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Press Conference with Senator John McCain


Location: Harrisburg, PA


SEN. MCCAIN: I think that that kind of thing is unnecessary. I'm proud of my record of service. And I have plenty of friends and leaders who will attest to that. But the important thing is, if that's the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to engage, I understand that.

But it doesn't reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny. It doesn't achieve our energy independence, make it come any closer. It doesn't help an American stay in their home who are in risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn't do anything to address the challenges that Americans have in keeping their jobs, their homes and supporting their families.

So I intend to, in this campaign, to discuss the challenges we face, things like The Lexington Project and many other proposals and ideas and a plan of action that I have to help the families of this nation.

Q Senator, good afternoon.

Do you believe that Senator Obama needs to specifically address the General Wesley Clark comments? Do you get any sense it's a part of a broader strategy?

SEN. MCCAIN: I know we've heard this many times in other comments that have been made. But no, that's certainly up to Senator Obama.

Q Jeff Mason from Reuters. Senator, a question about your trip to Colombia and to Mexico. How would you contrast your policies on both of those countries with Senator Obama? And specifically, could you address whether, as president, you would be as hard -- as perhaps Senator Obama would be -- on President Uribe regarding human rights issues?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, let me say that there are significant differences between myself and Senator Obama, and I'll look forward to discussing those. One, he doesn't support the Colombia free trade agreement. I think it would be -- have very serious consequences if we rebuked our closest ally. And by the way, he is opposed to Central America Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement. He said in the primaries that he would, quote, "unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement." He now says that he's in favor of free trade.

I support Plan Colombia and ways that we can work more closely together with the government of Colombia. We all are advocates of human rights, and the nation of Colombia has gone through one of the bloodiest civil wars that we've ever seen in our hemisphere.

As I say, before President Uribe came to power, FARC basically had safe areas of that country. They were able to almost freely operate. They've kept people that they've kidnapped and held hostage for years and years and years and years. They're one of the worst terrorist organizations. And yet, thanks to the leadership of President Uribe and the support of the people of Colombia, they've made significant progress against FARC. Now, FARC is a long way from defeated, but the progress that's been made has been remarkable.

Senator Obama does not reward them. Senator Obama believes that Plan Colombia is wrong. Senator Obama opposes a free trade agreement with Colombia. Those are dramatically different positions, as we are on our relations with other countries in the hemisphere. Central America Free Trade Agreement, he opposed. North American Free Trade Agreement, he opposed. Said he would unilaterally renegotiate it.

So we have -- we do have those difference, and I look forward to debating and discussing that.


Q Thank you, Senator. I just want to follow up on Wesley Clark's comments. You mentioned that you have supporters who will come to your defense in terms of your military record. Many of them just finished a conference call with us, from John Warner to Bud Day to Orson Swindle. And what they were suggesting is that the -- Senator Obama is basically saying one thing and he's allowing his campaign to do another. Do you think that Senator Obama is being hypocritical here?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't -- I don't know. I know that many -- that General Clark is not an isolated incident, but I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue. I know he has mischaracterized some of my statements in the past, including our involvement in Iraq. But I'll let the American people decide about that.

Yes, Laura?

Q Thank you, sir. My question is -- today Senator Obama's giving a speech about patriotism and his own sense of what patriotism means. Two questions. One, do you question at all his patriotism? And secondly, do you think that your idea of patriotism and his are any different, or do you -- is that something that you share?

SEN. MCCAIN: I think that Senator Obama's a great American success story. I think his family is. I think he's someone who is admired and respected throughout this country and the world. I think our differences is -- are how we intend to move forward in conducting the affairs of this country. We have very different views and very different positions, and I look forward to ventilating those. But I think all Americans are proud of Senator Obama and what he's been able to accomplish -- he and his entire family have been able to accomplish in this nation. And I think it's living proof that -- of some of the great -- greatness of America.

Yes, sir.

Q Thank you, Senator McCain. John Broder with The New York Times. Senior Pentagon officials are expressing concern about the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One, do you share that concern? And two, do we have -- the United States have the resources to devote to fighting those enemies there, given the surge in Iraq?

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes and yes.

Yes, sir.

Q Pete DeCoursey, Capitolwire --

SEN. MCCAIN: Let me -- let me elaborate a bit. (Laughter.)

Q You're killing us. (Laughter.)

SEN. MCCAIN: A lot of the situation in Afghanistan, as we all know, has been related to the political situation in Pakistan.

And we know that we've been very disappointed in the lack of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, particularly in the border areas, including in Waziristan that I have visited. And we also worry about the Karzai government and corruption in that government as well. And so we have a lot of work to do, and this is a formidable adversary, and the challenges are great, not only for us but for our NATO allies, who I am very happy many countries are engaged with us there.

But to somehow think that it's an either/or situation -- either Afghanistan or Iraq -- is a fundamental misreading of the situation in the Middle East. What happens in Iraq matters in Afghanistan. It matters in Iran. It matters in all the countries in the region. If we had failed in Iraq, if we had pursued the policies vociferously advocated by Senator Obama, we would have risked a wider war. We would have seen a beachhead by al Qaeda. We would have seen increased conflict amongst the different factions in Iraq, and we would have been, I believe, faced the probability of a wider war.

Instead, what we've done, thanks to the surge, is to see the Iraqi government and military gain ascendency. We have seen progress in the democratic process in a broad variety of ways. We've seen Maliki emerge as a much stronger leader than many anticipated. But that progress is very fragile, and I'm confident that General Petraeus will portray it as such. So again, the path of setting artificial dates for withdrawal will cause failure.

And if we fail in Iraq, I am confident that will encourage our adversaries and enemies in Afghanistan as well. And you hear that from the messages that are transmitted by al Qaeda leadership. And so it's not an either-or situation. We need to succeed in Iraq, and I am confident that we can succeed in Afghanistan.

But it's not just a matter of more troops. It is a matter of a whole lot of other factors, including those -- and not exclusive to the ones that I just outlined.


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