By LIZ SIDOTI
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Barack Obama scolded Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday for saying that the United States would "totally obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel, and likened her to President Bush. Clinton stood by her comment.
The foreign policy dustup came as the two candidates appeared separately on dueling Sunday news shows and as the drawn-out fight for the Democratic nomination grew ever more fierce ahead of the next pivotal pair of primaries, in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday.
Seeking the advantage, Obama seized on Clinton's recent answer when asked what she would do if she wins the White House and Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.
"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said April 22 in an interview with ABC. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
On Wednesday, Iran strongly condemned Clinton for her remarks. Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, called her comment "provocative, unwarranted and irresponsible" and "a flagrant violation" of the U.N. Charter.
On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Obama said: "It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber rattling and tough talk and in the meantime have made a series strategic decisions that have actually strengthened Iran."
He also suggested Clinton's comments were politically motivated.
"Senator Clinton during the course of the campaign has said we shouldn't speculate about Iran, we've got to be cautious when we're running for president, she scolded me on a couple of occasions on this issue, yet a few days before an election, she's willing to use that language," he said.
Clinton, asked on ABC's "This Week" about Obama's criticism, said she had no regrets about her comment.
"Why would I have any regrets? I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally, a country that many of us have a great deal of, you know, connection with and feeling for, for all kinds of reasons. And, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran," Clinton said.
"I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing," she said.
The two also squared off anew over Clinton's proposal for a gas tax holiday this summer, which Obama opposes.
Obama called the proposal a "classic Washington gimmick" that wouldn't solve anything and would save only $28 for each person. Asked if the proposal amounted to a politician pandering, Obama said, "Yes."
Clinton, for her part, disputed Obama's suggestions that she and Republican candidate John McCain were the same because they both support a gas tax holiday.
"Senator McCain has said take off the gas tax, don't pay for it, throw us further into deficit and debt. That is not what I've proposed," Clinton said, adding that she wants the oil companies to pay the gas tax instead of consumers this summer.
Pressed to name an economist who supports such a holiday, Clinton demurred. "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists because I know if we did it right, if we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of his presidency, we would decide it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively."
Obama leads in the hunt for convention delegates - 1,742.5 to 1,607.5, according to an Associated Press count Sunday - but has hit a rough patch over the past month. That has Clinton sensing an opening after a strong win in Pennsylvania nearly two weeks ago. Still, the delegate math works in Obama's favor, and it will be difficult for Clinton to overtake him.
Nevertheless, Clinton suggested anew she had no intention of dropping out, saying on ABC: "When the process finishes in early June, people can look at all the various factors and decide who would be the strongest candidate" to go up against McCain in the fall.
Both candidates were focusing the bulk of their Sunday campaigning on Indiana, where polls show the race extremely close. They stayed overnight in Indianapolis hotels one block apart, and both were campaigning within miles of each other in Fort Wayne before returning to the capital city for the Indiana Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner.
But North Carolina was getting some last-minute attention, too. Both candidates shuffled their schedules to dart back to the state on Monday, reflecting the tightening contest there; polls show Clinton trimming Obama's lead.