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Barack Obama (left) and John McCain disagree fundamentally over Iran (photo illustration) (AFP) Iran policy is taking center stage as the United States general election campaign gets under way in earnest.


The presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois -- who is presenting himself as the candidate of change with a fresh approach to foreign affairs -- is arguing that it makes sense for the United States to negotiate with hostile powers, including Tehran.


Senator John McCain of Arizona -- a former U.S. Naval officer and prisoner of war who is selling himself as a hard-nosed realist -- calls such an approach dangerous and naive.


Speaking to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 4, just hours after clinching his party's nomination, Obama reiterated his willingness to talk to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.


Obama said he is open to "tough and principled" diplomacy with Iranian leaders if, as president, he concluded that talks were in the security interests of the United States and Israel.


"Contrary to the claims of some, I have no interest in sitting down with our adversaries just for the sake of talking," Obama said. "But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leaders at a time and place of my choosing, if, and only if, it can advance the interests of the United States. That is my position. I want it to be absolutely clear."


Obama first stated his willingness to talk to Ahmadinejad in response to a question in a debate among Democratic presidential candidates in July 2007. He was severely criticized by Republicans and by his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, New York Senator Hillary Clinton.


'That's Not Right'


Speaking to reporters in the southern state of Louisiana on June 4, McCain sharply criticized Obama's position.


"Senator Obama wants to sit down, without any precondition, across the table and negotiate with this individual," McCain said. "My friends, that's not right and that's naive and that shows a lack of experience and a lack of judgment."


McCain had also criticized Obama's stance in a speech before the same AIPAC audience on June 2, saying a summit with Ahmadinejad would only give a worldwide audience to a man "who denies one Holocaust and talks before friendly crowds about starting another."


Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust, in which 6 millions Jews were killed during World War Two, and repeatedly has said Israel should be erased from the map.


The United States and its allies also suspect Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapons program.


Speaking to AIPAC on June 4, Obama said he has no illusions about Iran, but added that when America is isolated in the Middle East, it has the effect of "reducing our strength and jeopardizing Israel's security." Obama added that "as president, I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security."

RFE/RL Iran Report


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