[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/03/art.boiraq0703.ap.jpg caption="Sen. Obama discussed his Iraq policy in North Dakota Thursday."]
(CNN) - Call it take two.
Barack Obama held a second news conference with reporters in North Dakota Thursday, to deny any suggestions that he's changing his position on withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee opened his second go-around with reporters by saying, "We're going to try this again. Apparently I wasn't clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq. I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end."
The Illinois senator added, "I have also said that I would be deliberate and careful in how we got out, that we would bring our troops home at a pace of one to two brigades per month and that at that pace we would have our combat troops out in 16 months. That position has not changed."
Earlier, Obama met with reporters in Fargo, North Dakota, before holding a town hall that included many military veterans and their families.
In the first meeting, Obama denied any suggestion he's shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq, calling it "pure speculation" and adding that his "position has not changed." However, he told reporters questioning his stance that he will "continue to refine" his policies as warranted.
"We're planning to visit Iraq," Obama said, referring to his recently-announced trip scheduled for later this summer. "I'm going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there."
Asked if that means he is, in fact, open to options that would not include the removal of all combat troops within 16 months, the Illinois senator did not respond directly, but only said he will continue to "gather information."
National reporters and Republicans pounced on those comments. The Republican National Committee put out an e-mail statement saying that Obama was backing away from his position on withdrawal.
That may have led to the second media availability, where Obama said, "what I said this morning, and what I will repeat because it is consistent with what I've said over the last two years, is that in putting this plan together, I will always listen to the advice of the commanders on the ground but ultimately I am the person who is making the strategic decisions."
On April 10, Obama he told an Indiana crowd it may take "16 months to two years" to remove combat troops. In recent speeches, he's left out the phrase "16 months" entirely.
When asked again, in the second news conference, if he could tell reporters that he would not in the future change his 16-month timetable for combat troop withdrawal, Obama didn't directly answer the question, saying only that he intends as president to remove all combat troops within 16 months.
Obama placed some of the blame for the confusion Thursday on the McCain campaign, saying "I think what's happened is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn't and that just hasn't been the case. I've given no indication of a change in policy. I haven't suggested that we're moving in a different
direction. I think John McCain's going to have a much harder time explaining how he is willing to perpetuate a presence in Iraq for 10, 20, 50 years."
The McCain campaign responded following the second news conference with a statement saying, "Today, Barack Obama reversed that position proving once again that his words do not matter. He has now adopted John McCain's position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground. "There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it," the statement said. "Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country."