September 17th, 2008
07:30 AM ET

Let's talk, no strings attached

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/16/art.mccain.obama.split.jpg]
Brian Todd
CNN Correspondent

Iraq seems to be moving to the back-burner on the campaign. The hot national security story right now: Iran. Several analysts say this is going to be the toughest international problem for the next president.

At a CNN forum (airing this weekend), Christiane Amanpour came up with an interesting hypothetical question for five former Secretaries of State: say it’s next January, after the next president’s inaugurated...Iran sends a message out of the blue, saying "we’re ready to work a deal, talk about anything." How should the president respond? All five former Secretaries– three Republican, two Democrat—said the U.S. should talk to them, no strings attached.

At first glance, it seems that these statesmen (again, including three Republicans) are in agreement with Barack Obama. He’s said he would sit down face-to-face with Iran’s top leaders, no pre-conditions, and talk. John McCain’s slammed him for that, calling him naïve. McCain says he’ll continue to oppose a face-to-face with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, without attaching strict conditions first.

But there’s less distance here between McCain and these former Republican Secretaries of State than you might think. Those GOP Secretaries—Colin Powell, James Baker and Henry Kissinger—all say the talks should begin at the Secretary of State level or lower. McCain’s not opposed to that, and that idea is something Obama’s people tell us he agrees with as well. McCain’s line in the sand: Obama shouldn’t jump to sitting down with Ahmadinejad, at least not without serious conditions. McCain believes the Iranians would perceive it as a sign of weakness and take advantage.

CNN’s senior political analyst, David Gergen, told us both nominees are going to have to clarify their positions to voters, will have to say what they’d do beyond the talking stage. The "jackpot" question, according to Gergen: what to do if negotiations fail, and Iran gets a nuclear weapon. McCain and Obama should be held accountable for that answer, he says, and they should get the chance to do that next week. Friday, September 26th is the first presidential debate, and it focuses on national security issues. Oh and by the way...it comes three days after Ahmadinejad speaks at the United Nations.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Iran • John McCain • Raw Politics
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. MaryAnn

    You McCain worshipers, I just don't get it. How can you support someone who is a liar. His campaign is the most negative presidential campaign. He chooses a running mate you know nothing about. Nominee's always chose a running mate that the public knows. Now all kinds of stuff is coming out on this woman. You had over a year to learn primary candidates then McCain pullls a fast one and gives you this unknown. It is proven that McCain voted for any legislation by Bush 90% of the time. You McCain supporters want to go through 4 more with McCain who has yet to informed you on how the hell he is going to fix this economic mess and other issues. Personally I don't want to risk my next 4 years on McCain, life is too precious,
    I want our country to fix our economic woes and be concerned for the little guy. Bush and his party are all about the Money. I am sure most of you are not wealthy or well to do;therefore you are not included in the republican equation. As you are witnessing today, America is in trouble.

    September 17, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  2. Carol Link

    Barrack Obama, & Joe Biden Is Change & that is What this country needs is CHANGE!
    I Support Barrack Obama & He will get my Vote in November
    I am a white woman who is on disability & I feel that Barrack Obama is the Man America need's to be Our next President Of America!

    September 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  3. vera

    Get real, people! In reference to Sarah Palin as vice-president who could possibly become president if God forbid something happens to John Mcain. She would be the laughing stock of leaders of other
    countries. I CANNOT see her dealing with the leaders of countries such as Iran and North Korea. Electing a president is NOT a popularity contest. She never gives a direct answer to any question, She just rambles on and on and on. If John McCain and Sarah Palin wins, then all of John McCain's supporters should not be complaining
    about anything they do. Please hide that nuclear button from both of them because McCain might get angry enough and push it. That's
    really scary! I'm not crazy about O'Bama either.

    September 17, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  4. James Dylan

    Aren't there enough real questions to ask before we get to the hypothetical ones with there, obviously, hypothetical answers?

