From NBC's Andrea Mitchell
Sen. Obama has ESCALATED his criticism of Hillary Clinton -- taking it to political defcon three -- in an exclusive on-camera interview with NBC News.
It is a lot tougher than what he said in the debate -- or in the Iowa newspaper interview yesterday.
During a stakeout outside his senate office, Obama said in part:
"I think what is irresponsible and naive is to have authorized a war without asking how we were going to get out -- and you know I think Senator Clinton hasn't fully answered that issue.
"The general principle that I was laying out is that we should not be afraid as America to meet with anybody.
"Now, they may not like what we want to hear -- so if I'm talking to the President of Iran, I'm going to inform him that Israel is our stalwart ally, and we are going to do what's necessary to protect them -- that we will not accept a nuclear bomb in Iran, but that doesn't mean we can't say that face to face. And obviously, the diplomatic spadework has to be done ahead of time.
"The notion that I was somehow going to be inviting them over for tea next week without having initial envoys meet is ridiculous.
"But the general principle is one that I think Senator Clinton is wrong on -- and that is if we are laying out preconditions that prevents us from speaking frankly to these folks, then we are continuing with Bush-Cheney policies, and I am not interested in continuing that.
"I know that she has said in the past that we have to talk to our enemies -- well that's what this is about. And if we say that we will not talk to them unless they meet a series of preconditions, then that's the same position that Bush and Cheney have maintained over the last six years, and it has made us less safe. And that's what I think is going to be a significant part of this debate in 2008.
"We responded to her in this situation, and I think there is a genuine difference, if there isn't a difference, then Senator Clinton should explain it. I think that we should talk to everybody.
"That ultimately is what's going to create the environment in which we can reduce some of the threat levels we are facing. To fail to do that is the same conventional Washington thinking that led many including Senator Clinton to go ahead with the war without having asked adequate questions."
****UPDATE**** Clinton supporters respond to Obama's new criticism by pointing out that Clinton has been very critical of the Bush's Administration policies on diplomacy. Also, her response at the debate -- and in yesterday's skirmish -- was that it doesn't make any sense to pursue vigorous diplomacy without getting the most of it. You just can't promise to meet with world leaders, they say, without conditions.
*** SECOND UPDATE *** The Clinton campaign has now released this statement from Richard Holbrooke, who served as UN ambassador in Bill Clinton's administration: "As she has said many times, Senator Clinton believes we need to engage in vigorous diplomacy after the cowboy approach of the Bush years. She has said she would initiate serious, responsible dialogue with nations with whom we don't agree in order to further the national security interest of the United States. But she is right not to risk the prestige of the presidency by unconditionally committing to meet with leaders of adversarial nations."