Sun, May 25, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Obama toughens up on Cuba after McCain criticism


Democratic front-runner Barack Obama sought to toughen his position on meeting such US foes as Cuban President Raul Castro, outlining his conditions in a delicate pitch aimed at winning over an important voting bloc in the November presidential elections.

Obama's speech on Friday to the Cuban American National Foundation — a foray into delicate political waters — sought to counter stepped-up criticism from rival John McCain. Obama, with an insurmountable lead over rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, is increasingly appearing as the Republican’s challenger for the White House.

On Friday, Obama picked up five more delegates, including one who switched allegiance from Clinton. With an almost 200-delegate lead over the former first lady, Obama is just 61 delegates short of the 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination.

McCain also took on a politically sensitive subject, releasing medical records aimed at easing concern that at 71 years old, he is too old to be president. The records showed that the three-time melanoma survivor appears cancer-free, has a strong heart and is in general good health.

Obama’s speech to the Cuban group came three days after McCain ridiculed him in Florida for saying he would meet Castro. Obama had said in a debate last year that he would meet without preconditions with the leaders of Cuba, Iran and Venezuela — all US adversaries.

The first-term Illinois senator said McCain has been “going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raul Castro as if I’m looking for a social gathering. That’s never what I’ve said and John McCain knows it.”

Obama said he would meet Castro only at a time and place of his choosing and when there is “an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.”

He said he would maintain the existing trade embargo to use as leverage for winning democratic change in Cuba. But he said he would lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island. The audience of Cuban-Americans applauded his remarks.

Obama was addressing a group known for its tough line against former Cuban president Fidel Castro. But in recent years, frustrated with the lack of change on the island, it has entertained some more moderate views.

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