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Obama-McCain flap a taste of what's ahead?

  • Story Highlights
  • McCain aides say they've been itching for a fight with Obama
  • "Appeasement" flap has given Democrats reason to gather behind Obama
  • Obama slams Bush over attack "that alienates us from the rest of the world"
  • McCain-Obama flap has left Sen. Clinton out of the headlines
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain aides said Friday they've been itching for a fight with Sen. Barack Obama and are eager to engage in a discussion about foreign relations.

Democrats accuse McCain of hypocrisy when it comes to his views on talking to Hamas. And with Obama holding the lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton in both pledged delegates and superdelegates, the back-and-forth on McCain's Hamas statements may be the first of what could be many altercations with the presumptive GOP candidate for president.

Meanwhile, McCain is continuing to deal with the fallout from an interview by Jamie Rubin, a Clinton supporter.

Rubin wrote an op-ed piece in Friday's Washington Post relating an interview he conducted with McCain on the British network Sky News shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006.

"They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another," he said at the time. "And I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy toward Hamas, because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice ..."

In a January 2006 CNN interview, McCain stressed conditions Hamas would need to meet before establishing a working relationship with the United States.

"Hamas, now that they are going to govern, will be motivated to renounce this commitment to the extinction of the state of Israel. Then we can do business again. We can resume aid, we can resume the peace process."

Obama seized on that, blasting McCain for attacking him for suggesting it could be beneficial to sit down with the leader of Iran.

"He was actually guilty of the exact same thing that he is accusing me of ... and in fact was saying maybe we need to deal with Hamas. That's the kind of hypocrisy we've been seeing in our foreign policy."

Riding on his bus, McCain insisted his position on Hamas has always been the same -- no negotiation until it renounces its belief that Israel should not exist.

"Hamas would have to abandon their terrorist activities and their dedication to the extinction of the state of Israel. It was very clear then, it is very clear now," he said. Video Watch more on the controversy »

After searching for it all day, McCain's campaign late Friday found and e-mailed to reporters more of the interview -- with the ail subject line: "Jamie Rubin lied" --that they said proved McCain had been quoted out of context.

In that footage, when asked whether "the United States should be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?" McCain responds: "I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are and see the ways we can engage with. If there aren't any, there may be a hiatus. But I think part of the relationship will be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts."

On Friday night, Rubin released the following statement supporting his interview.

"The question and answer I released yesterday was a full question and a full answer. Nothing was left out of the question or the answer. Nothing is taken out of context."

Also on Friday, Obama linked McCain with what he called "the failed policies" of the Bush administration, accusing him and the White House of "bombastic exaggerations and fear-mongering" in place of "strategy and analysis and smart policy."Video Watch more of Obama's comments »

"The American people are going to look at the evidence," he said. "We don't get a sense that this has been a wise foreign policy or a smart foreign policy or a tough foreign policy."

In a speech at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday, McCain defended his foreign policy positions.

McCain called some of Obama's ideas "reckless" and questioned his understanding of America's standing in the world. Video Watch McCain take on Obama's comments »

"It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don't have enemies," the Arizona Republican said. "That's not the world we live in. And until Sen. Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe."

The verbal sparring took place a day after President Bush suggested in a speech before the Israeli Knesset that those who want to shift American policy to include direct talks with what he called "terrorists and radicals" were appeasers and delusional. Video Watch more of Bush's speech »

"I don't take what Bush says personally, but I was offended by what is a continuation of strategy from this White House, now mimicked by Sen. McCain, that replaces strategy and analysis and smart policy with bombast, exaggerations and fear-mongering," Obama said.

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.

The "appeasement" flap, however, has give the Democratic Party its first real chance to coalesce behind Obama.

Sen. Joe Biden, 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.

And there was a more telling response from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton. She didn't hit Obama on appeasement -- she hit Bush.

"President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy," Clinton said in South Dakota on Friday.

The whole flap has largely left the New York senator out of the headlines before the upcoming Kentucky and Oregon primaries on Tuesday.


But as Obama and McCain spent much of Friday sparring over foreign policy, Clinton quietly ignored them during an economic roundtable in an Oregon home, instead focusing her attacks on Bush's attempts to lower oil prices during his trip to Saudi Arabia.

Clinton said she was going to stay in the race, claiming that she is ahead in the popular vote -- debatable because of the complicated method of counting states' votes as well at the confusion surrounding Michigan and Florida.

CNN's Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, Ed Hornick and Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this report.

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