Caren Bohan / Reuters | May 27, 2008

Democrat Barack Obama underscored his willingness to talk to leaders of countries like Iran that are considered U.S. adversaries but said on Monday that does not necessarily mean an audience with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Obama, the Democratic Party front-runner vying to face Republican Sen. John McCain in the November race for the White House, has said he was willing to meet with leaders of countries such as Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions.

McCain has criticized that view, saying that sitting down with someone like Ahmadinejad would give the Iranian president a spotlight and send the wrong signal to U.S. allies such as Israel.

Iran does not recognize Israel’s existence and Ahmadinejad has called the country a "stinking corpse."

Obama, an Illinois senator, said Iranian presidential elections in 2009 would be a factor in the timing of any meetings, as would considerations of who wields the power.

"There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power. He’s not the most powerful person in Iran," Obama told reporters while campaigning in New Mexico.

Under Iran’s system of clerical rule, the Islamic Republic’s religious establishment has final say in all state matters.

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