July 24th, 2007
05:49 PM ET
7 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. DJ, Los Angeles

    Castro is near death...it's time to quit isolating Cuba and open up dialog.

    Cuba is so poor they still use WW2-era tanks and weaponry.

    Chavez was democratically elected and poses no threat.

    Obama is right. Clinton basically just avoided the question by saying no I won't make any promises. Whereas Obama said YES without any reservation.

    July 24, 2007 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Obama asnwered the question. Clinton gave the round around. How can we diplomatic with these countries, if are not willing to be the first's to show diplomacy.

    July 24, 2007 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  3. Greg, Boulder, CO

    I appreciate Obama's direct answer. I take any President's commitment to meet with other world leaders a commitment of the administration and not necessarily the President him/herself. Clinton is allowing her staff to muddle the words (remember, it runs in the family...definition of "is") of her nearest competitor and in the process confusing voters, not uniting them behind the dem’s cause. I side with Obama’s directness on this one.

    July 24, 2007 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. Andrew, Chicago

    To me, this shows whats wrong with politics. Obama answered the question, however, Hilary is trying ot exploit the fact that Obama did not explain all elements of his answer. Anyone who thinks Obama is just going to go meet with all these leaders even in siutations that will not benefit the U.S., as Clinton's camp suggests, is totally missing the point of Obama's answer. These political attacks are the reason why no one answers questions since if you do, you end up limiting yourself, and then get attacked for actually answering the question. Just another reason why I am not voting for Hilary.

    July 24, 2007 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  5. Patrick, Denver, Colorado

    We've all seen how well the I'm-not-gonna-talk-to you approach has worked...one result is that Castro has been power since 1959 for that reason alone, and now Iran is more powerful than ever to boot. Obama's answer may not satisfy the anti-Castro demagogues playing dominos down on Calle Ocho, but fortunately, the rest of the country is ready to move on to a policy that actually WORKS.

    July 24, 2007 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. Jessica, Cleveland OH

    Hillary W. Clinton debate strategy: slam Bush while endorsing his policies. That takes a lot of nerve. Who would have thought the would-be heir to the current president would come from the Democratic party?

    July 24, 2007 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  7. Charles Heffernan, Renton, Washington

    "Direct Negotiations (with enemy states) are not a sign of weakness; they are a sign of leadership." "The Bush Administration's refusal to talk to anyone on the evil side, as some have called idealistic, I call it dangerously unrealistic." –Hillary Clinton, October 31, 2006 at the Cuoncil of Foreign Relations
    Sounds like she agrees with Obama then, did she change her mind???

    July 24, 2007 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  8. Matt, Austin, Texas

    Hispanics won't vote for Obama just for saying he'd be WILLING to TALK to someone? Give me a freaking break. I'd talk to Hitler if I had the chance. What's the harm in that?

    Hillary clearly just wanted to try to answer differently than her biggest competitor, and in doing so she ended up contradicting a statement she made earlier this year, as Obama's campaign pointed out.

    There is absolutely no harm in going and speaking to the leader of a country that you want to try to resolve issues with. That's what leaders do.

    If Hillary is trying to make a distinction here, then she's saying that she would be UNWILLING to speak with these leaders in her first year as president. Ruling out such a meeting this far in advance is not something a mature president ought to do.

    July 24, 2007 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  9. William, Pittsburg PA

    What does it matter? Neither of these two will be elected President. Poll after poll confirm more Americans (52%) would NEVER vote for Hillary Clinton and Obama doesn't have the experience, depth, or national appeal regardless how many times Oprah wants to put him on her show.

    John Edwards is the only viable option!

    July 24, 2007 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  10. Ray, Rochester, NY

    Go back to Bill's term and take a look at the photo of his Sec State Madeline Albright raising a toast with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. We all know how that turned out as Il laughed his way to building nukes. Obama does not have the experience to understand how empowering it is for a dictator to be seen with the POTUS. The propaganda generated from such a meeting would set our country's cause back years. Say what you want about Bush, but his policies led to Libya's disarming and renouncing of nuclear weapons, and North Korea's shutdown of their nuclear plant...niether of which Bill Clinton was able to accomplish in his eight years.

    July 24, 2007 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  11. Craig, Indianapolis IN

    when i watched the debate it was pretty clear after everyone answered (and before the question was even asked for people that know anything about foriegn policy) that you lay groundwork before having a meeting between world leaders.

    both answers were good and in reality ment the same thing. the only reason
    clinton even make those distinctions was because she answered after obama and saw an opening to make obama look sophmoric.

    I don't blame her for that in the debate, but to come out with this afterward is a stretch, and it looks low on Clinton's part for anyone who actually listened to the answers.

    July 24, 2007 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  12. Skip Mette, Johnsburg, IL

    Cubans don't vote in our elections anyway – Americans do.

    July 24, 2007 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  13. DF Jacksonville, Florida

    I'm seeing less and less difference between Bush and Clinton. Same attitude – different hair style.

