Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama stood by foreign policy comments that sparked an anti-U.S. protest in Pakistan and attacks from his opponents, telling an audience in a rural western town: "There was no mistake there."
"I made a simple proposition that I'd like anybody here to challenge me on," Obama said Sunday of his speech earlier in the week in which he said that he would use military force in Pakistan, a U.S. ally, if necessary to root out terrorists.
Obama also sought to clarify his assertion, prompted by a reporter's question, that nuclear weapons would be "off the table" in such an attack. His top rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, pounced on the comment, saying leaders should not discuss hypotheticals involving nuclear weapons.
Obama portrayed the question and Clinton's critique as absurd.
"Everybody knows that you'd use conventional weapons in those circumstances," he said. "Every military expert knows that you'd never use nuclear weapons in that situation."
The comments followed a week in Obama, a first-term senator, attempted to present a distinct foreign policy vision, and found himself piled on by both Democrats and Republicans.
Obama told the group Sunday that he was surprised by the strong reaction.
"If we had actionable intelligence in terms of taking (terrorists) out and we couldn't get the government of Pakistan to act, we should act. That doesn't seem to me to be a controversial statement," he said.
The government of Pakistan last week branded Obama's comment "irresponsible" and protesters in Islamabad burned an American flag.
But the senator's remarks were applauded by many in the crowd of nearly 900 people at the town hall-style forum, part of the Obama campaign's "listening tour" of rural America.
The senator was the second Democratic presidential candidate in the field to campaign in this mining enclave 230 miles (370 kilometers) west of Salt Lake City. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson campaigned here last month.
The solidly Republican region, where only about a quarter of voters are Democrats, has enjoyed unprecedented attention from Democratic presidential candidates thanks to Nevada's early primary caucus.
The crowd gave Obama a warm, but not gushing welcome. Many in the audience said they were undecided, and still testing the waters. Several identified themselves as Republicans.
The senator made an effort to appeal to Elko's independent voters. He touted his support of civil liberties and declared that he did not believe the federal government should "dictate" a mining policy that would hamstring the industry, which employs many in the region.
But Obama did not take a position on a proposal backed by environmentalists to overhaul hard-rock mining laws. He said he believed the 135-year-old law that governs mining on public lands needs revising, but suggested a proposed 8 percent royalty to pay for cleaning up abandoned mines would hurt the industry.
"I haven't signed up for that," he said, adding that he was in "the learning phase" on mining issues.
Before arriving in the mining town Sunday, Obama stopped in the affluent ski resort town of Park City, Utah, for a $500 (EUR 365)-per-person fundraiser .
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Qadimi signed an agreement on July 26 to formally end the USA's military presence in the country by the end of the year