After the Iraqi prime minister endorsed Obama's 16-month troop withdrawal plan, a subsequent claim that he had been "misunderstood and mistranslated" is not supported by the recorded evidence and a second translation. US expresses mounting frustration with Iran which now faces a two-week deadline in negotiations over its nuclear programme. Across the Middle East, uncertainty is expressed about whether Barack Obama can help the region.
Maliki's clarification on US withdrawal from Iraq
After the German magazine, Der Spiegel, published an interview with Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, in which he expressed support for the US troop withdrawal plan being promoted by US presidential candidate, Barack Obama, an Iraqi government spokesman issued a statement calling into question the magazine's rendering of the interview. The statement said Mr Maliki's words had been "misunderstood and mistranslated." The magazine had reported: "When asked in and interview with Spiegel when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, Maliki responded 'as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned.' He then continued: 'US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.' "Maliki was careful to back away from outright support for Obama. 'Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business,' he said. But then, apparently referring to Republican candidate John McCain's more open-ended Iraq policy, Maliki said: 'Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems.'" Following up the story with its own investigation, The New York Times noted: "the interpreter for the interview works for Mr Maliki's office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr Maliki's interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr Obama's position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence. "The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr Maliki's comments by The Times: 'Obama's remarks that - if he takes office - in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq.' "He continued: 'Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.' "Mr Maliki's top political adviser, Sadiq al-Rikabi, declined to comment on the remarks, but spoke in general about the Iraqi position on Sunday. Part of that position, he said, comes from domestic political pressure to withdraw." In World Politics Review, Charles Crain wrote: "It isn't shocking that, all else being equal, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would prefer to have American troops out of his country. But all else isn't equal. After Maliki caused a stir last week by calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, other members of his government immediately began qualifying the statement. "The ambivalence is understandable; it reflects the ambivalence of Iraqis in general. Most are deeply suspicious of American motives and want US troops out of their country. At the same time, in towns across Iraq and neighborhoods around Baghdad, US soldiers and Marines are often credited with keeping sectarian tensions under control after the catastrophic violence of 2006 and 2007. "The American presence poses a special dilemma for Maliki and his government. They are loathe to be seen as puppets of the Americans, their positions guaranteed only by US force. But US forces have been an Maliki's invaluable ally. His enemies - Sunni insurgents and rival Shiite militias - are their enemies."
Mounting frustration with Iran
"The international community must put economic and political pressure on Iran in order to help reach a breakthrough in the crisis over Tehran's nuclear program, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs said Sunday," AFP reported. "Admiral Michael Mullen told the Fox network he felt 'encouraged by the talks' that were held Saturday in Geneva between Iranian, European and US officials as part of a bid to resolve a long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear plans. "Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana hailed their talks as 'constructive' but Solana lamented that Tehran had still not given a final response to a proposed package of incentives for Tehran to abandon its nuclear program." The Los Angeles Times said: "US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today dismissed Iran's recent response to a proposed solution to Tehran's nuclear program as 'small talk' meant to buy time and warned that sanctions would be forthcoming if Iran did not comply with international demands to halt or slow its production of enriched uranium. "Rice, speaking to reporters in Ireland this morning, warned of further US, European and UN Security Council sanctions on Iran's energy and banking sectors if Iran did not agree to stop expanding its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or, if highly enriched, fissile material for a bomb. "The Bush administration broke with its own longstanding policy of refusing to engage with Iran until it halts enrichment by dispatching Undersecretary of State William J Burns to the Geneva talks." In The Independent, Anne Penketh said: "Iran has handed ammunition to American and Israeli hawks by delaying its response to a Western offer of technological and political incentives intended to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions." Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported: "The Pentagon's top military officer Adm Mike Mullen on Sunday discussed the fallout from a potential attack against Tehran by either the US or Israel. 'Right now I'm fighting two wars and I don't need a third one.' "Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mullen added, 'I worry about the instability in that part of the world and, in fact, the possible unintended consequences of a strike like that and, in fact, having an impact throughout the region that would be difficult to both predict exactly what it would be and then the actions that we would have to take to contain it.'"
Doubts about Obama
"Senator Obama's campaign may have launched groundswells of hope, ardor, and optimism at home and in Europe. But at the start of his closely watched trip to the Middle East, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee is little known in the Arab world, and has yet to generate widespread interest or enthusiasm," The Christian Science Monitor noted. "From Baghdad to Beirut, people said in recent interviews that they are unfamiliar with his policies, except for his plan to move quickly to pull US troops out of Iraq. "In general, they said they prefer Obama over the likely Republican nominee, Sen John McCain, whom they view as unsympathetic to Arabs. "But even those who like Obama's personality are not expecting him to initiate major turnabouts on US Middle East policies, particularly on the most contentious one of all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Bloomberg News said: "many Muslims around the world doubt the 46-year-old Illinois senator will advance their interests much and expect Obama to leave largely unchanged a US foreign policy they perceive as unfairly tilted toward Israel. "Obama's comment on Jerusalem, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was a 'radical rupture with the Arab public,' said Habib Samarkandi, a professor at the University of Toulouse in France who edits a journal about North African culture. 'We discovered our support was based on illusions rather than the reality of the person.' "Obama sought to clarify his position the day after his speech, saying on CNN that 'obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues. And Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.' "'The damage is done,' Samarkandi said, discounting the explanation." The Financial Times said: "just as questions have been mounting in the US about his credentials to be commander-in-chief, so too is he coming under greater scrutiny among Arabs, with queries about his ability to deal with the crises in their region. "'Basically mistrust,' says Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, when asked of the Arab view towards Mr Obama. "Mr Alani's concern is that the 46-year-old, first-term senator lacks experience and will be so intent to prove wrong critics who have questioned his background and tried to portray him as too pro-Muslim and soft on extremists, that it will push him to be too close to Israel." In Cairo, The Christian Science Monitor spoke to Fathy Tantawy, who said: "When they look at the Middle East they all have the same thoughts, whether it's Obama or Clinton's wife or Bush or ... who is that other guy on TV?" He pauses to think. "Oh yeah, McCain."