Des Moines Register: 2,000 turn out for Obama in W. Iowa; candidate calls for talks with Iran
By Thomas Beaumont
During his campaign debut in western Iowa today, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama called for U.S. diplomatic negotiations with Iran, as a way of helping stabilize the Middle East.
"We have to understand what Ronald Reagan understood, which was that we'll talk even to folks who are your enemies," the Illinois senator told an audience of more than 2,000 at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
Obama was scheduled to headline a smaller venue later, a forum at the Onawa Public Library.
In Council Bluffs, Obama spoke for 20 minutes, introducing himself to the group made up of western Iowans, whose support in the caucuses he requested, and hundreds of Nebraskans.
"We have got a set of challenges that is as great as any generation has ever faced," he said.
Obama later took questions for more than 30 minutes, including one in which he was asked how he would avert war with Iran.
"Our starting point has to be bringing our occupation in Iraq to a close and to stabilize Iraq," Obama said.
He has made his opposition to the war in Iraq, which he voiced before his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, a key distinction with some other candidates running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama also said the United States should engage Iran in talks in order to stabilize the entire Middle East, only if Iran quits funding terrorism and abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"We should be firm. We should be tough. We should apply economic sanctions," he said, recalling Reagan's engagement with, and the eventual dissolution of, the Soviet Union.
"We should say to the Iranians: 'We don't accept you creating a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But if you are willing to stand down on nuclear weapons, if you are willing to stop funding terrorism, we are also willing to be a partner with you to try to stabilize the region," Obama said.
Obama is scheduled to campaign Sunday afternoon in Sioux City, after attending Palm Sunday church services there. The western Iowa swing is Obama's fourth trip to the leadoff caucus state since announcing his candidacy in February.
Obama's campaign announced today he planned to return for a fifth stop, Wednesday in Mason City.
Obama planned to cap Saturday with a rally in Denison.
Although the Onawa event was expected to have the appearance of a more typical campaign event in the leadoff caucus state, it was to be broadcast live via the Web at 3 p.m., concurrently with hundreds of other similar events.
Obama's wife Michelle was to headline one such event in Des Moines, making her first appearance on behalf of her husband, a first-term U.S. senator from Illinois.
Michelle Obama's face and voice welcomed the crowd at Iowa western, as a video chronicling her husband's life and political career played while the audience filed into the college gymnasium in Council Bluffs.