    September 17, 2008 at 7:51 pm |
  5. James Dylan

    As with many things John McCain needs to clarify his position first. That way Obama can see what a President should do then act like one. If only there was some kind of Presidential mentoring program Obama could have signed up for. As Joe Biden said the Presidency doesn't lend itself to on the job training. Or maybe McCain and Obama could do some cross training and help each other; Obama can show McCain how to give a good speech and McCain can show Obama what the role of the President is.

    September 17, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  6. Maren

    Back when I was about 24 years old, and the Viet Nam conflict was in full flower; John McCain was a prisoner in Hanoi, and I was the de facto manager of the "O" [officer's] Club at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Those were heady times. I became acqainted with many officers, particularly CAG's [Commander-Air Group] from the carrier fleet; McCain's shipmates and fellow ranks. All were essentially the same: brash, cocky, confident, uncomplicated, "us agin' them" kind of guys. Play hard, Fly hard, Die hard. I seriously doubt many CAG's ever made it to top command ranks, they were too dangerous. I am not aware that I ever encountered Lt.Cmdr. McCain at Pearl, although I might have. As far as I can tell, as a Senator, he is no different now than his fellow officers were then; except he's grown older and angrier. I do not want this honorable, but hot tempered man leading our country in these already dangerous times. I'm not keen on the moose eating, gun-toting biker chick he chose to run with, either.

    September 17, 2008 at 7:38 pm |
  7. JC- Los Angeles

    As evidenced by the deplorable state of our nation, it's clear that no one knows anything about anything.

    To expect these two remaining candidates to articulate a satisfactory resolution to Iran is like asking Wall Street to start acting ethical.

    Until Lieberman assisted, McCain had no idea what all the Middle East fighting was for; meanwhile, Michelle Obama believes the best way to test a man's character is on the basketball court; does that mean her husband is going to post up Ahmadinejad?

    If we can agree that no one knows anything about anything anymore, at least that's a start.

    September 17, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  8. Ray

    Annie, do we really need the candiates to clarify their positions for us to make a sensible decision. Its talk like yours that allow these politicians to think of us the way they do. Its obvious that they take us the elctorate for dummies; in others words we cant think for ourselves so they bombard us with the things they think we wanna hear. Why should we wait on their clarification when the writing is already on the wall. Classic example, John McSame is running on the Republican ticket, yet he steer clear of his association with the party. He agrees with GWB 90% of the times, yet he is a Maverick. Do I need a degree or do I merely need to exercise my intelligence?

    September 17, 2008 at 4:16 pm |
  9. nate

    David Gergen's question is the most important foreign policy issue that should be addressed: "What is Iran is unwilling to negotiate with the US and has nuclear weapons, what would be our next recourse?"
    The reason why this question is so important is because Iraq currently possesses many strategic advantages to the US which will help the US deal with Iran and its nuclear capabilities.

    September 17, 2008 at 3:50 pm |
  10. Jes S.C.

    All commanders in the military negotiate with their counterpart to resolve issues between to diagreeing factions. All Presidents and ambassador negotiate with their counterpart . Only McCain, Cindy , Alex , Heather and Annie think it's a crime to do so.

    All five Sec of State agreed with Obama and as a military man myself I also agree. This is not a please me contest with the Stepford wives nor a political grand stand. We all need to talk to get along. If it's the Sec of States talking fine or even if it's the Presidents at least some one has the balls (whether male or female) to start a dialogue.

    September 17, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Lesley

    No pre-conditions is not at all the same as no preparation. Obama understands international affairs far more than John McCain who only sees through the eyes of war experiences. There is no diplomatic strain in McCain's tactics. He blusters first and then backs down, as he did with the crisis in Georgia. That would make us look foolish in talking with Iran now. Bomb, bomb, bomb, remember? Again, McCain is starting from the top down instead of the bottom up. Whatever negotiations need to be done in the best possible forum must be the first step instead of pronouncements from on high that will later have to be revised, like McCain is constantly revising his policy statements on the campaign trail right now. Obama is more of a negotiator and diplomat than McCain ever will be.

