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McCain, Obama Clash over Iran, Iraq in 1st Debate

TEHRAN (FNA), September 27, 2008


Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama accused one another of glaring errors over Iran, Iraq and the US economy in their first presidential debate.

Obama, 47, promised to end the "failed" policies of the Bush administration, which he blamed McCain for supporting. McCain, 72, presented himself as a reformer.

The most intense exchanges of the first half of the debate came over Iraq, as Obama claimed credit for opposing the war in the first place, and McCain said he had been instrumental in pushing the successful surge strategy.

"We are winning in Iraq and we'll come home. And we'll come home as we have when we have won other wars and not in defeat," McCain said, warning defeat in Iraq would embolden Al-Qaeda and Iran.

But Obama shot back, saying "six years ago I stood up and opposed this war," condemning McCain for standing with Bush over 2003 US-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein. "I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right but that's not the case," Obama noted.

And he accused his rival of a catalogue of miscalculations on Iraq. "When the war started you said it was quick and easy, you said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.

"You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni and you were wrong."

Although the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees seemed to agree that more sanctions are needed against Iran over its nuclear program, they had what McCain called 'a fundamental difference of opinion' on talking with Iranian leaders without preconditions.

During the Friday night debate, McCain said engaging in direct talk with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions would 'legitimize' his position toward Israel.

"Here is Ahmadinejad, who is ... talking about the extermination of the state of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we're going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give (him) a propaganda platform," said McCain, maneuvering on the 2005 Ahmadinejad quote, which Iran has repeatedly called a 'mistranslation'.

Obama, however, argued that other than pushing for more sanctions against the country, it is necessary for the US 'to engage in tough, direct diplomacy with Iran'. Obama said the US should not expect to solve every problem before initiating talks.

"This is a major difference that I have with Senator McCain. This notion that by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked," he explained.

"(A meeting without pre-conditions) doesn't mean you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you," said Obama.

Five former US Secretaries of State - Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, James Baker and Henry Kissinger - have said that the next American administration should hold direct and unconditional talks with Tehran over its nuclear activities.
Obama used remarks made by Kissinger, who is now an advisor to McCain, to back up his argument. In earlier comments, Kissinger had said the United States should negotiate with Tehran 'without setting any conditions'.

"I am using the same words that your advisors use," said Obama, when McCain accused him of 'parsing words'.

"My friend doctor Kissinger, who has been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation… I guarantee you he would not say that presidential top level… Senator Obama is parsing words when he says precondition means preparation," said McCain.

During the debate, the democratic presidential nominee also said that tough sanctions against Iran could not be achieved without cooperation from Russia and China.

"We do need tougher sanctions. I do not agree with Senator McCain that we are going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation from countries like Russia and China… (that) have extensive trade with Iran," said Obama.

Obama's comments came on the same day that the UN Security Council reaffirmed its previous stance toward the Iranian nuclear program, not imposing a new round of sanctions on a state that has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, allowed an unprecedented number of UN nuclear watchdog inspections and rejected allegations of seeking nuclear arms.

US failure to bring about a consensus against Iran at the UN Security Council came after Russia announced its opposition to a new resolution against Iran and China said that it favored dialogue on the issue.

U.S. candidates lash out at Russia

Russia Today, September 27, 2008, 9:32

U.S. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have singled out Russia for strong criticism during their first debate. Russia was one topic both candidates seemed to agree on, with Obama saying the next U.S. president would have to think twice before dealing with the country.
"It's absolutely important that we have a unified alliance, and that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st century superpower or power and act like a 20th century dictatorship," Obama said before adding: "We have to recognise that the way they've been behaving lately demands sharp response from the international community and our allies".

McCain lashed out at Russia for its actions in the Caucasus and pledged support for Georgia's membership of NATO.

“Russia has now become a nation fuelled by petrodollars, that is basically a KGB apparatchik run government. I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters – K, G, B. The aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behaviour,” he stated, adding, though, “I don’t believe we’ll go back to the cold war, I am sure that will not happen”.

Senator Obama, for his part, was no more complimentary in Russia’s regard.

“We have to recognise that the way they’ve been behaving lately demands sharp response from the international community and our allies,” he said but added the relations with Russia should be built on a different platform, “You do not deal with Russia based on staring in the eyes and seeing his soul but you deal with Russia based on what the security interests of the United States of America are”.

Still both candidates reiterated they do see Russia as a partner and want its co-operation on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, specifically in monitoring the Iranian nuclear programme.

Analysts doubt, though, that it will be possible for the U.S. to sit on two chairs criticising Russia and demanding its co-operation at the same time. They warn that one of the two should be given priority.

The worldwide financial turmoil was also an issue the candidates could not avoid. Obama openly criticised the Bush administration, blaming it for the current financial turmoil that affected not only the United States but the whole world.

Obama, McCain focus on economy, foreign policy in first debate 2008-09-27 09:23:18

    WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) --

U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama clashed over economy and foreign policy during their first presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi, on Friday night.

    Republican McCain said that another attack on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings was "much less likely" now than it was the day after the terrorist attacks.

    "America is safer now than it was on 9/11," he said. "But we have a long way to go before we can declare America safe."

    Obama, his Democratic rival for the White House, agreed that the United States was "safer in some ways" but said the country needed to focus more on issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and restoring America's image in the world.

    McCain also said Iranian nuclear weapons would be an "existential threat to the state of Israel," and called for a new "league of democracies to stand firm against Iran."

    "We cannot allow another Holocaust," he added.

    Obama agreed that the United States "cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran," calling for tougher sanctions from a range of countries.

    On Iraq, McCain said that the war had been badly managed at the beginning but that the United States was now winning thanks to a "great general and a strategy that succeeded."

    Obama blasted McCain as having been wrong about the war at the start, saying McCain had failed to anticipate the uprising against U.S. forces and violence between rival religious groups in the country.

    Before moving into foreign policy, the candidates focused on the economy.

    McCain said he would consider a spending freeze on everything but defense, veterans affairs and entitlement programs in order to cut back on government spending.

    Obama disagreed, saying, "the problem is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel."

    He agreed that the government needed to cut spending in some areas, but he said other areas, such as early childhood education, needed more funding.

    McCain and Obama also tangled over who would cut taxes more.

    McCain said he would lower business taxes in order to encourage job growth in the United States, and Obama said he would cut taxes for 95 percent of American families.

    Obama also said that the United States was facing its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

    McCain said he was encouraged that Republicans and Democrats were working together to solve the crisis.

    The first 30 minutes of the debate focused on the economy, even though the debate was supposed to be centered on foreign policy. The economy has dominated the campaign trail for the past two weeks.

    According to CNN's average of national polls, Obama holds a five-percentage point lead over McCain, 48 percent to 43 percent.

    The 9 percent of respondents who are undecided could swing the election either way.

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