OXFORD, Mississippi (AFP) — Republican John McCain clashed on Friday with his Democratic rival Barack Obama on how to deal with Tehran, as he warned a nuclear-armed Iran would unleash the threat of a "second Holocaust."
"We cannot allow a second Holocaust," the Arizona senator said during his first one-on-one debate with his Democratic foe, adding that other regional nations would feel compelled "to acquire nuclear weapons as well."
"We could impose significant meaningful, painful sanctions on the Iranians, I think could have a beneficial effect," McCain said.
"The Iranians have a lousy government, therefore their economy is lousy, even though they have significant oil revenues."
Democrat Barack Obama said he agreed on the scale of the Iranian threat, but disagreed with the Republican's opposition to diplomacy with Tehran and other US foes, and stressed Iran had been empowered by the Iraq war.
"My reading of the threat from Iran is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it's an existential threat to the state of Israel," McCain said.
Obama echoed the fear of a regional arms race and said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a "game-changer" given the perceived threat to Israel.
But the Democrat said: "I do not agree with Senator McCain we're going to be able to execute the kind of sanctions we need without some cooperation with some countries like Russia and China.
"We also have to engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran," he said, disagreeing with McCain's position, which Obama characterized as that "by not talking to people we are punishing them."
McCain mentioned that Obama has mentioned he would sit down with the presidents of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba -- all fierce US critics -- "without precondition."
"Here is (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, who is ... talking about the extermination of the state of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map, and we're going to sit down, without precondition, across the table, to legitimize and give (him a) propaganda platform," McCain said.
Obama, who said that Ahmadinejad "may not be the right person to talk to" because he "is not the most powerful person in Iran" -- a comment that lead McCain to raise his eyebrows -- said he would still "reserve the right" if elected president "to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if i think it's going to keep America safe."
McCain insisted. "What senator Obama doesn't seem to understand, without precondition, you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a stinking corpse and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map. You legitimize those comments -- this is dangerous, it isn't just naive, it's dangerous."
A meeting without pre-conditions "doesn't mean you invite them over for tea one day," Obama said. "What it means is we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you."
Preparation talks ahead of such a meeting would start with low-level diplomatic talks, and "it may not work because Iran is a rogue regime."
"Let me get this right," McCain shot back. "We sit down with Ahmadinejad and he says, 'we're going to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,' and we say, 'no, you're not?' Please."
Obama pointed out that the after years of refusing to talk with the Tehran regime, the government of President George W. Bush reversed its position and in July sent senior ambassador William Burns to international talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »