July 24th, 2007
05:49 PM ET
4 years ago

Clinton, Obama camps clash over diplomacy answer

The Clinton and Obama campaigns are clashing over the meaning of one of Obama’s answers.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – A day after appearing on the same stage during the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are disputing whether the Illinois Democrat committed a serious gaffe when he said he would meet with leaders who are openly hostile to the United States.

Asked if the candidates would be willing to meet “with leaders of Syria, Iran, Venezuela" during their first year in office, Obama immediately said yes and added, “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, Clinton answered the question differently, promising “a vigorous diplomatic effort” but adding “you don’t promise a meeting until you know the intentions. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes and don’t want to make a situation worse.”

While the differences in the two answers were not revisited during the remainder of the debate, Clinton’s campaign distributed a memo to members of the press Tuesday morning, asserting, “There is a clear difference between the two approaches these candidates are taking: Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office.”

“Senator Clinton is committed to vigorous diplomacy but understands that it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America’s presidency years ahead of time by making such a blanket commitment,” the memo added.

But a similar memo from Obama’s campaign, also distributed Tuesday morning, notes Obama performed well in Monday’s debate according to CNN and FOX focus groups, and “offered a dramatic change from the Bush administration's eight year refusal to protect our security interests by using every tool of American power available – including diplomacy.”

Obama’s camp also suggested Clinton’s answer constituted a departure from the New York Democrat’s previous stance, pointing out that she said in April, “I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people.”

TIME.com: Grading the candidates

– CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

soundoff (264 Responses)
  1. Connie, Tn.

    That's really splitting hairs to say there is any difference. Both approaches are so much better than what we have had from the Bush administration. Maybe we could get some credibility back with other world leaders.

    July 24, 2007 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  2. Marsha, Portland, OR

    There is a difference between noting that that Bush will not talk at all to "bad people." And specifying that you will not meet with those people within your first year in office before employing other diplomatic means first because you do not want it to be used as propaganda. This is what Hillary Clinton did, and this is what Obama was not Presidential enough to do or realize would be the intelligent thing to do. He obviously does not have a comprehensive understanding of how diplomacy and international relations works in complex situations. He should just own up to that.

    July 24, 2007 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  3. Bob, Brooklyn, NY

    This is petty. Just because he said "yes" doesn't mean it would happen anyway. Before such meetings, a hoard of advisors would tell him if it was the right thing to do or not. Saying "yes" too quickly is a small gaffe, but not as bad as Hildog is making it out to be

    July 24, 2007 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  4. Kim, Mpls., MN

    Obama is spot-on and answered the question in the context it was asked. Obama's approach is what Americans want, not Hillary's presidential envoy Bill. In these countries, change happens from the top down.

    July 24, 2007 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  5. Kim, Mpls., MN

    BTW, is that Hillary covering up her microphone in the photo? Geez...

    July 24, 2007 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  6. Rada, Miami, Florida

    Clinton answered the question like a real PRESIDENT….
    Obama in the other hand lost the Cuban vote in South Florida
    A significant number of the Hispanics do not like Chavez or Castro in USA will not vote
    for someone with that stand.

    July 24, 2007 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  7. HAROLD National CIty, Ca.

    AFTER AMERICA WAKES UP TO THE
    "YOU TUBE" JOKE OF ALL TIMES,
    (DEBATES) I SUGGEST CNN GET A BRAND
    NEW GROUP OF NEE-[NEWS ANCHORS AND
    REPORTERS. CNN IS SLOWLY DYING OF
    OLD AGE AND TIRED ROUTINES.
    TOO MUCH IS TOO MUCH.
    NEXT YOU WILL BE HIRING "BRYAN WILLIANS" AND "KAITIE COURIC."

    July 24, 2007 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  8. Ernie Block, Kansas City, MO

    Why don't they just let the viewers determine who meant what about whatever. As I see it this type of behavior is a recipe to GIVE another election away. In short, GROW UP!

    July 24, 2007 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  9. Mike B

    "...Senator Obama has committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world’s worst dictators without precondition during his first year in office.”

    Hillary is full of it! How could him meeting with these so called dictators and trying to open a dialogue be any worse than our history of backing dictators and creating citizens of those nations who are later hostile to the united states when the despot is deposed?

    July 24, 2007 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  10. Ben Riggle, New York, NY

    Where was the memo from the Clinton camp when Pelosi met with the Syrian leader?

    July 24, 2007 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  11. Tom - Dedham, Mass

    Thursday, June 28, 2007 7:49 a.m. EDT
    Hillary Wants Talks With Iran

    Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson on Wednesday urged the Bush administration to continue a dialogue with Iran as the U.S. tries to thwart the country's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    In separate speeches, the candidates offered a broad indictment of President Bush's foreign policies, from the Iraq war to the use of unilateral force to relations with Iran and North Korea.

    Clinton said the administration has given Iran "six years of the silent treatment."

    "In this vacuum, Tehran continues its progress toward developing nuclear weapons and increasing its influence in the region," she told the Center for a New American Security. "After initial talks with Iran and Syria on Iraq, the administration says it isn't sure that we need any more discussions with either of them. I think we should keep talking."

    July 24, 2007 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. Mike, Pittsburgh, PA

    It is quite petty of the Clinton campaign to twist Senator Obama's answers out of context and afford their own meaning to it. Asserting that Obama's answer was a gaffe along with distributing unsolicited memos on the subject in and of itself shows the extremely high level of anxiety flowing through the Clinton camp. Behavior like is is petty and childish and definitely is not winning Senator Clinton any points from the voters.

    July 24, 2007 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Bryan, Las Vegas, Nevada

    Obama's point stresses keeping open relations to difuse volatile situations, while Clinton's point is ambiguous in the best political fashion. Clinton promises "a vigorous diplomatic effort," which requires communication. Communication means an open relationship. Yet, she notes that "it is a mistake to commit the power and prestige of America's presidency years ahead." That is a statement that is completely noncommital and tells the public nothing of her future policy. So, who really hit the nail on the head?

    July 24, 2007 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  14. rc

    no obama did not mess up, if we did more diplomacy we would not have to lie to send our children into meat grinders and create more trouble as the current president has accomplished. We are in economic and diplomatic exchange with vietnam and think of the families and the over sixty thousand dead higher if you include non combat deaths that would have been avoided. I say we should meet with chaves and castro and the leaders of iran, north korea from a position of power as demonstrated by reagen when he and the soviet union came to the understanding of peace versus war. why slaughter the young of our countries and the innocent people caught between. as much as our president mentions god one could believe he is the greatest hjiadist of them all, and sacraficing our country in his quest. spend the money at home on the poor and needy, and bring our troops home and let them rebuild our country. may be good therapy after the lack of generalship and destruction they have caused over in iraq as " liberators" with orders to intensify suffering on iraqi males as reported last week in one marine unit. following orders like that is a disgrace to our nation, our morals and destroys the respect of others for us as well as of ourselves. Never sick a goon squad of soldiers on anyone unless you want to breed contempt for our armed forces and the innocent soldiers caught in between..

    July 24, 2007 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  15. Don, Rio Rancho, nm

    This shows that Clinton is just part of the system that has created the failed policies that have us mired in the middle east. Clearly she blew the answer and the only alternative to politics as usual is Obama

    July 24, 2007 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  16. enko,nj

    WOW. Great catch. Clinton was covering her microphone. I guess no salacious tete-a-tete with Edwards this time around. Once bitten ...

    July 24, 2007 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  17. Andrea-New York, NY

    Clinton campaign seems to be reaching a bit here. It is highly unlikely that Obama would speak with these leaders his first day in office, but do the research and preparations required to make the conversations successful in diplomacy efforts. This is exactly what the U.S. needs right now. Even if we don't agree with these foreign leaders, we can't continue to give them the cold shoulder like spoiled children.

    July 24, 2007 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  18. Eustace, New York, NY.

