Asked about Obama's original statement Tuesday morning on CNN, former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a top Obama adviser and supporter, said top-level meetings would not be immediate -- and would not happen without preliminary extensive diplomatic work.
"I would not say that we would meet unconditionally," said Daschle. "Of course, there are conditions that we [would] involve in preparation in getting ready for the diplomacy. ... 'Without precondition' simply means we wouldn't put obstacles in the way of discussing the differences between us. That's really what they're saying, what Barack is saying."
Susan Rice, a top Obama foreign policy adviser, said Monday that Obama's meetings with Iranian leaders might not include Ahmadinejad.
"He said he'd meet with the appropriate Iranian leaders. He hasn't named who that leader will be," Rice said on CNN. "It would be the appropriate Iranian leadership at the appropriate time -- not necessarily Ahmadinejad." ...
"I have to say I completely disagree that people have been walking back from anything," Obama said [in an interview yesterday]. "They may be correcting the characterizations or distortions of John McCain or others of what I said. What I said was I would meet with our adversaries, including Iran, including Venezuela, including Cuba, including North Korea, without preconditions, but that does not mean without preparation."
"I think this obsession with Ahmadinejad is an example of us losing track of what's important," he said. "I would be willing to meet with Iranian leaders if we had done sufficient preparations for that meeting.
I think this is the right approach--people are warming to diplomacy after 8 years of Bush, but they want assurances that their president knows what he's doing in these situations.
That said, an even better approach would be to change the subject and talk about the economy, health care, lobbyists, Iraq--really anything other than Iran and meeting with foreign dictators. I thought Obama got the better of the "appeasement" back and forth on Thursday and Friday. And he needed to clarify his position after McCain's attack earlier this week. But the longer we talk about these meetings, the more Obama fights on McCain's turf, and the less time he spends exploiting McCain's numerous vulnerabilities.
Update: In fairness, Obama does appear to have talked up McCain's lobbyist ties today, though he also weighed in on the foreign leaders debate. Curiously, McCain apparently decided to hit Obama on Iraq when he addressed foreign policy today, which, I think, is a much bigger loser for him than those meetings are for Obama.