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Candidates hustle to show their Pakistan 101 skills

  • Story Highlights
  • Democratic Sen. John Edwards said he called Pakistan president
  • Republican Fred Thompson touted Senate Intelligence Committee experience
  • Former Gov. Mike Huckabee: It's not my place to decide date of election
  • Sen. Barack Obama: Elections must happen as planned or soon after
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. presidential candidates sought Sunday to use their response to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as an example of their expertise in international affairs.


Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Sunday Pakistan should have elections as planned.

"I was with Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East just a few years ago. We spoke at the same conference," former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina told CBS' "Face the Nation."

After Bhutto's killing, the Democrat said, "I called the Pakistani ambassador that morning, expressed my concerns to him and said I'd like to speak to President (Pervez) Musharraf, whom I had met years ago in Islamabad, because I had some things I wanted to urge him to do."

When Musharraf returned his call, the U.S. presidential candidate asked him whether Pakistan would move on a "path to democratization." Edwards said Musharraf assured him it would. Video Watch CNN's Ed Henry report on candidates touting their expertise »

"That has to be taken with a huge grain of salt, given his history," said Edwards.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson noted that he learned about international affairs while on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"I traveled the world, including Pakistan," the Tennessee Republican told "Fox News Sunday."

"I met with Musharraf and other foreign leaders, and I'm grounded and experienced in the matters that matter to us."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, said she had spoken with Musharraf before last week's killing. She called for the Pakistani leader to agree to an independent investigation.

"This is an opportunity for President Musharraf to step up and actually fulfill many of the words and promises that he's made to me and to many others over the course of a number of years," the former first lady told ABC's "This Week."

Sen. John McCain called for Pakistan's January 8 election plans to move forward, but allowed that "they may have to be delayed." The Republican from Arizona cited unrest along Pakistan's northwest border region with Afghanistan and said, "He's disappointed me terribly on the Waziristan situation, which has provided a safe haven for Taliban, but some of that has to do with problems within his own military."

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that, "based on the information I gathered today," Pakistan's nuclear stockpile appears secure.

He too called for elections to be held as planned or "shortly thereafter."

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, said experience is key to any future leader's success in the region.

"Voters out here want to know that they are going to nominate someone who has years of experience of dealing with these matters, as I have over a quarter of a century," the member of the Foreign Relations Committee told CNN.

And the chairman of that committee, Delaware Democrat Joseph Biden, said he too had spoken with Musharraf and that he does not have confidence in the man.

"I have confidence in the process if we shift our policy from Musharraf to a Pakistan policy and insist on a couple of things: making clear to him that failure to have transparent elections in this month is going to be extremely consequential for him and for the army," Biden said.

He also called for "a transparent investigation" with "some of our forensic help" into the killing, but said he was "not very hopeful" that Musharraf would allow such an inquiry to go forth.

"I don't have confidence even in his judgment," said Biden, who called for U.S. pressure on Musharraf "to make sure there are transparent elections."

But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the decision of when to hold elections was up to the Pakistanis to make.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to try to weigh in on whether or not they ought to have the elections in their own country," Huckabee, a leading GOP candidate in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, told NBC's "Meet the Press."

When it comes to al Qaeda, however, Pakistani sovereignty appeared to carry less weight with Huckabee: "Rather than wait for the next strike, I prefer to cut to the chase by going after al Qaeda's safe havens in Pakistan," he said in an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Asked when a President Huckabee would order such a strike, he said, "Well, it would depend on how soon we had fixed a target."

Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, speaking to CNN as an advocate for Huckabee, said his fellow Arkansan "has traveled to over 40 countries internationally. He's met with international leaders. He's been to Pakistan."

Last week, Huckabee suggested that the Pakistan crisis is related to the U.S. immigration problem.

"There were more Pakistanis who illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border, 660 last year," he said. "That's a lot of illegals from Pakistan who came into our country illegally because we don't have secure borders."

In an editorial Saturday, the Washington Post criticized his comment: "The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan's crisis with an anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness."

Huckabee acknowledged to NBC that the numbers he cited were not precise, but he maintained that his point remains valid.

"We're talking about the potential of a person who can come across this border with a dirty bomb in his suitcase, somebody who can come across our borders who might be bringing a shoulder-fired missile. And if we don't have better control of our borders, it does affect the people in Iowa and the rest of America."

But ignorance of Pakistan's travails may not necessarily prove damaging to a candidate's political aspirations. In 1999, shortly after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup, a Boston television reporter asked a U.S. presidential candidate if he could name the general in charge.

"A new Pakistani general has just been elected," the candidate responded, then corrected himself. "He's not elected. This guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news for the subcontinent."

"And you can name him?" the reporter asked.

"General. I can name the general," the candidate said.


"And it's?" the reporter pressed.

"General," said Texas Gov. George W. Bush. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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