July 24, 2007
Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards suggested Monday that they would meet with two leaders who top South Florida's most-hated list: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.
During a nationally televised debate, Obama responded to a hypothetical question: ``Would you 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?
The senator from Illinois responded: ``I would, and the reason is this: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is somehow punishing them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.''
``Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire, and the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them, that they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we have the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.''
He added: ``And I think it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.''
The Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, disagreed with her leading rival: ``I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. . .I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes and don't want to make a situation even worse, but I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.''
The question was then posed to Edwards, who said, ``Yes, I think Senator Clinton is right, though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy to make sure the meeting is not going to be used for propaganda purposes.''
Edwards' campaign has previously decried Chávez's repressive policies. Edwards has campaigned with actor Danny Glover, who has embraced the Venezuelan president.
In 2000, Edwards was quoted as saying: ``I support sanctions that target Fidel Castro's regime but help the innocent Cuban people, allowing trade for food and medical supplies that help ease the horrible burdens they suffer.''
Obama also opposes ending the embargo, campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after the debate.
''He is willing to talk to the highest levels of the Cuba government if it advances our national interests,'' she said in an e-mail.
The question about Castro and Chávez came from Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, Calif., via YouTube video in the first-of-its-kind debate. He said on CNN after the debate that he was ''pleased'' by Obama's response.
But CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said, ``Obama looked inexperienced and naive. . .It was a very big win for (Clinton) on that question.''
The Republican candidates for president will field questions from makers of YouTube videos on Sept. 17, in a debate in St. Petersburg co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida. Questions can be submitted to www.rpof.org.