Obama Debate Comments Set Off Firestorm
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; 11:12 PM
WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush's diplomacy.
Older politicians in both parties questioned the wisdom of such a course, while Obama's supporters characterized it as a repudiation of Bush policies of refusing to engage with certain adversaries.
It triggered a round of competing memos and statements Tuesday between the chief Democratic presidential rivals. Obama's team portrayed it as a bold stroke; Clinton supporters saw it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator's lack of foreign policy experience.
"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton was quoted in an interview with the Quad-City Times that was posted on the Iowa newspaper's Web site on Tuesday.
In response, Obama told the newspaper that her stand puts her in line with the Bush administration.
Both parties were weighing the potential political fallout, especially in Florida, an early primary state, a pivotal general election state _ and where Cuban President Fidel Castro remains particularly unpopular.
"Anything that looks like pandering to dictators is bad politics in South Florida," said Republican state Rep. David Rivera of Miami. He predicted Obama's comments would come back to haunt him, particularly if he becomes the Democratic nominee.
The Republican National Committee on Tuesday circulated stories calling attention to and ridiculing Obama's remarks.
In Monday's debate from Charleston, S.C., Obama was asked by a questioner via YouTube if he would be willing to meet _ without precondition _ in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
"I would," he responded.
Clinton said she would not. "I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said. Clinton said she would first use envoys to test the waters.
The day after the debate, the Clinton campaign made former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Clinton supporter, available to reporters to further challenge Obama's response.