Before Spat, Obama Backed Conditions for Talks

ABC News’ Teddy Davis Reports: It turns out that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was for pre-conditions before he was against them.

In a pre-debate interview with a columnist for the Miami Herald, Obama said that he would meet with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez but he stipulated that he would only do so "under certain conditions."

"Under certain conditions, I always believe in talking," Obama told the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer. "Sometimes it’s more important to talk to your enemies than to your friends."

But once he reached the Democratic presidential debate, his position seemed to change.

Asked if he would be willing to meet separately "without precondition" during the first year of his administration with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, Obama said, "I would."

In the days since the debate, Obama has argued that Clinton’s foreign policy approach smacks of "Bush-Cheney lite" even though the position he is attacking Clinton for holding, seems to be one that he himself held in his pre-debate interview with the Miami Herald.

Read the Miami Herald column by Andres Oppenheimer here:


On a Saturday conference call with reporters arranged by the Clinton campaign, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack pointed to Obama's pre-debate interview with the Miami Herald in an effort to paint Obama's subsequent criticism of Clinton as inconsistent.

"It appears that the day before the Charleston debate, Sen. Obama is reported to have suggested that he would be glad to meet with a Hugo Chavez of Venezuela but only with certain preconditions being met, which is precisely what Sen. Clinton said during the debate," said Vilsack.

The Obama campaign pushed back against Vilsack, who is supporting Clinton, by pointing to a Jan. 23, 2007, Clinton interview with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. 

In her MSNBC interview, Clinton was asked if she would "reach out immediately" to the Syrians and the Iranians, "even with the tensions between this country and Iran." Clinton replied: "absolutely." Before ending her answer, she adds that what she "immediately" favors is opening a "diplomatic track".

The Clinton camp believes that when the New York senator commits to a "diplomatic track," or to "diplomatic negotiations," it is not the same thing as Obama agreeing to a presidential meeting.

Even though he was asked in the debate if he would meet with various rogue leaders "without preconditions," the Obama camp maintains that the Illinois Democrat would expect certain basic conditions to be met.

"He never said he would invite dictators over for a cup of coffee," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, "and he said he wouldn't let these dictators use him as a propaganda tool. What he did say was that he would be willing to meet with them."

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