    July 24, 2007 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  14. Ryan, New York, NY

    Didn't Obama say that he was "willing" to meet with them during his first year? That's not the same as saying "I definitely will."

    I had no problem with his answer and I do think that the idea that not talking to these nations is punishment is ridiculous. At least if you have a dialogue, you have the potential to learn something about your enemies that may benefit you down the road.

    All of these candidates should be forced to study Sun Tzu to avoid the pitfalls that this current administration has found. Machiavelli's notion that one should "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" would also help.

    July 24, 2007 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  15. Steve

    I think that anyone that see diffewrent colors of people and targets the Black people does not deserve to by running for president.

    July 24, 2007 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  16. Jay (Los Angeles, California)

    Hahahaha, Sound Bites.

    Truth of the matter, both will engage unfriendly nations, while the current administration barely speaks with friends.

    If your looking for change, being green is not a bad thing, it brings new ideas, and a people agenda.

    being red hot, may be signs of molding to the surface. (maintaining agenda)

    Food for thought!


    July 24, 2007 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  17. Michel, Los Angeles

    Obama is just saying what he’s been told to say or what he’s read or studied. He is a neophyte who needs training and experience. Most all of his debate responses were based in jargon or hot button phrases. Senator Clinton is on a totally different level. She has a deep and broad understanding of the issues that come from real life experience. We’ve had one neophyte president-let’s not pick another. From the left or right –the job requires experience please!

    July 24, 2007 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  18. Charles Morse, Gainesboro TN.

    I don't see a candidate on the Democrat side so far that I have any more faith in then any republican running so far . I think we are all in trouble as voters . Both parties are bought by big big money . Time we dump them both and start over building our government from scratch and new ideas .

    July 24, 2007 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    I think both Hillary and Obama did well. I happen to like both of them, However what i concider naive and un-intelligent enough is for Hillary to jump on Obamas comments and think that Obama is suggesting that he was just going to set up an official state meetings with those foreign presidents that were mentioned without first using all the state diplamatic apparatus to prepare the stage for such meetings if neccessary. Americans
    are intelligent and they know who is trying to score a very cheap political point.

    Oakland, CA

    July 24, 2007 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  20. Matt, Central MD

    Senator Obama's response was exactly what I wanted to hear! He cinched my vote with that answer and I know many other people who feel similarly. We need something new, and the only way to retake a leadership position in the world is to talk to people. We need somebody who is willing to try new things; a person who is willing to get the trust of the world back. I applaud his enthusiasm for true diplomacy, not the lip-speak we give it today.

    CNN: stop bashing that answer! There were a lot more important things that happened in that debate to report on. Constantly commenting on how "naive" he is will bias your readers/viewers. Let people decide for themselves what type of an answer it was! I think it was a great answer – he is starting to remind me of JFK and I think he is exactly what this country needs.

    July 24, 2007 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. Mandy Morton IL

    Obama spoke from the heart with a genuine answer - yes I will talk to everyone in an attempt to better our situation. Hilary's response was a very adept attempt to undermine Obama's credibility and make him appear naive. Obviously he will research and collect varying opinions before these meetings. The fact that her camp put out a response so quickly just clarifies that her entire comment was made only to take away from his. Certainly not to add value to the actual discussion.

    July 24, 2007 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  22. Kent, NH

    The question was Will you meet not How will you go about meeting. Obama was spot on, Clinton as usual wanted to show how tough she is(remember the pro war speeches she made in the run up to the war). She plays politics at every opportunity. Remember the question about Liberalism, well she made it sound like a disease... Score one for conservatives who have succeded in villifying liberals. Again she was trying to prove something...Do you see a pattern here, She's always trying to position herself based on prevailing winds. Boy, the republicans will have a field day with her if she wins the nomination. I pity anyone who can't see through her act.

    July 24, 2007 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  23. David Fritz, Lee's Summit MO

    Great for Obama! What good as diplomatic relations done for us with these nations to date. If we (US) communicated with nations I think we would be better respected around the world. I much rather our president talk then send men and women into harms way.

    July 24, 2007 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  24. Chris, WPB Florida

    I think that it is really splitting hairs here. It has worked very well for the current administration, to simply brand these countries as the axis of evil as opposed to having some type of dialog. It really shows the calculating side of the Hillary campaign to distribute the memo though.If anything is evident it is that we need a change from this type of calculating politics. As americans we need a fresh start. In my opinion the question that all candidates missed the mark on was the question about raising minimum wage. More so than simply raising minimum wage to a livable wage, is to bring back real paying jobs to the middle class. Raising minmum is a necessary, but only a band aid. A minimum wage job was never intended to suppoort a family.

    July 24, 2007 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  25. Neil Polen, Birmingham, AL

    I agree with Senator Obama's assertion regarding relations with "hostile" countries. Ignoring those with whom you have disagreements seems rather elementary. The notion that America somehow becomes weaker by stating its positions to the whole world, but not to the opposing party is ridiculous.

    July 24, 2007 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
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