INDIANAPOLIS — Barack Obama Sunday blasted Hillary Clinton — and suggested she sounded like President Bush — for saying the United States should be ready to "obliterate" Iran if that nation attacked Israel.
Clinton told ABC April 22 that should Iran attack Israel with nuclear weapons, "We will attack Iran," adding, "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
Obama, appearing Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," insisted, "It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush.
"We have had a policy of bluster and saber rattling and tough talk," the Illinois senator said, "and in the meantime have made a series of strategic decisions that have actually strengthened Iran."
Clinton, who was appearing at a town hall meeting on ABC's "This Week," was then asked to defend her remarks, and she did.
"Why would I have any regrets?" Clinton asked. "I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally, a country that many of us have a great deal of, you know, connection with and feeling for, for all kinds of reasons," she said.
"And yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran," Clinton added, though she said, "I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing."
Apart from the presidential campaign, Clinton has come under fire in some diplomatic circles for her April remarks. On Wednesday Iran's Deputy Ambassador to the UN Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, Iran's deputy United Nations Ambassador, called them "provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible," while Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN deputy secretary-general, said her suggestion "is not probably prudent."
The candidates sparred on the national talk shows as latest polls show a dead heat in the two states voting Tuesday. They're tied in Indiana and Obama has a 5 to 9 percentage point in North Carolina.
The ABC program was moderated by George Stephanopoulos. He was a key adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency but Stephanopoulos' relationship with the couple cooled for years after Stephanopoulos wrote a book critical of the Clinton presidency.
Obama's chief political hurdle was clear as "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert spent about 25 minutes quizzing him about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor who guided Obama's church. Obama has distanced himself from Wright, but many voters have expressed serious concern about the relationship.
Obama was emphatic Sunday about Wright. "My commitment is to Christ. It's not to Rev. Wright," he said.
Would you seek his counsel? Russert asked. "Absolutely not," Obama replied.
Obama also was asked about another persistent problem — his inability to win big blocs of votes from white working class people in virtually every primary state.
He talked about the kinship he feels with such people. "I think it's important for people to understand not only that I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents and the values of hard work and decency and honesty that they passed on to me," Obama said, "that those values that are rooted in the heartland of America, in small town America."
Clinton had to deal with her own potential political problem — that she could wind up winning the nomination but alienating African-American voters. Many blacks have said they would consider not voting at all if they felt Obama was unfairly denied the Democratic nod.
Clinton said she was not concerned. "Both Senator Obama and I have made it clear we will have a unified Democratic party going into the fall election," she said.
Clinton also defended what's become one of the most hotly debated issues in recent days in the two primary states — whether or not to suspend the federal 18.4-cent a gallon gasoline tax. Clinton wants the moratorium. Obama does not. Most economists and environmentalists say a gas-tax holiday to be an ineffective answer to the current price spike.
Obama Sunday called the idea a "classic Washington gimmick" and "a strategy to get through the next election" that would barely be noticed by consumers.
Clinton countered that people badly want some relief. "I am meeting people across Indiana and North Carolina," she said, "who drive for a living, who drive long distances" would want help.
And, she stressed, her gasoline tax plan is not the only part of her proposal to reduce this country's dependence on oil.
Clinton also stressed how she would pay for her plan with a windfall profits tax on oil companies — different from the gas tax holiday offered by McCain, who would not impose such a tax.
"Senator McCain has said take off the gas tax, don't pay for it, throw us further into deficit and debt. That's not what I've proposed," Clinton said. Asked about the reluctance of most economists to back her idea, she said, "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists, because I know if we did it right...we would decide it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively."