Sen Barack Obama won praise last week from foreign policy skeptics when he appeared to tell the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that he was no longer considering “unconditional” negotiations with Iranian leaders.
In his AIPAC speech, which he read verbatim from teleprompters, Obama said that as president, he would do “everything” in his power to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
However, he added, “I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking.”
Many commentators took the apparent tough talk on Iran and the sympathetic statements on Israel as a signal that Obama was tacking to the political center, now that he had won the Democratic Party nomination.
But on Wednesday, former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, a top foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign, reiterated the Illinois senator’s earlier statements that he planned to conduct unilateral negotiations with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.
“Barack Obama’s view is that the United States ought to be able to engage directly with Iran alongside our partners, just as we’ve belatedly come to do in North Korea,” Dr. Rice told a National Public Radio interviewer this morning.
“He would not require the same precondition that the Bush administration has insisted upon and indeed that John McCain has insisted upon, which is that the Iranians must suspend their nuclear program before we sit down to talk to them about suspending their nuclear program,” she said on the "Diane Rehm Show."
Rice adamantly rejected criticism that Obama had “flip-flopped” on the issue.
“He’s been very clear from the first time he was asked that question, whether or not he would be willing to engage directly with Iranian leadership without preconditions, and he has said yes, he would be willing, at the appropriate time, with due preparations, and that he would not have the self-defeating precondition of demanding that the Iranians do before we talk to them one of the critical things we would seek to accomplish in negotiations.”
Minutes later on the same program, Sen. McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, ridiculed Sen. Obama’s approach as “cowboy summitry,” and said that the Obama camp “has got more preconditions on doing town halls with Sen. McCain than they do with meeting President Ahmadinejad.”
Scheunemann said it was ironic that Obama was advocating unilateral U.S. action, whereas the Bush administration and McCain both believed in closely coordinating any approach toward Iran with our European allies.
“The European position is, we should not meet at higher levels until they suspend enrichment,” he said. “The unilateral Obama position is, let’s engage in cowboy summitry in defiance of the common position of our allies, and in fact, he disparages the efforts of our allies.”
Both Rice and Scheunneman agreed that Iran would be a hot button issue in the fall election campaign.
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