Monday, February 25, 2008

McCain blasts Obama's offer to meet Cuban leader

McCain blasts Obama's offer to meet Cuban leader
Cuba emerged as a flash point in the presidential nominee race, with
John McCain assailing Barack Obama for not ruling out talks with Fidel
Castro's successor.

Barack Obama's offer to meet face to face with Fidel Castro's successor
is ''dangerously naive,'' Republican presidential candidate John McCain
said Friday, testing out a potential fall campaign strategy to cast the
Democratic presidential candidate as too inexperienced for the world stage.

Obama, who made the comment at a Thursday night debate with rival
Hillary Clinton, rapidly returned fire, saying McCain "would give us
four more years of the same Bush-McCain policies that have failed U.S.
interests and the Cuban people for the last 50 years.''

Though neither man has wrapped up his party's nomination, the volleys
over Cuba policy provide a glimpse into what is shaping up to be their
lines of attack: McCain will present himself as an experienced, steady
hand and criticize Obama's lack of foreign policy experience; Obama, if
the Democratic nominee, will present himself as a fresh start and McCain
as a return to the Bush years.

''This is the thrust and parry we'll hear throughout the campaign,''
said David Johnson, former executive director of the Republican Party of
Florida. "Obama's going to try to tie McCain to the less popular parts
of the Bush administration . . . and McCain is going to say, 'This is
most important job in the world and he doesn't have the relevant
experience to do it.' ''

Asked at Thursday's debate in Texas whether he'd meet with Raúl Castro,
his brother's likely successor, Obama said he would. ''I do think that
it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends,
but also to talk to its enemies,'' he said. "That's where diplomacy
makes the biggest difference.''

Though Obama said he would be willing to meet with the Cuban leader
''without preconditions,'' he added that the encounter would happen only
after both sides came up with an agenda that included human rights, the
release of political prisoners and freedom of the press.

Clinton took a more cautious approach, saying she wouldn't meet with
Fidel Castro's successor without "evidence that change was happening.''

McCain noted Friday that Obama, as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2003,
supported the "normalization of relations with Fidel Castro.'' Obama
said Thursday night he supports "the eventual normalization.''

"Obama said that as president he'd meet with the imprisoned island's new
leader 'without preconditions,' '' McCain said. "So Raúl Castro gets an
audience with an American president, and all the prestige such a meeting
confers, without having to release political prisoners, allow free
media, political parties, and labor unions, or schedule internationally
monitored free elections.

''Meet, talk and hope may be a sound approach in a state Legislature,''
McCain said in a dig at Obama's experience as a state senator before his
2004 Senate election. "But it is dangerously naive in international
diplomacy, where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries
wish us ill.''

A McCain advisor said his campaign didn't criticize Clinton's remarks
because she didn't say she'd meet with Castro with no restrictions.

Obama didn't retreat Friday, saying in an e-mail that he'd call for an
''immediate change in policy to allow for unlimited family travel and
remittances to the island.'' President Bush tightened restrictions on
family travel and remittances in 2004, limiting Cuban-Americans to
visiting their relatives on the island once every three years and
capping remittances at $100 per a month.

''In November, the American people will have a clear choice: a new
direction versus more war in Iraq, more not talking to leaders we don't
like and more of a Cuba policy that has failed to achieve freedom for
the Cuban people,'' Obama said. "I am confident that the American people
will choose the promise of the future over the failed policies and
predictable political attacks of the past.''

The remarks on meeting with Castro's successor could be troublesome for
Cuban Democrats, many of whom support lifting restrictions on travel and
remittances but stop short of advocating talks with Cuban leaders unless
democratic changes occur on the island.

The state Republican Party used the remarks to fire a broadside at the
three Democrats challenging South Florida's three Republican
Cuban-American members of Congress.

Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who wants to unseat Rep. Lincoln
Diaz-Balart, said he disagrees with Obama.

''Unless the Castros show a willingness to change the way they conduct
business, release political prisoners, allow more participation of the
Cuban people, we should not sit down with them,'' said Martinez, who has
endorsed Clinton.

"If [Obama] becomes the official nominee I'm pretty sure he will have
modifications to some of his positions,'' Martinez said.

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