September 25th, 2008
08:16 PM ET
9 years ago

Fact Check: Would Obama meet 'unconditionally' with Iran?

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The President of Iran addressed the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week."]
The Statement: Sen. John McCain issued a statement on May 21 saying Sen. Barack Obama wants "to meet unconditionally in his first year at the presidential level with Iranian leaders." It's a theme McCain has often repeated during the campaign.

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The Facts: Barack Obama and John McCain both see the Islamic Republic of Iran as a danger; they cite the regime's efforts to seek nuclear weaponry, its hostile statements about Israel and its support of terror groups.

A questioner asked in a July 23, 2007, Democratic debate if the candidates would be "willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"

"I would," Obama said. "And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them - which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration - is ridiculous."

He argued that "Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire."

McCain in a statement on May 21 slammed "Senator Obama's desire to meet unconditionally in his first year at the presidential level with Iranian leaders" as "reckless, and demonstrates poor judgment that will make the world more dangerous." He has repeatedly criticized such a stance, doing so in a CNBC interview on June 10 and in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on June 2.

The Obama-Biden Web site calls for "tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions."

The position, which asserts that the United States has not "exhausted" its non-military options" in dealing with Iran, says the United States would offer Iran incentives if it abandoned its nuclear program and backing of terrorism.

"If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress," the Obama Web site says.

Obama said in a New York Times interview published on May 29 that he opposed preconditions on talks, such as the "Bush administration policy of making high-level meetings contingent upon Iran's agreement to suspend its uranium enrichment program."

But Obama draws distinction between unconditional meetings and no preconditions for talks.

The article said Obama isn't for "automatic discussions at the presidential level" and that he "would order lower-level preparatory talks to determine Iran's motives before agreeing to higher-level meetings."

Obama said on July 23 in Israel that he would be willing to meet with any leader if he thought it would promote the national security interests of the United States, but he said there is a difference between "meeting without preconditions and meeting without preparations."

Verdict: Substantially true. However, while Obama has cited support for no preconditions, he is careful to avoid the word "unconditional."

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Fact Check • Iran • John McCain
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