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Obama says he's 'been very consistent' on Iraq

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  • NEW: McCain's campaign responds Saturday to Obama's Iraq statements
  • Obama questions media's parsing of statements on Iraq
  • I'm surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured," Obama says
  • Clinton and Obama to hold 3 joint fundraisers in New York next week
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ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama, speaking on board his campaign plane as it headed to St. Louis on Saturday, continued to defend his position on Iraq -- and questioned reporters' parsing of his words.

"I am surprised at how ... the press ... I'm not trying to dump on you guys, but I'm surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured," Obama said.

"I wasn't saying anything that I hadn't said before. That I didn't say a year ago. Or when I was a U.S. senator. If you look at our position, it's been very consistent. The notion that we have to get out carefully has been a consistent position," he said.

"The belief that we have a national security interest in making sure Iraq is secure, I've been saying consistently," he added. Noting "the worst-case scenarios and the parade of horribles that has been trotted out by [Sen.] John McCain and others about genocide if we left," he said he has always reserved "the right to protect people from genocide."

"So a lot of these statements that I've made have been entirely consistent," Obama added.

Late Saturday afternoon, McCain's campaign responded to Obama's comments.

In a statement, campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said, "We are all absolutely committed to ending this war, but on Thursday Barack Obama's words indicated that he also shared John McCain's commitment to securing the peace beforehand. What's really puzzling is that Barack Obama still doesn't understand that his words matter."

In North Dakota on Thursday, Obama denied that he's shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq, calling it "pure speculation" and adding that his "position has not changed."

However, he told reporters questioning his stance that he will "continue to refine" his policies as warranted. Video Watch: Obama clarifies his comments on Iraq »

Presumably unhappy with the media's coverage of his earlier statements on Iraq -- and after the Republican National Committee issued attack e-mails asserting he's "reversed" his position -- Obama called a second news conference later Thursday to reiterate that he is not changing his stance.

Obama placed some of the blame for the confusion Thursday on the McCain camp, arguing they "primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn't."

The McCain campaign responded after the second news conference with a statement accusing Obama of reversing his position on Iraq.

"There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it," the statement said. "Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country."

While he didn't specifically refer to the Iraq flap later Saturday, Obama touched on how he could be a better candidate.

"One of the things I've always tried to do is learn from mistakes and get better, and I think we've run an awfully good campaign and I think if I hadn't been a pretty good candidate, I wouldn't be standing here. But that doesn't mean I can't get better, that my answers can't be crisper, that I can't be more precise," he said.

In a speech before the African Methodist Episcopal Church convention in St. Louis, Obama launched a lighthearted -- and possibly pre-emptive -- strike at reporters when he talked about government working with religious organizations.

"Now I've talked about faith-based groups and individual responsibility for years," he said. "By the way, I just had to mention for the reporters in the room. I've been talking about this for a couple years now. Don't think this is new!"

Also Saturday, an Obama spokeswoman told reporters that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and Sen. Hillary Clinton will appear together at three fundraisers next week in New York.

Two of the fundraisers on Wednesday night are aimed at raising money for Obama's Democratic presidential campaign, and one is to try to retire the debt from Clinton's failed effort to win the nomination.

On Thursday morning, they appear together at a women's fundraising breakfast for Obama. All of the events are private.

"I want to make sure that we're providing Sen. Clinton with some help just as she is going out of her way to campaign on our behalf. We're gonna be united," Obama said Saturday.

Obama has made a push to help the New York senator retire her campaign's massive debt. He asked top contributors in June to help Clinton retire her campaign debt of $22 million, about $12 million of which she loaned to the campaign.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, both made the maximum legal donation to Clinton's campaign after it ended.

Winning candidates often work to help retire the debts of those they defeated once nomination races end.

After the New York events, the two will have appeared together five times since Clinton ended her quest for the nomination in June.

Obama announced in June he would not take public funds for his presidential run, making him the first general election candidate to do so since public financing was instituted in the 1970s.


By doing do, he passes up more than $84 million in public funding, but frees himself from a cap on spending. Obama has raised more than $270 million. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has raised about $100 million as of the end of May and is expected to take public financing.

McCain was off the campaign trail Saturday, resting with his family at his home in Sedona, Arizona.

CNN's Ed Hornick, Chris Welch and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.

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