White House challenges McClatchy story, but provides no facts to counter it

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 26, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday said a McClatchy news story was false when it reported that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were not deeply involved in talks with Iraqi officials over whether to leave a residual force of U.S. troops in the country before deciding to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of this year.

The White House refused, however, to release details of Obama’s and Biden’s involvement that would counter the details in the story.

McClatchy on Tuesday reported that “President Barack Obama and his point man on Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden, remained largely aloof from the process” of negotiating whether U.S. troops could or would remain in Iraq past the end of this year.

The story quoted logs provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad showing that no talks between the president and vice president and Iraqi officials from March through October.

The logs recorded the White House statements, or “readouts,” of calls made by the president or vice president.

The story also quoted a spokesman for the government of Iraq. And it noted that, in addition to the embassy’s log records, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s office had put out a statement on Sept. 22 saying that Maliki and Biden had discussed that day a possible residual U.S. force.

“That report is just categorically false to suggest that the president and the vice president hadn’t been in communication with Iraqi leaders,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday afternoon when asked by reporters about the story.

“The vice president had many, many conversations with Iraqi leaders over the time period mentioned in that story. The president spoke with Prime Minister Maliki this summer,” Carney said aboard Air Force One as the president flew home to Washington from a West Coast trip.

Asked if he would release the dates or details of those talks, Carney said, “I don’t know.”

He also said that “there actually was” a White House comment of one of the calls to Iraq that was missed. “But the fact of the matter is … we don’t read out every call we have, the president has or the vice president has with foreign leaders.”

"We stand by our reporting,” said James Asher, Washington Bureau chief for McClatchy. “We have repeatedly asked White House officials for details on Mr. Obama's and Mr. Biden's communications with the Iraqi government. So far, they have declined to provide them. We await a response."

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