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Nuclear reaction to Obama

Sen. Clinton chides him for ruling out use of the bomb against Al Qaeda strongholds.

August 03, 2007|Glenn Thrush | Newsday

WASHINGTON — The feud between the top Democratic presidential candidates went nuclear Thursday, with Sen. Barack Obama ruling out atomic strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan -- and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton chiding him for foreclosing the doomsday option.

Illinois Sen. Obama, who has been emphasizing his toughness on foreign policy in recent days, was caught off-guard when a reporter wanted to know whether he would use the ultimate weapon against Al Qaeda.

"I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance ... involving civilians," he said, appearing uncomfortable with the query.

A moment later, he seemed to retract the entire response, saying: "Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table."

New York Sen. Clinton smiled Thursday when she was read Obama's comments during a Capitol Hill news conference.

"I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons," she said.

"And I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think we'll leave it at that, because I don't know the circumstances in which he was responding."

On Wednesday, Obama endorsed the idea of dispatching U.S. soldiers to Pakistan if there was "actionable" intelligence of an imminent terrorist strike, even if the country's rulers objected.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a presidential candidate who is chairman of the foreign relations committee, called the approach "very naive," echoing Clinton's criticism of Obama last week.

Clinton also said she was uncomfortable with Obama's decision to publicly discuss operational details of fighting Al Qaeda, suggesting it could compromise efforts to kill terrorists.

"I am concerned about talking about it," she said. "I think everyone agrees that our goal should be to capture or kill [Osama] bin Laden and his lieutenants.

"How we do it should not be telegraphed and discussed, for obvious reasons," Clinton said.

She went on to give Obama a bit of campaign advice, counseling against answering "hypothetical" questions.

Earlier Thursday, Clinton met with Pentagon policy chief Eric Edelman, the author of a letter accusing Clinton of stoking "enemy propaganda" by requesting an outline of Iraq withdrawal planning.

Clinton said little about the classified briefing except that Edelman had been less than completely forthcoming. "I don't think that by any means answers the questions," she said.

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