Specter sides with Obama on handling rogue nations

May 21, 2008

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama's proposal to talk with the leaders of Iran and North Korea without preconditions has been met with harsh criticism from President Bush and Sen. John McCain in recent days. But the idea has the support from at least one Republican -- Sen. Arlen Specter.

The Pennsylvanian, who has long championed sit-downs with enemies of the United States, told The Morning Call today that the country needs "a very fundamental shift in our thinking in our international diplomacy."

"I'm not going to disagree with McCain, I'm going to tell him what I think," Specter said. "I had some good talks with ? (Yasser) Arafat and (Col. Muammar) Qaddafi and (Fidel) Castro."

Specter has met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in recent years, in defiance of the Bush administration. Three years ago, he met with Venezuela president Hugo Chavez.

"I had a good talk with Chavez," he said, pointing to a photograph of the two together in August 2005, one of many pictures of himself with foreign leaders that adorn his office walls. "We made some progress on some of the drug problems."

Still, Specter shied away from endorsing the prospect of Obama himself meeting with such leaders, as well as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea leader Kim Jong-il. He spoke with three Pennsylvania reporters in his Capitol office.

"I don't know exactly how Obama is going to handle it," Specter said. "Obama does not have my experience or McCain's experience."

McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has blasted Obama in recent days for considering such talks, calling the proposal "reckless."

-- Reporting by Josh Drobnyk, Call Washington Bureau

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