The gloves come off

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to turn rival Hillary Rodham Clinton’s words back on her Wednesday, saying her vote to authorize the Iraq war was “irresponsible and naive.”

Clinton had used the same language a day earlier to criticize Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with leaders of nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions within the first year of his presidency. Clinton said renegade leaders could use such a meeting for propaganda and that envoys below the presidential level should begin diplomatic work.

Obama told NBC News it’s obvious that the diplomatic spade work must be done before any such meeting. But he wants to change Bush administration policies that freeze out enemies and move to a principle that says the United States should talk with everybody.

“The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous,” he said in an interview outside his Senate office. “But the general principle is one that I think Senator Clinton is wrong on, and that is if we are laying out preconditions that prevent us from speaking frankly to these folks, then we are continuing with Bush-Cheney policies.”

Obama’s comment about meeting with foreign foes came in response to a question in a Democratic presidential debate Monday night. The Clinton campaign immediately highlighted his statement as evidence that he doesn’t have the foreign policy skills to be president. “I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive,” she told the Quad-City Times of Iowa.

Later Wednesday, the Clinton campaign issued a statement by former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is supporting her candidacy, taking issue with Obama’s comments and saying she would bring an end to “the cowboy approach of the Bush years.”

“She has said she would initiate serious, responsible dialogue with nations with whom we don’t agree in order to further the national security interest of the United States,” Holbrooke said. “But she is right not to risk the prestige of the presidency by unconditionally committing to meet with leaders of adversarial nations.”

In his interview, Obama tried to turn the debate back to Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war, which he opposed.

“I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out,” Obama said. “And you know, I think Senator Clinton hasn’t fully answered that issue.”

Also Wednesday, an Obama campaign official told The Associated Press that New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes plans to endorse the Illinois senator Thursday. Hodes is the first member of the four-member congressional delegation from the nation’s first primary state to make an endorsement.