out, McCain "misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran."
"He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda," Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear note. "In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq."
After McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran," the post reports "Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear," leading McCain to add: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."
The Post blog adds, "The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night."
McCain also voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to "expedite" a flow of foreign fighters.
"We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons," McCain said.
He added that, if elected president, he would coordinate better with Europe to impose a "broad range of sanctions and punishments" on Tehran, to "convince them that their activities, particularly development of nuclear weapons, is not a beneficial goal to seek."
McCain declined to comment on whether he could back an eventual decision to strike Iran if Tehran doesn't cease its nuclear activities.
In response to a question about possible U.S. strikes against Tehran, McCain only said: "At the end of the day, we cannot afford having a nuclear armed Iran."
He warned that any hasty pullout from Iraq would be a mistake that would favor Iran and al-Qaida.
"We continue to be very concerned about the Iranian influence in Iraq and in the region," McCain said.
McCain ran into trouble last year when he joked about bombing Iran, giving a campaign audience in South Carolina a rendition of the opening lyrics of the Beach Boys rock classic "Barbara Ann," calling the tune "Bomb Iran" and changing the words to "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ..."
McCain, who has linked his political future to U.S. success in Iraq, was in the wartorn country on Monday for meetings with Iraqi and U.S. diplomatic and military officials.
"We were very encouraged by the success of the surge and the reduction in U.S. casualties," McCain told reporters in Jordan, where he stopped on the next leg of a congressional visit that will also take him to Israel, Britain and France.
"We are succeeding, but we still have a long way to go," he warned. "Al-Qaida is on the run, they're not defeated."
A "major battle" remains to be fought to reclaim the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, he said, stating it was a success for the U.S. that Iraqi troops were now "taking the lead in that struggle" against al-Qaida.
Later Tuesday, McCain received a celebrity welcome in Jerusalem, beginning a two-day visit to Israel with a stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. As his motorcade pulled up dozens of tourists greeted him and chanted "Mac is back," as he shook their hands and posed for photographs.
During his 90-minute visit at the memorial and museum, McCain was visibly moved, his eyes welling with tears as he viewed photographs from Nazi death camps.
Wearing a skullcap placed on his head by Lieberman, McCain laid a wreath in memory of the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims and lit a memorial flame. Signing the Yad Vashem visitors' book he wrote: "I am deeply moved. Never again. John McCain."
His visit to Iraq was the Arizona senator's first since emerging as the presumed Republican nominee. He was accompanied by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two of his top supporters in the race for president.
He promised that, if elected president, he would uphold a long-term military commitment in Iraq as long as al-Qaida in Iraq is not defeated.
McCain, who is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the trip to the Middle East and Europe was for fact-finding purposes, not a campaign photo opportunity.
He is expected to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for the first time, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the third time. He met and corresponded with Sarkozy both before and after the French president was elected. They last saw each other last summer.
McCain has told U.S. reporters he worries that insurgents might try to influence the November presidential election by stepping up their attacks in Iraq.
McCain is a supporter of the 2003 invasion and President Bush's troop increase last year.
This video is from ABCNews.com, broadcast March 18, 2008.
(with wire reports)