Tension rises in Clinton nuclear dispute
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 10 2007 01:07 | Last updated: August 10 2007 01:07
Hillary Clinton faced scrutiny on Thursday over her attitude towards the use of nuclear weapons, amid a deepening foreign policy dispute with Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mrs Clinton criticised Mr Obama last week for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons in the hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, arguing that presidents should not discuss hypothetical military situations.
But it emerged on Thursday that Mrs Clinton had herself rejected nuclear weapons as an option against Iran in a television interview last year. “I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table,” she said in April 2006.
The apparent inconsistency could prove embarrassing to Mrs Clinton if it undermines her carefully crafted image for strength and reliability on foreign policy, in contrast to the more inexperienced Mr Obama.
A spokesman for Mrs Clinton insisted it was unfair to compare her comments with Mr Obama’s because she had been responding to a specific report that the Bush administration was considering the nuclear option against Iran.
“She wasn’t talking about a broad hypothetical, nor was she speaking as a presidential candidate.
“Given the sabre-rattling that was coming from the Bush White House at the time, it was totally appropriate and necessary to respond to that report and call it the wrong policy,” he said.
Foreign policy has become the main source of division between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama in the increasingly fractious race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr Obama, the first-term senator for Illinois, is struggling to narrow his rival’s double-digit lead in nationwide opinion polls with less than five months before the first party primary elections and caucuses.
South Carolina’s Republican party on Thursday rescheduled its primary for January 19, an earlier-than-planned date that could result in Iowa bringing forward its caucuses to December.
Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are seeking to protect their traditional right to hold the first ballots in the presidential nomination season, amid attempts by other states to claim a bigger role in the process.
Florida is among dozens of states to have brought forward its primary date, threatening South Carolina’s status as the first southern state to express its choice of presidential nominees.
South Carolina’s move to remain first in the south is expected to prompt New Hampshire and Iowa to bring forward their dates, raising the prospect of the presidential electoral process starting before Christmas for the first time.
The front-loaded primary election calendar makes it likely that both parties’ presidential candidates will be all but decided by early February, nine months before the presidential election.
The accelerated nature of the 2008 race for the White House reflects the unusually open nature of the contest, with neither the incumbent president nor vice-president standing for re-election.