WASHINGTON -- In fallout following a Democratic presidential debate, White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused rival Sen. Barack Obama of being "naive," as tensions between the camps increased Tuesday because Obama said he would be willing to talk without precondition to leaders of rogue nations.
At the South Carolina debate on Monday night, Obama said, in response to a question, that he would meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in his first year as president without any preconditions. An underpinning of Obama's presidential bid is his belief that solutions to problems -- domestic and international -- can be found through a search for common ground and consensus.
Clinton did not make any pledge to meet with these leaders. "I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said.
The exchange in the debate marked the sharpest divide between Clinton and Obama, the Democratic front-runners. It was most perilous for Obama because it raised questions about his inexperience, an area where polls show voters have the most reservations about Obama, while giving Clinton an opportunity to appear more seasoned.
During the day Tuesday, the Clinton and Obama campaigns issued dueling critical memos while advisers sparred over who appeared more presidential. The candidates each gave interviews to the Quad City Times in Iowa, the state with the crucial lead-off presidential vote, where they escalated the rhetoric.
"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton told the paper. Obama, she said, gave an answer "I think he is regretting today."
Obama told the paper that Clinton's camp was trying to score "political points." He stood by his response and that Clinton's position was not that different from the Bush administration policy, so she "can't claim the mantle of change."
Obama's campaign was trying to regain its footing after walking into a potential political minefield. The debate story in the Miami Herald, another early primary state where Cuban Americans make up a voting bloc, said Obama and Edwards "suggested Monday that they would meet with two leaders who top South Florida's most-hated list: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez."
If he met with Chavez, Obama told the Iowa paper, it would be to tell him "what I don't like" while finding areas to "potentially work together."
"I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon," Obama said.