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Obama 'Puzzled' by Controversy Over Meeting Foreign Leaders

A woman raises her hand to ask a question during Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) town hall meeting in Watertown, S.D. (Associated Press)

By Matthew Mosk
WATERTOWN, S.D. -- Sen. Barack Obama this afternoon described his diplomatic approach as being consistent with decades of U.S. foreign policy, and expressed surprise with President Bush's position that it would be wrong to meet with foreign adversaries.

At a press conference following the town hall meeting where Obama blasted back at President Bush, with three-term South Dakota Sen. Thomas Daschle looking on, Obama said it "puzzled" him that his willingness to meet with leaders of rogue states was in any way controversial "when this has been the history of U.S. diplomacy until very recently."

Obama pointed to President Kennedy's meetings with Nikita Khrushchev at a time when the two nations were on the brink of nuclear war, and to President Nixon's meeting with China's Mao Zedong, "with the knowledge that Mao had exterminated millions of people."

"And yet, we understood that we could advance our national security by at least opening up lines of communication," Obama said. "It's a signal of how badly our foreign policy has drifted over the last eight years."

McCain's campaign responded to Obama's remarks, questioning why the Democrat would meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- "who pledges to wipe Israel off the map, denies the Holocaust, sponsors terrorists, arms America's enemies in Iraq and pursues nuclear weapons."

"What would Senator Obama talk about with such a man?" said Tucker Bounds, McCain's spokesman, in an e-mail to reporters. "It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don't have enemies. But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 16, 2008; 3:28 PM ET
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