In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters today, Republican presidential nominee-apparent John McCain downplayed the signficance of increasingly assertive statements by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his government indicating that the Iraqis will not agree to a security agreement with the United States, unless it includes a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. McCain told reporters his reaction was:
The same as it was when he said that they can’t reach a status of forces agreement. Prime Minister Maliki is the leader of a country and I’m confident he will act as the President and the Foreign Minister both told me in the last several days. It will be directly related to the situation on the ground–just as they have always said. And since we are succeeding, I am convinced, as I have said before, we will withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable, and I am confident that’s what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about. He has told me that in many meetings we have had.
I pressed McCain for an explanation of why Maliki would then be making these comments, and asked whether this was perhaps for domestic political consumption in advance of upcoming elections. With apparent pique, McCain said:
Why would be be saying a week or two ago, as you [in the media] so effectively, escitedly reported, that the status of forces agreement was dead? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. But I know for a fact that it will be dictated by the situation on the ground, as it always has been. And the situation on the ground … is successful. But it’s fragile. I’ve always said it’s fragile. So we will be able to withdraw with honor. And I’m sure it will be dictated by the situation on the ground. He doesn’t want to give up these hard-won victories in Basra and Mosul and Sadr City.
McCain was also asked about an Associated Press report indicating that exports to Iran have increased largely on the basis of cigarette sales, to which he quipped:
Maybe that’s a way of killing them.
From where I was standing in the pool, I could see that this remark drew a nudge in McCain’s back from his wife Cindy, at which point he hastened to add that he was just kidding.