- anniversary - Barack Obama - diplomacy - Iran - Israel
White House hopeful Barack Obama Thursday accused President George W. Bush of stooping to the "politics of fear" after the US leader implied in Israel that Democrats would appease terrorists.
Bush's comments ignited a fierce three-way row between the White House, the Obama campaign, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and exposed a key foreign policy flashpoint heading into November's general election.
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush told the Israeli parliament.
"We have heard this foolish delusion before.
"We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history," he said, drawing parallels with the 1930s capitulation to the Nazis.
The White House denied the comments directly targeted Obama, who has said he would be ready to hold direct talks with leaders of US foes including Iran and Syria, which the Bush administration has shunned.
But the Illinois senator quickly waded into the row, apparently relishing a chance to make the unpopular Republican president a campaign issue, as he retools his campaign onto a general election footing.
"George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel," Obama said.
"It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack," said Obama, who daily adds to his overwhelming lead over Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominating race draws to a close.
"Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power -- including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy -- to pressure countries like Iran and Syria," Obama added.
McCain then tried to turn the spat to his advantage, saying Obama had made a "serious" error in offering to talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"It shows naivety and inexperience and lack of judgment to say he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says that Israel is a stinking corpse," he told reporters on his bus.
Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor accused McCain of "hypocrisy" after the Republican had earlier delivered a speech calling for civility in politics.
Democratic Senator Joseph Biden sprang to Obama's defense, accusing Bush of indulging in an "ugly pattern" of using national security for political gain.
"I think it's terribly damaging to our national security," he said, adding that Bush should be digging out of a "Godawful hole" in the Middle East, after earlier telling reporters that the president's remarks were "bullshit."
For her part, Clinton denounced Bush's comments as "offensive and outrageous."
Bush's speech did not mention Obama by name, and White House press secretary Dana Perino denied it had singled out the 46-year-old Illinois senator, before getting in her own jab.
"I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you -- that is not always true and it is not true in this case," she said.
Obama said in a Democratic presidential debate last July that he would be willing to hold talks, without preconditions, with the leaders of top US foes including Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
In a subsequent debate in April, Obama renewed his offer for direct talks at a leaders' level with Tehran, saying the Islamic Republic should be pressed with "carrots and sticks" to end its nuclear program.
But he also said he would take no option off the table to stop Tehran from using or obtaining nuclear weapons.
The row overshadowed a major speech by McCain, who for the first time laid out a timeline to end the Iraq war, arguing he would get most US troops home by 2013 if elected president.
Obama meanwhile gained the backing of four more Democratic leaders known as "superdelegates" to take him closer to shutting Clinton out of the race to the party's nomination.