From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann and NBC's Libby Leist
DENVER, Colo. -- During remarks today at the University of Denver, presidential hopeful John McCain laid out his plan to cut global nuclear proliferation and negotiate the prevention of nuclear testing worldwide.
In calling for a "return" to "a tradition of innovative thinking, broad-minded internationalism," McCain appeared to be distinguishing his own diplomatic philosophy from that of Bush, whose administration has been roundly criticized for unilateral actions -- especially by the independent voters so crucial to McCain's success in November.
McCain's call for diplomacy included his suggestion for "taking another look" at the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and "engaging the world in a broad dialogue" about global terror.
But while his remarks about global cooperation may have cut to the left of Bush's so-called "cowboy diplomacy," the Arizona senator's comments on North Korea represented a harder line than the Bush administration has taken in recent months.
The administration has faced criticism from some conservatives who perceive a softening in the U.S. demands that Pyongyang publicly declare a suspected uranium enrichment program as well as any proliferation activity -- namely with Syria. Some Republicans, including former UN Ambassador John Bolton, have been skeptical of one-on-one talks of the type that Bush envoy Christopher Hill is engaging in this week in Beijing.
In an op-ed in today's Asian Wall Street Journal, McCain appeared to echo that discomfort with the Bush administration's delicate give-and-take with Pyongyang. In the piece, McCain and co-writer Joe Lieberman demanded a "full and complete declaration" of North Korea's nuclear activities -- a position from which the administration's critics fear it may be backing down.
In a conference call with reporters after the Denver speech, McCain advisors said that the senator's comments were not intended as a jab at the current efforts of Hill. Noting that negotiations are still in progress, senior foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann said that McCain is "not commenting on an agreement that as far as we know doesn't exist and hasn't been reached."
Scheunemann did, however, characterize McCain's nuclear plan on the whole as "a significant departure from the nuclear security policies of the Bush administration."
In Denver, McCain also indirectly continued his ongoing critique of Barack Obama, who suggested during the early days of the primary season that he would meet with foreign leaders -- like Kim Jong-Il and Iran's Ahmedinajad. Rather than painting Obama's proposal as dangerous, as he has in recent weeks, today McCain slammed it as ineffective and unoriginal.
"Some people seem to think they've discovered a brand new cause, something no one before them ever thought of," he said, outlining Obama's philosophy without mentioning the Illinois senator by name. "Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades."
In October of 2007, Obama delivered remarks on the topic of nuclear proliferation, outlining, in fact, some of the same visions of international cooperation and carefully measured degrees of multilateral disarmament.
At the time, in his address at DePaul University, Obama said, "I'm not afraid that America will lose a propaganda battle with a petty tyrant," he said, defending his position that the diplomacy prerequisite to global disarmament calls for meetings with rogue leaders. "If we take the attitude that the president just parachutes in for a photo-op after an agreement has already been reached, then we're only going to reach agreements with our friends."