WASHINGTON - The

New York Times

defended its decision not to publish an op-ed article as submitted by Republican John McCain about the Iraq war on grounds that it customarily reviews such pieces with the author.

McCain's presidential campaign sent the newspaper the op-ed on Friday. In it, the Arizona senator describes how the buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq has helped curb violence. He also chides his Democratic rival Barack Obama for outlining his plan for Iraq before meeting with commanders and Iraqi leaders on the ground.

In an e-mail to the campaign on Friday, David Shipley, a Times op-ed editor, said he could not accept the piece as written, but would look at another version. In the e-mail, released by the McCain campaign, Shipley wrote that McCain's article would "have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory - with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the senator's Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan."

Commenting Monday on the Times' request, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said, "John McCain believes that victory in Iraq must be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables. Unlike Barack Obama, that position will not change based on politics or the demands of the New York Times."

In a written statement yesterday, the Times explained its decision and left the door open to publishing his views:

"It is standard procedure on our op-ed page, and that of other newspapers, to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Sen. McCain's views in our paper just as we have in the past."

The Times endorsed McCain in the Republican primaries, but he has had a testy relationship with the publication.

In February, McCain vigorously denied and denounced a report in the paper that suggested he had an improper relationship with a female lobbyist. His campaign referred to the article as a "smear campaign" and "gutter politics" in the midst of the presidential race.

The newspaper ran an op-ed written by Obama last Monday. The Illinois senator wrote that as president he would send at least two more combat brigades - about 7,000 troops - to Afghanistan as part of his plan to pull combat troops out of Iraq and focus on al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The newspaper said it has published at least seven of McCain's op-ed pieces since 1996.

"We take his views very seriously," the statement said. *