President Bush on Thursday strongly disagreed with Democratic candidate Barack Obama's expressed willingness to meet the leaders of Iran and Cuba — two U.S. adversaries throughout Bush's presidency.
Just talking with them sends the wrong message, confuses U.S. allies and raises the international profile of regimes that suppress human rights, Bush told a White House news conference.
"I'm not suggesting there's never a time to talk, but I'm suggesting now is not the time not to talk with Raul Castro," who recently assumed Cuba's presidency after his ailing brother, Fidel, stepped down. "He's nothing more than the extension of what his brother did, which was to ruin an island and imprison people because of their beliefs," Bush said.
"I have these wives of these dissidents come and see me," he said. "And their stories are just unbelievably sad. It just goes to show how, you know, how repressive the Castro brothers have been when you listen to the truth about what they say. And the idea of embracing a leader who has done this without any attempt on his part to, you know, release prisoners and free their society, would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal."
Obama has said that if elected, he could be willing to meet leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea in his first year of office.
"What's lost by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs?" Bush asked rhetorically. "What's lost is it'll send the wrong message. It'll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It'll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity."
A U.S. president's decision to talk with certain international figures can be counterproductive, Bush said.
"It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies," he said. "It can send confusion about our foreign policy. It discourages reformers inside their own country."