Obama is continuing to push back hard against John McCain's foreign policy attacks. In a interview with Wolf Blitzer this evening, Barack called the Arizona's senator approach to Cuba "extraordinarily naive."
Obama referenced a series of quotations from McCain in early 2000 where he spoke favorably about normalizing relations with Cuba, a stance that Obama holds and that McCain criticized during a speech in Florida today, saying: "the only person who has flip-flopped on this issue is John McCain."
Obama continued to return to the greater theme that McCain's foreign policy represents a continuation of George Bush's tenure, raising again the fight over Iran that broke out last week when the President obliquely referenced Obama in front of the Israeli Knesset.
It is a sign that both candidates feel the issue of foreign policy is working on their behalf, with each eager to paint the other as lacking judgment. Today, Obama even echoed McCain's language, calling the senator naive:
When it comes to Cuba, what he is now saying is essentially the policy we've pursued for 50 years and the Cuban people are not more free.
And the notion that we would keep doing the same thing over and over and over again when it doesn't work and that somehow is a sign of toughness is extraordinarily naive, I think does a disservice to the Cuban people.
Watch the video:
Read the transcript of Obama's interview with Wolf Blitzer:
OBAMA: I have to say, first of all, Wolf, his charges aren't serious. That's the problem. I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba. The only person who has flip-flopped on this issue is John McCain who in 2000 said that he would be prepared to start normalizing relations even if a whole host of steps have not been taken. That is a reversal from the position he is taking now.
And what I have also said is that I will be willing to engage in direct talks with Cuba. Now, I know that John McCain likes to characterize this as me immediately having Raul Castro over for tea. What I've said is that we would set a series of meetings with low level diplomats, set up some preparation but that over time I would be willing to meet and talk very directly about what we expect from the Cuban regime. And so John McCain keeps on making these statements that simply aren't based on anything I've said.
BLITZER: He says that you would be ready, in his words, to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. Those were his words.
OBAMA: And what I've said is I would be willing to meet without preconditions but with a lot of preparation and this is the same argument that we've been having with respect to Iran. This is the same argument that we're going to be having throughout the next several months should I end up being the Democratic nominee.
John McCain essentially wants to continue George Bush's policies of not talking to leaders we don't like and not talking to countries we don't like. It has been a failed policy. Iran is stronger now than when George Bush took office. Partly because he engaged in a war in Iraq that John McCain facilitated that has strengthened Iran.
The fact that we haven't talked to them has not had them stand down on nuclear weapons. It hasn't led them to stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah. It hasn't stopped them from threatening Israel and so what I have said is we should open up direct talks.
By the way, George Bush's own secretary of defense, Robert Gates, has indicated the same thing. I believe the same thing - I believe that the same thing is true when it comes to Cuba and I believe, by the way, that the same thing is true with North Korea. That's one of the few areas where we've seen some progress, primarily because the Bush administration reversed its policy of not having direct talks with these rogue nations and we've actually started seeing some progress. Prior to that, North Korea developed a series of nuclear weapons.
BLITZER: There seems to be some confusion whether you would be willing, personally, as president, to sit down, without preconditions, with Ahmadinejad of Iran or other Iranian leaders. Is your openness to a meeting with Iranian leaders inclusive of Ahmadinejad?
OBAMA: I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what's important.
I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparations for that meeting. Whether Ahmadinejad is the right person to meet with right now, we don't even know how much power he is going to have a year from now. He is not the most powerful person in Iran.
And my expectation, obviously, would be to meet with those people who can actually make decisions in terms of actually having them stand down on nuclear weapons or stopping funding Hamas or Hezbollah or meddling in the affairs of Iraq.
But the bottom line here, Wolf, is that John McCain wants to pursue policies that George Bush has pursued for the last eight years with no success. When it comes to Cuba, what he is now saying is essentially the policy we've pursued for 50 years and the Cuban people are not more free.
And the notion that we would keep doing the same thing over and over and over again when it doesn't work and that somehow is a sign of toughness is extraordinarily naive, I think does a disservice to the Cuban people. That's the kind of break from the Bush administration that I want to initiate when I am president of the United States.