Obama seeks to bolster foreign policy image

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Nov 28 (Reuters) Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought to bolster his thin foreign policy credentials surrounding himself with former top officials and proclaiming a new agenda to restore US moral authority in the world.

With just over a month before Iowa and New Hampshire kick off the state-by-state battle for the Democratic nomination, the 46-year-old Illinois senator is countering rival and frontrunner Hillary Clinton's suggestions that he lacks critical foreign policy experience.

Flanked by some top advisors in a New Hampshire forum with local voters, Obama laid out a program that included withdrawing US troops from Iraq, talking with enemies such as Iran, working closer with developing nations and boosting America's energy independence.

''Iraq is a classic example; Iran now being another example of where we are entirely isolated from these countries, have no idea what is going on, we don't have good intelligence on the ground, and then making a series of decisions, basically in the blind,'' Obama, who is rising in polls, told the forum yesterday.

Several senior Clinton administration-era officials joined Obama, including former national security adviser Tony Lake, navy secretary Richard Danzig and assistant secretary of state for African affairs Susan Rice.

''Clinton represents experience and Obama change, so just to surround himself with people who know a lot lends him a certain amount of credibility,'' said Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University.

Never mentioning Clinton by name, Obama said the United States must restore its moral authority by ending torture, closing Guantanamo Bay's military prison and doing more for developing nations.

Clinton's campaign responded with an e-mail to reporters that pointed out Obama would have less experience than any US president since World War Two after joining Congress only three years ago. The New York senator and former first lady represented the nation on trips to 82 countries, it added.

While Clinton leads polls nationwide, she is locked in a tight three-way race in Iowa with Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards. In New Hampshire, Obama has narrowed Clinton's lead over the past two months.

Obama, whose youthful image and calls for major change in Washington have rallied young Democrats, stumbled over foreign policy in July at a debate in South Carolina where he offered to meet without precondition the leaders of nations deemed hostile by the United States such as North Korea and Iran.

Clinton seized on that statement at the time, calling Obama naive and irresponsible. But in recent weeks Clinton has faced concerns among Democrats over her electability in a race against Republicans.

Reuters AK VP0607

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