    September 17, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  12. Susan


    What would you think about a diplomatic envoy comprised of the Middle Eastern countries talking to Iran first ? Start in their own backyard . Iran's responses from that can then be conveyed thru diplomatic channels to not only the US but also to Europe . Then a US and European diplomatic envoy can go over to Iran and discuss the concerns on both sides. Then send in the Sect. of State from the US along with their counterparts in key European countries. I think Iran has to be handled with kid gloves and not with a heavy hand.


    September 17, 2008 at 3:11 pm |

    The president should never, right off the bat, meet with these men. We should always have someone lower down doing all of the talking until a deal is made so these nuts can’t use the meeting with the Pres. as a publicity stunt.



    September 17, 2008 at 2:59 pm |
  14. M.Harvie

    There are far too many times when some Americans need pictures before they understand issues. Obama has repeatedly said that there should be preparation before the talks. That is always the case. It is naive and disingenuous to suggest that he meant direct talks before preparation. The fact that an American President is willing to talk and listen is a motivating factor for hostile nations. It is time that hostile Americans came to realise that constant war is not the way forward. Bill Clinton put it best when he said that nations are far more impressed and influenced by the power of America's example, rather than an example of America's power. McCain is stuck in the 1960s and carrying his Vietnam war experiences in his psyche. We live in a different world. " Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" does not cut it anymore.

    September 17, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  15. Trish A

    CINDY do you ever read the News Page on this site? I'm wondering because they just reported the Opposite of what you just posted! Obama isn't and has no intentions of moving toward McSame's stance on this issue. And if your Read the article above you'd know three other very well regarded top Politicians have agreed with Obama!

    For your perusual Cindy from the article just posted above :

    At first glance, it seems that these statesmen (again, including three Republicans) are in agreement with Barack Obama. He’s said he would sit down face-to-face with Iran’s top leaders, no pre-conditions, and talk. John McCain’s slammed him for that, calling him naïve. McCain says he’ll continue to oppose a face-to-face with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, without attaching strict conditions first.

    September 17, 2008 at 2:46 pm |
  16. Kent, Illinois

    You people are funny..........so I guess we should have someone lower than the President talk to world leaders huh? Maybe like Bush does with letting Cheney run wild huh? Boy, Cheney has been a godsend right? Lol.............I don't think so.

    I agree with Obama. Let the President talk to the leader of Iran.........in a secure location.............didn't they used to do this at Camp David? does this site still exist? Well, McCain would threaten the guy. Obama would use diplomacy.............which is the best to start with.

    September 17, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  17. Jennifer from Kentucky

    McCain is correct it should start wth the Secretary of State. Obama has had no experience in dealing with the World Leaders. I am a Registered Democrat who supported Hillary which was very much shafted by the Media and that is why we have Obama as our candidate. So I am changing my vote to McCain because Obama is making all kinds of promises that are not feasible to meet. We are a country that has been depended on the MIddle Class to support America. Things need to change and I believe a higher being is doing that for us look at our Weather patterns.

    September 17, 2008 at 2:20 pm |
  18. Peace Out

    Who best understands what the enemy is thinking ? Obama or McCain ? How is the G8 and sanctions with Russia and Georgia going ? Did Iran suspend enrichment and reprocessing ? Newsmax.com US Intel: Iran Plans Nuclear Strike On US by Ken Zimmerman. What's going on with Iran ?Did we send enough troops to Afganistan and how are our guys doing there ? What is Britain,China ,France and Germany saying about Russia and Georgia ? Please explain the Bush doctrine and know it !

    September 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    America's enemy list is not getting any smaller, in fact it's growing. McCain's inability to recognize this, as GWB didn't, will lead our country into more wars and further economic destruction. McCain stands for one thing only, to be president and go to war, wasn't that GWBs agenda.

    September 17, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  20. randy

    OF course a CNN reporter's hypothetical question is designed to prop up Obama's arguement.

    Obama fallacy is he thinks too much of himself, he thinks his power of persuasion will be enough to convince Ahmadinejad to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons. If Obama wants to sit down with Ahmadinejad at the presidential level and negotiate, what will Obama negotiate away?

    September 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  21. Chris Michigan

    I guess I'm reading a different article then the rest of you. You make it ovious that you are Bush and McCain supporters. The article states that five Sec. of State have stated the same thing as Obama. Three of them Republicans. All saying the same thing that they would sit down with Iran. I don't think Obama got where he is today without having smart people around him to advise him. And futher more he seems to have a pretty good idea on what he would do with Iran. This I believe is a better way to go then to just say "I'm not going to talk to Iran" as McCain has stated. We are in two wars one in which we the American peole were lied into, proven over and over. The other Obama has agreed we must finish, but their is no reason for the United States to start another war with another country in the Middle East or in Russia that we cannot afford. Please folks watch the news our country is on the verge of depression. Huge companies, the largest in the world are going belly up in front of our eyes, we can not afford another war. So yes peaceful talking is a must, understand that we are hated in the Middle East because of our presense there. We need to leave the Middle East and consentrate on the United States.

    September 17, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  22. truthpleasecnn

    John McCain did make a comment about being in Iraq for 100 years at one of his town hall earlier in the year when he answered a question in part with "100 years if we have to"...Why is CNN and others saying he never said it?????

    September 17, 2008 at 1:23 pm |
  23. c.ca

    Maybe McCain could entertain the Iranians with another chorus of his "bomb,bomb,bomb, Iran" song – show them he is approaching the negotiations with an open mind.

    This old geezer and his dumb sidekick scare me. He will get us into another war. The thing that bothers me the most is – McCain doesn't care!! He's in in 70's. What the hell does he care what happens 5 or 10 years from now? He won't be here – but we will!!

    I am scared to death for my kid's futures.

    September 17, 2008 at 1:23 pm |
  24. ML

    What happened today in Yemen underscores Obama's point, we cannot have troops all over the world at the ready. At some point, there has to be a dialogue with other countries – the people that can choose to join our efforts to curtail terrorist activity within their borders. The age of terrorism is a reality and war has NOT stopped it.

    September 17, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  25. ML

    "How should the president respond? "
    Why do you ask these questions when you already know the answers.
    Obama: Let's be realists, if it takes talking to Iran to de-esalate everything then I'm willing to do it.

    McCain: I WILL NOT TALK TO IRAN. They support terrorists. It will not happen under my watch.

    This is exactly like their votes. Obama voted against the occupation of Iraq, McCain voted for it, but everyone conveniently forgets that Bush had declared war without congress' approval. McCain would be a disaster.

    These decisions don't have anything to do with age, since now McCain is lobbing an OUTRAGE bomb at Obama about ageism. Obama has great admiration for Sen. Bird's position on Iraq. One of the lonely voices that urged America to think before doing something rash.

    September 17, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
  26. Aruna

    Senator McCain a, war hero and experienced politician has shown an incredibly poor judgement on 3 very critical decisions,
    1. supporting the White house warmongers on Iraq war in 2003,
    2. selecting a totally unqualified & inexperienced running mate and 3. approving false and dishonorable advertisements against his opponent.
    He also is pathetically out of touch with reality and does not think twice about stealing the ideas (change) from his opponent. All the crap that is coming out of his campaign is a desparate attempt to win the election at any cost.
    These actions make me pause and ask, how can we trust him to be an honorable President of this great country and to keep his promises of reform etc! Well, he has been in Washington for 26 long years and had many opportunities to reform the goverment. If he did not do it in 26 years, what are the chances that he will do it in next 4? I hope that people see throgh this political rhetoric.

    September 17, 2008 at 12:58 pm |
  27. Caroline from Los Angeles

    Nothing's ever going to change if we don't start changing the way we do things. Sitting down with someone and having an unconditional conversation, just a conversation, is how much of the diplomacy in this world was born. We, as a nation and as a world, have overcomplicated the relations between nations. Obama's got it right.

