Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards are criticizing presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for her latest comments on negotiating with leaders of Iran and other countries that are on poor terms with the U.S.
Obama noted on Friday that when he said in July he would meet with such leaders without setting any conditions, Clinton called his stance “irresponsible and frankly naive.”
Questioned Thursday by a voter in New Hampshire, Clinton said twice that she would negotiate with Iran “with no conditions.”
“I would engage in negotiations with Iran, with no conditions, because we don’t really understand how Iran works. We think we do, from the outside, but I think that is misleading,” she said.
Obama said Friday, “So I’m not sure if any of us knows exactly where she is standing on this issue. But I can tell you this — when I am president of the United States, the American people and the world will always know where I stand.”
Edwards’ campaign chimed in from North Carolina, also noting the earlier Clinton comment and her new statement.
“You can’t have it both ways — on this or any other issue,” said a statement released by Edwards communications director Chris Kofinis. “Senator Clinton needs to be honest with the American people about her plans.”
Clinton said Friday her remarks on Thursday weren’t different from anything she has said in the past.
“I would begin a process of negotiations with Iran. There would be no conditions set to what could be negotiated — and that is what is meant by no conditions,” Clinton said in an interview with The Associated Press in Columbia, S.C.
Clinton said the process would be handled by aides, not the president — similar to the way the U.S. has handled North Korea.
“That’s very different from saying that if you were president, you would personally meet in your first year, without conditions, with these odious dictators,” Clinton said.
“What I have been saying for a long time is that the United States of America should negotiate with Iran. Right now the Bush administration will not because they hold the position that Iran must first totally renounce its nuclear program,” she said earlier at a campaign stop in Atlanta.
Obama, speaking Friday at Drake University in Des Moines, gave a harsh assessment of Clinton’s foreign policy views.
He criticized the New York senator for her recent vote designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, saying she was repeating a mistake she made in voting to authorize the Iraq war.
“Senator Clinton is the only Democratic candidate for president who supports this amendment,” Obama said, calling it a “blank check” for President Bush to attack Iran.
“I don’t want to give this president any excuse, any opening for war,” said Obama who missed that vote because he was campaigning in New Hampshire.
The Clinton campaign responded with a statement distributed by spokesman Mark Daley: “Once again Senator Obama has abandoned the politics of hope to engage in the same old attack politics. If Senator Obama really believed that this measure gave the president a blank check for war he should have been there, speaking out and fighting against it.”
The dismissive reference to Obama’s slogan about the “politics of hope” was followed by a memo distributed by the Obama camp quoting one of Clinton’s own sayings.
Said the memo from spokesman Bill Burton: “It is clear that just as voters are becoming more engaged in the campaign in the early primary states that Senator Clinton and her campaign have abandoned the politics of ‘let’s have a conversation’ in favor of purely tactical posturing.”
Obama, noting that the vote to authorize the Iraq war came five years ago this week, said in Iowa that Democrats in Congress — including Clinton and Edwards, who was then a North Carolina senator — bear some responsibility for what’s happened since.
“Senator Edwards voted for the war in 2002,” Obama said. “He has renounced that vote instead of pretending that it was a vote for anything but war.”
He said Clinton’s arguments that she was voting for more inspections or diplomacy are misleading. “All of us know what was being debated in the Congress in the fall of 2002,” he said, again stressing his early opposition to the war while he was a state senator in Illinois.
Obama said Democrats must stop believing they “can’t win elections unless they talk, act and vote like Republicans when it comes to foreign policy and national security.”
Associated Press Writers Jim Davenport and Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this article from South Carolina and Georgia.