THE EARLY WORD: RESPONDING TO IRAN

By MICHAEL FALCONE From Nytimes.com/politics Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.) The two presumptive presidential nominees are ...

By MICHAEL FALCONE From Nytimes.com/politics Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.)

The two presumptive presidential nominees are both weighing in this morning on the news that Iran has test fired nine long- and medium-range missiles, one of which the Iranian government said was capable of reaching Israel.

John McCain issued the following statement: ‘`Iran’s most recent missile tests demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel. Ballistic missile testing coupled with Iran’s continued refusal to cease its nuclear activities should unite the international community in efforts to counter Iran’s dangerous ambitions.

“Iran’s missile tests also demonstrate the need for effective missile defense now and in the future, and this includes missile defense in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland. Working with our European and regional allies is the best way to meet the threat posed by Iran, not unilateral concessions that undermine multilateral diplomacy.”

And Barack Obama, speaking on NBC’s “Today” show urged “aggressive diplomacy” when it comes to Iran: ‘`There’s no doubt we’re seeing rising tensions in the area, and it’s part of the reason why it’s so important for us to have a coherent policy with respect to Iran.

“It has to combine much tougher threats of economic sanctions with direct diplomacy, opening up channels of communication so that we avoid provocation but we give strong incentives for the Iranians to change their behavior. We’ve got to have the kind of aggressive diplomacy that unfortunately has been absent over the last several years.”

Meanwhile, Obama and his former Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton will appear together once again on Wednesday and Thursday at fund-raisers to benefit the Obama campaign in New York.

Obama had asked his donors to help retire Clinton’s hefty campaign debt, but The Times’s Patrick Healy reports that progress has been slow: Several Obama donors said in interviews that they were balking at Obama’s call for help because they believed Clinton accumulated most of her debts after she had lost any mathematical chance of winning the nomination and was hanging on only in hopes of an Obama collapse. The idea of helping her now – and lining the pockets of Mark Penn, Clintons former senior strategist, whose firm is still owed several million dollars for work that included aggressive attacks on Obama – is galling to them, they said, especially at a time when they say any available money should go to defeating John McCain and the Republicans in November.

Obama has been rebutting the notion that he is moving to the political center, as some of his critics – and as the Illinois senator put it yesterday, “my friends on the left” – have charged, according to The Times’s Michael Powell. That criticism has been especially acute over Obama’s Iraq policy.

The Washington Post’s Anne E. Kornblut points out that both McCain and Obama have “scrambled to clarify their visions for Iraq in the face of changing events on the ground.”

On the campaign trail on Tuesday, Obama also outlined his proposals to revamp federal bankruptcy laws, the Wall Street Journal reports: “The presidential candidates proposals go beyond any comprehensive plans for economic relief floated to date in the Democratically controlled Congress and show that an Obama administration would make a priority of revisiting the 2005 law that made it tougher for Americans to shed debts through the bankruptcy code.”

The Times’s Kevin Sack takes a closer look at McCain’s health care reform proposals, specifically his intention to expand federal support for state high-risk insurance pools. Sack writes:

``Though high-risk pools have existed for three decades, they cover only 207,000 people in a country with 47 million uninsured, according to the National Association of State Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans. Premiums typically are high, as much as twice the standard rate in some states, but are still not nearly enough to pay claims. That has left states to cover about 40 percent of the cost, usually through assessments on insurance premiums that are often passed on to consumers.

“Health economists say it could take untold billions to transform the patchwork of programs into a viable federal safety net. The McCain campaign has made only a rough calculation of how many billions would be needed and has not identified a source for the financing beyond savings from existing programs. Finding the money will only get more difficult now that McCain has pledged to balance the federal budget by 2013, which already requires a significant reduction in the growth of spending.”

And one of McCain’s longtime advisers, Mike Murphy, dismissed rumors that he would be joining the McCain campaign. Instead, he will be taking a position as a commentator on MSNBC, The Times’s Adam Nagourney reports.

McCain also went on the air with a new television ad on Tuesday which highlighted the Arizona senator’s military record and public service and took jabs at Obama. The Times’s Jim Rutenberg also notes that the Obama campaign began running an ad attacking McCain on energy policy.

Campaign Trail Roundup:

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Barack Obama holds a fund-raiser with Hillary Clinton in New York City tonight.

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John McCain is Pittsburgh, Pa. and then travels to Portsmouth, Ohio, for a town hall meeting.

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July 9, 8:50 a.m.

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