    Isn't Barack Obama simply reinforcing what the Iraq Study group suggested in terms of speaking with Iran and Syria etc. Of course intelligent people do not expect Obama to get on a private jet and go jet skiing with those leaders. Of course there would be preconditions and pre meeting advice. The Hillary Clinton campaign is acting like a kindergarten student who needs everything spoon fed to them. Obama simply advocated what helped the U.S win the Cold War – direct negotiations with the Soviet Union, simply reinforcing what it takes to help America advance its cause. How is a country going to solve problems without sending a strong message of intense diplomacy at the highest level of government. That is what Obama did. Hillary's response while not half bad, simply was around the bush and did not answer the question as directly as Obama did. Oh and did she not mention that dialogue wiht this countries are necessary couple of months ago.

    July 24, 2007 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  19. lavelle

    Listen Obama is all about unity. For where our country is today, nothing has worked. The old ways of politics needs to change and thats what Obama is about. Its tough to convince people of a different approach with countries we have a problem with. But its like come on people you say "Obama has no idea how diplomacy works" well tell me something the diplomatic ways we use in dealing with these diffilcut countries has that worked for the US? I think he wants to iron things out and let the people know that hey we bring you no harm, but if you harm us we will retaliate lets work to find a common ground to better both our country and yours. whats wrong with that?

    July 24, 2007 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  20. Edward, Severna Park, MD

    Everyone may love Obama, but can someone tell me what person over the age of 35 is going to vote for him? Would you vote him for President if you thought he had no real long time experience? (even he says he didn't vote for the war in Iraq because he wasn't in Office... come on that wasn't that long ago)

    Plus, I'd rather send Bill to foreign countries than Obama... His answer was very poor. Who would just go to these countries who harbor terrorists and oppress their people with no diplomatic preparation... That would completely erase all purpose to the years of isolation that past presidents have given them.

    If only Bill could run again as Hillary's VP... That'd be Sweet, Hill & Bill 08.

    July 24, 2007 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  21. lavelle

    And another thing how do you know that that significant number of hispanics that dislike the two wouldnt vote for Obama because he would talk to them regarding our countries issues???? The majority of our foriegn issues are due to the fact that the US is all about take it or leave it...we dont like you and we dont care how you take it! those who are here are not going anywhere so I dont think they care what the US does with there homeland. As long as they make it possible for them to go back and foward with no problem i think that means more to them then our diplomatic talks. i see no problem with talking id take that over a bomb anyday

    July 24, 2007 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  22. Todd, Minneapolis, MN

    OBAMA ROCKED THE ANSWER! His 'yes' showed that he's willing to take command and meet problems head on. Hilary is just another 'Clinton Problem Dodger' who uses stupid catch phrases from her PR people to answer serious questions. All Hil does is complain and pass blame...what a joke if she becomes the nominee!

    July 24, 2007 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  23. April, Peoria, AZ

    Clinton NEVER said she would NEVER talk to these "bad people." She simply stated she would find out what she was getting into before the meeting. A leader must think before she acts and speaks, and this is exactly what the current president fails to do. With this answer she showed that she has knowledge of how diplomacy works most effectively.

    July 24, 2007 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  24. Adela, Jersey City, NJ

    Obama may have lost the vote of the older, very conservative Cubans in South Florida, who are not going to vote Democrat anyway, but he won the vote of the younger generation of Cubans, who like him, believe that the only way for diplomacy to work is by actually talking and that the embargo has not weakened the will of the Castro regime but rather caused mass exodus from the small country and poverty for millions of Cubans.
    Additionally, this whole argument is really ridiculous. Obama did not say he would not exercise diplomacy first. He simply answered the question that was asked of him instead of dancing around the issue which is what any other politician would have done and did. This is what separates him from the rest and it is why he embodies the change we need so desperately in this country.

    July 24, 2007 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  25. shannon, tampa bay area, fl

    "Just because he said "yes" doesn't mean it would happen anyway"?!! That makes it okay??!! So we're finally admitting that we want a president who outright says one thing and doesn't do or follow through on it? Not I, thanks. Nor do I want one that makes a commitment to something without having any knowledge of the terms. That's just irresponsible.

    July 24, 2007 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
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