    September 17, 2008 at 12:46 pm |
  28. Chris

    Here's the problem Anderson: You, as well as other CNN reporters are beginning to lose MAJOR credibility with those of us who once respected your "unbiased" journalism. CNN as well as other networks clearly distort everything McCain/Palin say or have said in the past to further the candidate that you unspokenly support. Whether it is Iran, as in this case, or nit picking over whether Palin "put" the Governor's jet on ebay, or "sold" it on ebay. The bottom line is, she sold the Governor's jet! When can we expect to see the same scrutiny of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. What happened to exposing all of HIS flip flops as you call it. He can't even answer a yes or no question. He dances around the issue and never actually says anything. Example: McCain was asked when a baby's life begins – Answer: At conception! Obama was asked the same question – Answer: After a bunch of dodging rhetoric he responded"It's above my pay grade." You were once a great journalist and I hope to see the AC we once respected return soon.

    September 17, 2008 at 12:16 pm |
  29. Sandy, Arkansas

    Communication is a key to solving problems but we do have to take the correct path. We climb to get to the top of the mountain...no one just plops us down at the top...we earn our rewards by working hard, earning trust, and co-operating. Maybe Barack Obama has no problem sitting down immediately with Ahmadinejad...after all Columbia (where he graduated) was glad to host Ahmadinejad but not ROTC on campus. ROTC is a way many not so wealthy Americans finance their education...through service and commitment to country, but that can't happen at Columbia.

    September 17, 2008 at 12:15 pm |
  30. MW- Calif.

    Bush's passive aggressive, silent treatment has worked so well. Yep – he attracts a lot of SIMPLE poeple and so does Bush #2. (aka McCain)

    September 17, 2008 at 11:48 am |
  31. Jana

    To agree to negotiations without pre-conditions does not mean that you start with the President and Obama never said you did. This is actually a silly question. Like the President of the United States can just get up one morning and go chat with Iran's leader without all kinds of preliminary negotiations and of course those will be carried out by the Secretary of State and others, Dah!! The question is should we negotiated with them or just continue the blustering tactics. What has worked and what hasn't. In my view, talks need to occur and pressure needs to be applied. Obama is calmer, more thoughtful and his temperment more careful and restrained. It is likely that his administration will be that way as well, just as most of his campagne has shown great restraint and very little out of control nonsense (unlike McCain's). Obama is measured and very intelligent and world leaders will respect that.

    September 17, 2008 at 11:47 am |
  32. Heather

    They are all right.Of course they all know that you never start at the Presidential level. You always start below the sec of state level. Obama has never said that. He has said over and over again that he would meet with leader of Iran at the presidential level. He doesn't realize or remember that the current leader of Iran is a terrorist and he was directly involved in the hostage crisis involving our embassy and our men who have identified him as involved. McCain totally understands that.

    September 17, 2008 at 10:18 am |
  33. Alex

    Obama is plainly naive and overrates his own abilities as a negotiator. He is also very accustomed to taking care of business himself and apparently lacks the knowledge and ability needed to empower others to act for him. Utilizing all resources at you disposal are just one measure of a true "leader." Obama is his own worst enemy and needs seasoning to learn how to "manage" and "lead."

    September 17, 2008 at 9:19 am |
  34. Annie Kate

    The candidates need to clarify their positions on a lot of things. Some things they have gotten down to specifics but other topics remain fuzzy at best. On this subject what kind of conditions does McCain want set before talking with Iran? Its important to keep a dialog going especially with Iran. If they get nuclear weapons we don't want to be the target.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    September 17, 2008 at 9:10 am |
  35. Cindy

    Obama will be the one that "changes" his position on not talking directly to any world leader who we deem as against us. McCain's point of view to not have the president himself but someone lower talk to these world leaders has always been his stance. Obama once again is going over to John's side just because that is what is popular with most people. Just like he did with off shore drilling.

    The president should never, right off the bat, meet with these men. We should always have someone lower down doing all of the talking until a deal is made so these nuts can't use the meeting with the Pres. as a publicity stunt.


    September 17, 2008 at 8:24 am |