WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton has joined Republican rival John McCain in criticizing Barack Obama for suggesting he would meet with Cuba's newly elected leader, Raul Castro.
Delivering what her campaign billed as a ''major foreign policy'' speech here on Monday, Clinton sought to cast her Democratic rival as inexperienced for saying that he would meet with Castro without preconditions.
''We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path,'' Clinton said in the speech at George Washington University. ``But we simply cannot legitimize rogue regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn't meet the real world test of foreign policy.''
Castro was elected on Sunday by Cuba's National Assembly to replace his brother Fidel, who announced his retirement last week.
At a debate last week with Clinton — following Fidel Castro's announcement that he would not run again — Obama said he would be willing to meet with Cuba's new leader ''without preconditions,'' but added that the encounter would happen only after both sides came up with an agenda that included human rights, the release of political prisoners and freedom of the press.
Obama's campaign said Monday that Clinton ``may agree with John McCain in supporting the status quo, but the fact is our Cuba policy has failed to advance American interests or freedom for the Cuban people for 50 years.
``Barack Obama's policy will be guided by the principle of liberty for the Cuban people, and he will pursue that goal through strong and direct diplomacy without preconditions, and unlimited family visitation and remittances to the island.''
McCain called Obama's Cuba remarks ''dangerously naive.'' The Arizona senator brought up the issue again on Monday, saying at a town hall meeting in Ohio that ``one of the most overrated aspects of diplomacy is talks.
''For example, I don't know why in the world you would want to sit down with Raúl Castro under no conditions for it,'' McCain said, according to MSNBC.
``I have no idea what that would do except perhaps enhance the prestige of a guy who was really the enforcer for Fidel Castro for long periods of time.''
Obama has suggested that McCain's approach would be ``four more years of the same Bush-McCain policies that have failed U.S. interests and the Cuban people for the last 50 years.''
Clinton said Monday that if elected, ``I will not be penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions, until we have assessed through lower-level diplomacy the motivations and intentions of these dictators.
''Raul Castro, for example,'' she said, ``has a stark choice. He can continue to stifle human rights and economic freedom in Cuba or he can chart a new course toward democratic reform.''