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Political Blame Game Over North Korea

Hillary Clinton John McCain
CBS/AP
North Korea's reported nuclear test has quickly turned into a political issue, four weeks ahead of the midterm congressional elections.

On Tuesday, Republican Sen. John McCain accused former President Clinton, the husband of his potential 2008 White House rival, of failing to act in the 1990s to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

"I would remind Senator (Hillary) Clinton and other Democrats critical of the Bush administration's policies that the framework agreement her husband's administration negotiated was a failure," McCain said.

On Wednesday, CBS News Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm asked McCain why the Clinton administration should be blamed at this point.

"I was responding to attacks made on President Bush by Mrs. Clinton, Sen. Kerry and other Democrats, which I thought was really the wrong time to do this," he said.

"They are entitled to their views but we are trying to get the American people and the world to impose sanctions on North Korea so we can bring this grave threat to world peace to a halt," McCain said.

"I thought it was not appropriate at this moment to be critical of President Bush. And I was opposed to this agreement that the Clinton administration made at the time. I spoke against it. I wrote op-ed pieces because I thought it was not verifiable or enforceable. During those years of that agreement, agreed framework as it was called, the Koreans violated that agreement and we continued to talk to them."

McCain rejected suggestions President Bush has focused too much on Iraq.

"I think that the Bush administration had to focus on Iraq but there certainly was great attention paid to North Korea as well," he said.

On Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and a potential 2008 candidate, said McCain "must be trying to burnish his credentials for the nomination process."

Responded McCain: "I don't think I need any lessons from my friend John Kerry on politicizing an issue."

McCain added, "We are at a critical moment here. We are trying to get the Russians and Chinese to agree to sanctions which we are all in agreement need to be made. Can we hold off for a day or two or a week on attacking the Bush administration, at least at this time?"

Sen. Clinton's spokesman dismissed McCain's criticism and argued that it was time for a new policy from the president.

"Now is not the time to play politics of the most dangerous kind — with our policy on North Korea," Philippe Reines, spokesman for Sen. Clinton, said in a statement. "History is clear that nothing the Bush administration has done has stopped the North Koreans from openly testing a nuclear weapon and presenting a new danger to the region of the world."

Five years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush "has allowed the 'axis of evil' to spin out of control. Our Iraq policy is a failure. Iran is going nuclear and North Korea is testing nuclear weapons," the statement said.

A spokesman for President Clinton, Ben Yarrow, said in a statement that it was "unfortunate that anyone would attempt to rewrite history to score political points at a time when we need to address this serious threat."

"For eight years during the Clinton administration, there was no new plutonium production, no nuclear weapons tests and therefore no additional nuclear weapons developed on President Clinton's watch," said Yarrow, who added that Colin Powell, Mr. Bush's former Secretary of State, endorsed Mr. Clinton's policy toward North Korea in 2001.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.