Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama Answers Questions From Minority Journalists At Unity '08 Convention

Obama Answers Questions From Minority Journalists At Unity '08 Convention
July 27, 2008 1:18 p.m. EST

Chicago, IL (AHN) - Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) made his first public appearance since he returned home from his overseas trip before thousands of journalists at the "Unity '08" convention of minority journalists in Chicago on Sunday.

He was asked questions first by two moderators and later by journalists in the audience in an event that was telecast live.

Asked by moderators to give highlights from his trip to Europe and the Middle East, Obama began by lauding United States soldiers for the work they are doing in Iraq. However, he also spoke of the problems U.S. troops were facing in Afghanistan because of safe havens for the Taliban in areas including Pakistan.

"The world is waiting for America to re-engage in the Middle-East," Obama said, and used his experiences in West Germany to state that Europeans were hungry for a better working relationship with the U.S.

He also emphasized that the problems we face at home are connected to conditions overseas. He cited America's energy problems as an example of that, saying that there was "a direct link" to America's energy problems at home to a failure to formulate policy and partnerships abroad.

He also said the housing crisis was causing a problem for American's "security."

Obama said that he plans to call his advisors together to help formulate policies to address problems based on the information he had gained abroad.

Obama answered a question that dealt with criticism of his foreign trip.

He was asked to answer the charge that his trip made him look - to some critics - as if he was running for "president of the world" by going to the Middle East and Europe and meeting with foreign leaders. However, Obama reminded the journalists that rival Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had made a similar trip to even more countries to meet with foreign leaders after becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and had not faced similar criticism.

Answering the question of what he still needs to learn about foreign policy, Obama said that America is "very clear about our own interests but less clear about other's interests."

He also said that he was always learning, but that he thought that he was fairly knowledgeable in that area.

Obama also emphasized that there was a need to avoid a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Occasional camera shots of the audience showed journalists listening intently, but without easily read expressions. Applause was limited.

His trip didn't change his mind about Iraq.

Obama said that he "strongly believed that going into Iraq was a mistake," because it distracted the U.S. from going after the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also said that the only way to achieve a stable Iraq was for the parties to reach a political accommodation.

Halfway through the event, the moderators opened the floor to direct questions from the audience and a member of the Native American Journalists Association asked if Obama became president if he would address the way the nation had treated Native Americans for the past 500 years.

In answering that question and a follow-up on whether he thought reparations were in order for Native Americans and African Americans, Obama gave a nuanced answer.

"The most important thing for the American government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds," Obama said.

He explained that Native Americans were doing worse than any other group by every measure, including high unemployment rates and living in "deplorable" housing conditions.

"I'm more concerned about delivering a better life," Obama said.

He said as far as reparations were concerned that he was more interested in strategies to lift people up from the legacy of discrimination. Such strategies would include improving inner city schools, so students received a quality education.

Obama also said that programs for health care and education for everyone in America would be among the best way to help disadvantaged individuals because such programs will disproportionally affect and benefit minorities because they are suffering most.

Another question focused on the problem of immigration. Obama said that one problem now is that the nation is running parallel immigration systems - the legal and illegal systems. He said it was important to formulate a comprehensive and realistic approach to immigration.

McCain declined to speak to the Unity convention goers.

The Unity convention occurs every four years. It is put on by the organization, which is a coalition of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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