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Kissinger defends McCain on structuring Iranian talks

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama said Kissinger thought U.S. should meet with Iran without preconditions
  • McCain: "Kissinger did not say that he would approve a face-to-face meeting"
  • Kissinger releases statement siding with McCain
  • Ex-secretaries of state: Next president should have some form of talks with Iran
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From Emily Sherman
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After Friday night's presidential debate, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger defended Sen. John McCain's attack against Sen. Barack Obama for Obama's willingness to meet with the Iranian president "without precondition."

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says he is not in favor of negotiations with Iran at the presidential level.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says he is not in favor of negotiations with Iran at the presidential level.

Immediately after the debate, the McCain campaign released a statement from Kissinger backing the Republican nominee's sentiments on structuring any talks with Iran.

"Sen. McCain is right. I would not recommend the next president of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the presidential level," Kissinger said in the statement.

"My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Sen. John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality."

McCain and Obama sparred during the debate over how to best handle relations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly threatened Israel.

Both candidates referenced Kissinger's comments from a CNN forum last week in which former secretaries of state discussed several topics, including Iran, and the presidential candidates disagreed over what Kissinger had said.

The exchange started with McCain criticizing Obama for stating in two previous debates that he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Raśl Castro "without precondition."

McCain, the Republican nominee, said that in the past, U.S. presidents such as Ronald Reagan refused to meet with adversaries until a Cabinet member, such as the secretary of state, had several talks.

"Look, I'll sit down with anybody, but there's got to be preconditions," McCain said. Video Watch the candidates debate policy in Iran »

Obama responded by claiming that Kissinger, "along with five recent secretaries of state, just said we should meet with Iran, guess what, without preconditions."

McCain denied the claim: "Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve a face-to-face meeting" with Ahmadinejad. "He did say there could be secretary and lower-level meetings."

Obama defended his stance, explaining, "Look, Sen. McCain keeps on using this example that suddenly the president would just meet with somebody without doing any preparation, without having low-level talks. Nobody's been talking about that. Sen. McCain knows it. That's a mischaracterization of my position."

He also said, "I reserve the right as president of the United States to meet with anyone at the time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep the American people safe."

He added that those talks would come after "preparations, starting with low-level diplomatic talks."

The forum last week -- "The Next President: A World of Challenges" -- was co-sponsored by CNN and hosted former secretaries of state Warren Christopher, Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, James Baker and Colin Powell.


During the forum, Albright, who served in the Clinton administration, said, "I believe we need to engage with Iran." Kissinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, echoed the sentiment. He said he is "in favor of negotiation with Iran" at the secretary of state level.

"I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind ... what the outcome is that you're trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to," Kissinger said.

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