Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama plans to visit the Middle East and Europe this summer, taking time off from campaigning in the United States in an effort to boost his foreign policy credentials.
Obama's campaign told The Associated Press the likely nominee will travel to Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The Illinois senator also has said he intends to visit Iraq and Afghanistan this summer; his campaign would not say whether those stops would be part of the trip to the Mideast and Europe.
"This trip will be an important opportunity for me to assess the situation in countries that are critical to American national security, and to consult with some of our closest friends and allies about the common challenges we face," Obama said in a statement.
"This will be an important opportunity to have an exchange of views with leaders in these countries about these and other issues that are critical to American national security and global security in the 21st century."
The campaign also would not disclose the dates of any of the plans in an attempt to protect Obama's security. Obama's campaign manager said this past week that Iraq and Afghanistan would be part of an official congressional trip. The other stops are part of a campaign-funded visit.
It is unusual for a presidential candidate to travel internationally so close to Election Day, especially in a closely fought campaign. Obama had considered such a trip last year, but the competitive primary with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made it too risky to spend time away from early primary states. Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough said the senator wants to consult with leaders of some important US allies about common challenges, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.
"He obviously wants to consult with the leaders of those countries but also find an opportunity to speak to the people of those countries about our shared values and goals," McDonough said in an interview on Saturday.
The stop in Israel could help improve Obama's standing among Jewish voters. Some Jews are concerned about Obama's willingness to speak with Middle Eastern nations that oppose Israel, while others wonder whether he is a closet Muslim. Obama's father and stepfather were Muslim and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country. But he is a Christian, was a longtime member of Chicago's Trinity United Church and attended secular and Catholic schools.
"Israel is a strong and close friend of the United States, and is confronting grave threats from Gaza to Tehran," Obama said in his statement. "Jordan has been a close partner in the peace process and a host of other issues of common concern. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are key anchors of the trans-Atlantic alliance and have contributed to the mission in Afghanistan, and I look forward to discussing how we can strengthen our partnership in the years to come."
The trip also will help address Republican rival John McCain's criticism that the first-term Illinois senator lacks the international experience to be commander in chief. In particular, McCain and the Republican Party have sought to make the case that Obama has not observed conditions in Iraq closely enough to determine whether his plan to remove all combat troops within 16 months is the right course of action.
Obama made his only trip to Iraq in January 2006 as part of a congressional delegation. McCain, a senator from Arizona and Vietnam war veteran, has been to Iraq eight times, most recently in March. An Associated Press-Yahoo News poll taken this month found that 61 percent of those surveyed see McCain as a good military leader, compared with 27 per cent for Obama. But they see Obama as more likely to improve America's standing in the world, 43 per cent to 33 per cent who said the same about McCain.