LEVITTOWN, Pennsylvania President George W. Bush should boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics if China does not take steps to help stop genocide in Darfur and improve human rights in Tibet, U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Wednesday.
But Obama qualified that by saying any decision should be made closer to the date of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.
"If the Chinese do not take steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security and human rights of the Tibetan people, then the president should boycott the opening ceremonies," Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois, said in a statement.
"I am also deeply concerned about China's failure to support efforts to halt the genocide in Darfur. Regarding the Beijing Olympics this summer, a boycott of the opening ceremonies should be firmly on the table, but this decision should be made closer to the Games," he added.
Obama, who holds a lead over his rival Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee, did not go as far as Clinton in his statement on China and the Olympics. Clinton's call for Bush to weigh a boycott did not include any qualifiers about making the decision at a later date.
Clinton and Obama are vying to become their party's nominee to run in the November election to pick a successor to the Republican Bush.
Bush plans to attend the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies in Beijing in August and so far has resisted pressure to change his plans in response to a violent crackdown against protesters in Tibet by Chinese authorities.
China has also been accused of refusing to use its influence on the Sudanese government to get it to stop what the United States calls a genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.
At a rally earlier in the day, Obama was asked about China and said the United States needed to take a stronger and more consistent stance toward Beijing when it comes to human rights issues.
"In our policy toward China, we have not been consistent enough and tough enough in pushing them to deal with Tibet properly but also (on) their continued support of Sudan, a country that has been engaging in genocide against the peoples of Darfur," he said.
But Obama also said the United States lacked leverage with China because the country holds so much U.S. debt.
"It's very hard to tell your banker that he's wrong," he said. "And if we are running huge deficits and big national debts and we're borrowing money constantly from China that gives us less leverage."
(Reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Patricia Zengerle)