McCain hits Obama on diplomacy over North Korea

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain challenged Democrat Barack Obama’s approach to diplomacy on Thursday, saying U.S. charges that North Korea gave nuclear assistance to Syria showed the folly of unconditional talks with foreign adversaries.

McCain said U.S. disclosures that North Korea helped Syria build a secret nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel last year cast a new light on Obama’s willingness to meet unconditionally with a leader like North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.

Without naming Obama, McCain said those who would meet with a leader like Kim “should explain to the American people how talking unconditionally to dictators like Kim Jong-il in the aftermath of recent disclosures advances American interests.”

An intelligence document released on Thursday said the United States concluded North Korea helped Syria on a covert nuclear program before and after Israel destroyed the reactor in last year’s raid.

McCain has clinched the Republican presidential nomination and is waiting to learn whether he will face Obama or Hillary Clinton in November’s election. The two Democratic senators are locked in a grueling struggle for the nomination.

“Our diplomacy must be based on more than hope,” McCain said in a jab at one of Obama’s campaign themes.

Clinton previously attacked Obama’s promise to talk to troublesome foreign leaders without preconditions as naive, but the Illinois senator has made his willingness to speak to both allies and enemies a centerpiece of his call for a new approach to diplomacy and governing.

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Clinton, a New York senator, defeated Obama in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, prolonging the Democratic race at least until the next contests in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6 and keeping her slender White House hopes alive.


Obama, an Illinois senator, is a heavy favorite in North Carolina, where Clinton campaigned on Thursday. Indiana is viewed as a toss-up.

“This is going to be a hard-fought election here in North Carolina. I know that I’m starting off behind, I get it, but I’m still going to reach as many voters as I can,” Clinton told a crowd of several hundred in Fayetteville.

McCain campaigned on Thursday in New Orleans, where he toured a neighborhood ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and criticized the storm response by the Bush administration.

The Arizona senator, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who has touted his experience in security issues as a strength in his campaign, said the North Korean nuclear disclosures were “troubling but not surprising.”

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“North Korea has not acted in good faith for more than a decade,” he said. “The goal of our diplomacy must be an agreement that advances America’s national interests in the full denuclearization of North Korea and the cessation and full accounting of North Korea’s proliferation activities.”

He said any agreement must be completely verifiable and take into account the interests of allies South Korea and Japan.

“In addition, it would be a serious mistake to exclude from the negotiations our legitimate concerns regarding North Korea’s egregious human rights abuses,” McCain said.

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McCain also repeated his criticism of Obama for not calling on Williams Ayers, a member of the 1960s Weather Underground group and a neighbor of Obama in Chicago, to apologize for the bombings the group carried out in its Vietnam-era activities in the United States.

“He certainly hasn’t repudiated an unrepentant terrorist,” McCain told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Steve Holland, writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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