SAVANNAH, Georgia (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain marks Cuban Independence Day on Tuesday with a fresh slap at Democratic front-runner Barack Obama for a pledge to meet Cuba’s leader if elected in November.
Obama’s vow to hold direct talks, without preconditions, with leaders of countries hostile to the United States, including Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Cuba, has given McCain a broad opening to attack Obama over foreign policy.
He pounded Obama on Monday for pledging to meet the leader of Iran, saying to do so would reward a government in Tehran dedicated to destroying U.S. ally Israel.
At a town hall meeting in Miami, McCain planned to accuse Obama on Cuban Independence Day of wanting to soften the decades-old U.S. embargo against the communist government of Cuba.
Cuban-American voters, who typically have taken a unyielding stance toward dealings with the Cuban government, represent an important voting bloc in Florida, a battleground state in U.S. presidential elections.
Obama’s pledge to hold direct talks with leaders of various countries hostile to the United States would also involve a meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro, McCain will say, sending “the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators.”
“I believe we should give hope to the Cuban people, not to the Castro regime,” McCain will say, according to speech excerpts released by his campaign.
“My administration will press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labour unions, and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections. The embargo must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met.
Obama has said he would like to ease stringent U.S. travel restrictions toward Cuba, granting Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.
Though Obama has not yet won the Democratic presidential nomination over rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, he and McCain are both acting as though they are in a general election campaign against each other, already lobbing stinging attacks.
McCain’s objective is to define Obama as too inexperienced to be trusted as commander in chief.
Obama, on the other hand, wants Americans to see McCain as an extension of the presidency of George W. Bush. (Editing by Doina Chiacu) (To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)