[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/08/art.obama.slam.gi.jpg caption="Did Obama really try to slow down progress in U.S.-Iraq talks?"]The Statement:
Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin said at a campaign stop near Cincinnati, Ohio on Oct. 10 that "Senator Obama tried to make a secret deal with the Iraqi government" to delay an agreement that would spell out the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Referring to an Oct. 10 Washington Times article, Palin said Obama "tried to influence negotiations with Iraqi leaders in a way that would set back America's cause there."
Get the facts!
The United States and Iraq are negotiating a status of forces agreement, which would spell out the details of U.S. troop presence in Iraq after the U.N. mandate establishing their status expires at the end of the year. They are also negotiating a longer-term strategic framework agreement, which would define their political, security, cultural, and economic relationship.
The Times article said Obama "tried to convince Iraqi leaders in private conversations that the president shouldn't be allowed to enact the deal without congressional approval." It said "some of the specifics of the conversations remain the subject of dispute" and that Iraqi leaders said Obama "urged Baghdad to delay an agreement with Mr. Bush until next year when a new president will be in office - a charge the Democratic campaign denies."
The newspaper quoted Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Sumaidaie about a June 16 telephone conversation between Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Sen. Barack Obama. "In the conversation, the senator urged Iraq to delay the (memorandum of understanding) between Iraqi and the United States until the new administration was in place," Sumaidaie said. A memorandum of understanding would be a short-term interim arrangement before the establishment of a status of forces agreement.
The Times report said Sumaidaie said he "did not participate in the call... but stood next to Mr. Zebari during the conversation and was briefed by him immediately afterward. The call was not recorded by either side, and Mr. Zebari did not respond to reported telephone and e-mail messages requesting direct comment." Sumaidaie is the only Iraqi leader quoted in the story.
Palin cited the Times article and said, "We've learned that Barack Obama tried to influence negotiations with Iraqi leaders in a way that would set back America's cause there, while advancing his campaign here," according to a pool report from her campaign stop. She added, "We learned this morning that Iraqi officials are saying Senator Obama tried to make a secret deal with the Iraqi government, and he apparently wanted this action delayed, some more strategy delayed, that would reduce troop numbers until the next president takes office."
The Obama-Biden campaign says Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations. Wendy Morigi, Obama national security spokeswoman, told CNN on Saturday that Obama told Zebari he supports the adoption of a status of forces agreement with immunity for U.S. troops, and that a strategic framework agreement should be vetted by the U.S. Congress once it is forged.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry, in an e-mail received by CNN on June 17, said that Zebari spoke to Sen. Obama, but it didn't make reference to any request for a delay. It said Obama "stressed that his administration wants to reassure the Iraqi people and their government" that it "would not make any critical or irresponsible decisions regarding the U.S. military presence and it would not undermine successes already achieved."
On Sunday, Oct. 12, Zebari issued a statement rejecting the allegations in the Washington Times article. Obama "never, ever discouraged" the signing of an agreement, Zebari said in the statement, adding, "I think this was misrepresented."
In dispute. Both Obama and the Iraqi official with whom he had the conversation, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, deny Obama ever pushed for a delay. But the article Palin was citing quoted another Iraqi official who said he was next to Zebari during the conversation and was briefed by Zebari right afterward.
(Updated Sunday, October 12, to reflect new developments)