Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has accused U.S. President George Bush of launching what he termed "a false political attack" on him. Mr. Obama was reacting to comments Mr. Bush made in Israel about appeasing dictators. The White House denies that the president's comment was directed at Senator Obama, but the remarks have created a political storm among Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Speaking to Israel's parliament Thursday, President Bush strongly rejected the idea of negotiating with foreign leaders or radicals that are considered enemies of the United States.
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," said President Bush. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all 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."
President Bush did not mention any names, but a number of prominent Democratic leaders perceived the remark as a veiled attack on Senator Obama, who has said if he was president he would be willing to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they would end their nuclear weapons program and support for terrorists.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the president's comments were beneath the dignity of the office. Democratic Senator Carl Levin also responded.
"For him to use purple prose such as somebody is appeasing, it seems to me is totally inappropriate," said Senator Levin. "And if there was any effort to suggest that the difference over how to fight terrorism amounts to anything other than a difference over tactics rather than a difference over goals, is way out of place, wrong inappropriate, and I would hope that that is not what he said."
Senator Obama issued a statement saying "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."
Senator John Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to President Bush, said if the president believes engagement with Iran is appeasement, he should demand the resignation of members of his own cabinet, since Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice have both favored negotiations with Iran.
Obama has said that a complete refusal to meet with those leaders who are at odds with the United States does not help solve diplomatic problems.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Israel that Mr. Bush's comment was not a reference to Senator Obama, and said the speech was not about 2008 politics.
The rhetorical clash comes just hours after Obama picked up a long-awaited endorsement from his one time Democratic rival for the nomination, former Senator John Edwards. The endorsement already seems to be paying off for Senator Obama, who has picked up four of the former senator's 19 delegates and the endorsement of the United Steelworkers Union, which had formally supported Edwards.