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McCain mistaken on Iran and al-Qaida

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080318/ap_on_el_pr/mccain_jordan;_ylt=AhYGBLEsN4F4ylnUcg6YjsZh24cA McCain mistaken on Iran and al-Qaida By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2008

      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
      past week.

      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.
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