McCain mistaken on Iran and al-Qaida
By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press Writer Tue
Mar 18, 4:53 PM ET
AMMAN, Jordan - Sen. John McCain, the Republican
presidential nominee-in-waiting, mistakenly said
Tuesday that Iran was allowing al-Qaida fighters into
the country to be trained and returned to Iraq.
McCain, expressing concern about Iran's rising sway in
the Mideast, said, "Al-Qaida is going back into Iran
and is receiving training and are coming back into
Iraq from Iran." He made the comments Tuesday at a
news conference in Jordan; he made similar comments
earlier to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
Iran is a predominantly Shiite Muslim country and has
been at pains to close its borders to al-Qaida
fighters of the rival Sunni sect.
Iran has been accused by the United States of funding,
training and arming Iraqi Shiite militants in their
uprising against the United States. But there have
been no allegations by Washington and no evidence that
al-Qaida has benefited from Iranian assistance.
After Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from
Connecticut who was traveling with McCain, stepped
forward to whisper in the candidate's ear, McCain
said: "I'm sorry; the Iranians are training the
extremists, not al-Qaida. Not al-Qaida. I'm sorry."
McCain, who has linked his political future to U.S.
success in Iraq, had just completed his eighth visit
to Iraq. He was in the wartorn country on Monday for
meetings with Iraqi and U.S. diplomatic and military
McCain's gaffe immediately drew criticism from the
Democratic National Committee, which insisted he must
not understand the challenges facing Iraq.
"Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again,
but he showed he either doesn't understand the
challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to
ignore the facts on the ground," said Democratic
National Committee Communications Director Karen
McCain also voiced similar 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 he 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."
In addition, McCain noted U.S. military officials
recently discovered a cache of armor-piercing bombs in
Iraq, and he hinted the explosives had been provided
by Iran. U.S. officials have long been saying that
Iran provides explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs
to, Shiite militias in Iraq, although the Iranian
government denies any role.
The U.S. military reported two such finds during the
McCain 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 ..."
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 Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham,
R-S.C., two of his top supporters in the race for
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 is a supporter of the 2003 invasion and
President Bush's troop increase last year.
Associated Press Writers Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan,
and Libby Quaid and Steve Hurst in Washington
contributed to this report.