Barack Obama warned Iran to yield to demands to dismantle its nuclear weapons program as Republican presidential rival John McCain blasted the Democrat at home, saying that the Middle East could have plunged into widespread war had Obama had his way in Iraq.
McCain sharpened his criticism as Obama continued his well-received tour of the Middle East and Europe. The Arizona Republican contended that Obama's opposition to sending more troops to Iraq in the so-called "surge" would have led to humiliating defeat there and in Afghanistan.
McCain laid out a vision of near-apocalypse he said could have occurred had Obama managed to stop the troop buildup ordered by President George W. Bush, a move that was unpopular with the American people.
The Vietnam veteran described a domino chain of calamity: U.S. forces retreating under fire, the Iraqi army collapsing, civilian casualties skyrocketing, al-Qaida killing Sunni leaders and finding havens to train fighters and launch attacks on Americans, and civil war, genocide and conflict across the Middle East. "Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened," he said during a campaign stop in Denver. "Terrorists would have seen our defeat as evidence America lacked the resolve to defeat them. As Iraq descended into chaos, other countries in the Middle East would have come to the aid of their favored factions, and the entire region might have erupted in war."
Obama opposed the "surge," and has called for a withdrawal from the unpopular Iraq war over 16 months. He has said the Iraq invasion was an unwise move that distracted from the efforts to find Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders and to root out the Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
McCain has tried to portray his rival as naive and inexperienced on foreign policy and national security.
However, he said Friday on CNN that 16 months seemed like a good estimate.
"He said it's a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground," McCain said, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
McCain has long maintained that conditions on the ground are a key consideration in any withdrawal of American troops. And he has argued that Obama would withdraw troops based on his timetable without regard to conditions in Iraq, although Obama says he would listen to U.S. military commanders about those conditions. Obama, meanwhile, was in Paris _ the latest stop on his weeklong international tour designed to reassure American voters that he can handle international politics and is able to mend relations with key allies frustrated with eight years of Bush.
The trip began with a tour of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, visits to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and included stops in Germany and France. Britain is the last stop.
On Friday, Obama met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, where they discussed Iran, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change and other issues.
During a news conference at the presidential Elysee Palace, Obama said Iran should accept the proposals made by Sarkozy and other Western leaders. He urged Iran's leaders not to wait for the next U.S. president "because the pressure, I think, is only going to build."
The U.S. and other Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and demand that it freeze its uranium enrichment program. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Obama said that he and Sarkozy agreed that Iran poses "an extraordinarily grave situation." The world must send "a clear message to Iran to end its illicit nuclear program," he said. The first-term senator from Illinois also told reporters at the news conference that "Afghanistan is a war we have to win." The Taliban and terrorist groups it supports, he said, pose an unacceptable threat to the U.S., France and other nations. Highlighting the interest that European audiences have taken in this year's presidential election, Sarkozy, who has referred to the Democrat as his "buddy," said the French have been following the U.S. presidential race "with passion." The French president veered close to an endorsement to a man he called "my dear Barack Obama." Sarkozy recalled that when they first met in 2006 neither was president. "And one of us became president. Well, let the other do likewise, huh? I mean, that's not meddling" in the U.S. election, Sarkozy said.
Meanwhile, Obama got good reviews for an earlier stop in Berlin. His speech to a crowd of 200,000 in the city's Tiergarten park the day before sent a "positive signal" to Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Friday.
McCain struggled most of the week to gain media attention during Obama's trip. On Friday, following his stop in Denver, McCain met with the Dalai Lama in Aspen, where he called on China to release Tibetan prisoners.
After a 45-minute meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader, McCain said the Beijing Olympic Games in August provide an opportunity for China to demonstrate it recognizes human rights. He also said the Dalai Lama is merely seeking basic rights to preserve Tibetan culture, language and religion.