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Dems fire back at Bush on 'appeasement' statement

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: White House said it did believe speech would be taken as a slam on Obama
  • Sen. Biden responds to his 'bulls**t' comment on Bush's speech
  • Bush says trying to negotiate with terrorists is a "foolish delusion"
  • McCain recently charged that Obama is the favored candidate of Hamas
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From Ed Henry
CNN White House Correspondent
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Democrats on Thursday condemned President Bush's insinuation that they would be appeasing terrorist states by holding talks, with one going so far as to call his remarks "bulls**t."

Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that if the president disagrees so strongly with the idea of talking to Iran, then he needs to fire his secretaries of state and defense, both of whom Biden said have pushed to sit down with the Iranians.

"This is bulls**t. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement," he said.

"He's the guy who's weakened us. He's the guy that's increased the number of terrorists in the world. His policies have produced this vulnerability the United States has." Video Watch more of Biden's comments »

Biden later told Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Thursday that he didn't mean to use a curse word.

"I shouldn't have used that word. I came off the elevator and was confronted with what had happened, and I responded. ... I should have just said 'malarkey,' but the essence of what I was saying is absolutely accurate. This is outrageous."

The president, at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem, suggested that some Democrats were acting in the same way some Western leaders did when they appeased Hitler in the runup to World War II.

"As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history," he said while speaking to Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

He called it a "foolish delusion" to think the U.S. can negotiate with terrorists. Video Watch Bush describe what he calls a 'foolish delusion' »

Biden later asked, "Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?"

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, called on Bush to "explain the inconsistency between his administration's actions and his words today."

"Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation's history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round," he said in a statement.

White House officials denied Obama was a target of Bush's remarks. But privately, White House aides indicated the criticism was aimed at various Democrats, including Obama and former President Jimmy Carter.

Discussing the remark, White House Counselor Ed Gillespie told reporters Friday, "We did not anticipate that it would be taken" as a slam against Obama "because it's kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the president's remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past relative to dealing with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda, relative to standing by Israel, relative to concerns about Iran developing the prospect of a nuclear weapon."

Gillespie side-stepped a question about whether the president believes Obama is advocating negotiating with terrorists and radicals. He said the White House wants to stay out of the presidential campaign.

"The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al Qaeda," said Gillespie, adding, "We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things."

Doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans were stoked by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election, when he recently charged that Obama is the favored candidate of Hamas.

Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group that controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Obama last week called the Hamas allegation a "smear" and lashed out Thursday at Bush's speech in Israel.

"It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack," Obama said in a statement released to CNN by his campaign.

"George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel," Obama's statement said. Video Watch the Obama camp's response to Bush »

According to Obama's Web site, he favors "tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe."

He does not favor talks with Hamas, which the U.S. government has listed as a terrorist group.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who leaves later Thursday on a bipartisan congressional trip to Israel, said there is a "protocol" of not criticizing the president when he is abroad, but then declared, "I think what the president did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel."

She and Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, called on McCain to denounce the comment. Video Watch more of Pelosi's comments. »

McCain declined to do so Thursday, instead criticizing Obama's willingness to talk to the president of Iran.

"It is a serious error on the part of Sen. Obama that shows naiveté and inexperience and lack of judgment to say that he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country who says that Israel is a stinking corpse," McCain said.

The Bush administration held three rounds of discussions with Iran about security in Iraq last year, including two at the ambassadorial level, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that Washington needed to "figure out a way to develop some leverage ... and then sit down and talk with" Iran.

Bush largely focused his speech in Jerusalem on highlighting the American-Israeli partnership. He said the alliance between the two governments is "unbreakable."

Bush said the United States and Israel are locked in an ideological struggle with radicals in the Middle East, using the speech to tie al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

"That is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the 'elimination' of Israel," Bush said. "That is why the followers of Hezbollah chant 'Death to Israel, Death to America!' That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that 'the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.' And that is why the president of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map."

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Bush then made his transition to Obama and other Democrats without naming names, raising the specter of the Holocaust to make his point.

"As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century," the president said.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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