Barack Obama likened Hillary Rodham Clinton to President George W. Bush Sunday as they clashed over foreign policy with two days to go before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries that are crucial to the presidential fortunes of both Democratic contenders.
Obama scolded Clinton for saying that the United States would ''totally obliterate'' Iran if it attacks Israel. Clinton stood by her comment.
The foreign policy dustup came as the two candidates appeared separately on dueling Sunday news shows and as the drawn-out fight for the Democratic nomination grew ever more fierce ahead of Tuesday's pivotal pair of primaries.
Both candidates were focusing the bulk of their Sunday campaigning on Indiana, where polls show the race extremely close. They stayed overnight in Indianapolis hotels one block apart, and both were campaigning within miles (kilometers) of each other in Fort Wayne before returning to the capital city for the Indiana Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner.
Seeking the advantage, Obama seized on Clinton's recent answer when asked what she would do if she wins the White House and Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.
''I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran,'' Clinton said April 22 in an interview with ABC television. ''In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.''
On Wednesday, Iran strongly condemned Clinton for her remarks. Iran's deputy UN ambassador, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, called her comment ''provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible'' and ''a flagrant violation'' of the UN Charter.
'Nuclear shield should come prudently'
Interviewed on NBC television's ''Meet the Press'' Sunday, Obama said: ''It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber rattling and tough talk and in the meantime have made a series of strategic decisions that have actually strengthened Iran.
"It is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we're shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we've seen out of George Bush," the Illinois senator said. He also suggested Clinton's comments were politically motivated.
''Senator Clinton during the course of the campaign has said we shouldn't speculate about Iran, we've got to be cautious when we're running for president, she scolded me on a couple of occasions on this issue, yet a few days before an election, she's willing to use that language,'' he added.
Clinton, asked on ABC television's ''This Week'' about Obama's criticism, said she had no regrets about her comment.
''Why would I have any regrets? I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally, a country that many of us have a great deal of, you know, connection with and feeling for, for all kinds of reasons. And, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran,'' Clinton said.
''I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing,'' she said.
Some Democrats and Republicans have called for negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program and involvement in Iraq, but the administrations has ruled out direct talks unless Iran stops enriching uranium.
Clinton has said the United States should offer to protect Middle East countries from Iran if those countries forgo any nuclear weapon ambitions.
"I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel," she said last month in Pennsylvania, days before she made her "obliterate" remarks.
On Sunday, Obama said any expansion of the United States' nuclear shield should come "prudently and cautiously" and that Clinton first aired the umbrella idea as a "throwaway line" during one of the candidates' debate.
Obama said the United States would defend Israel after any attack, "nuclear or otherwise."