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Campaign Notebook

Colombia breaks ties with Clinton strategist, cites 'a lack of respect'

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has seen little progress in Iraq. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has seen little progress in Iraq.
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April 6, 2008

WASHINGTON - The Colombian government said yesterday that it has fired Mark Penn's public relations firm after the chief campaign strategist for Democrat Hillary Clinton apologized for meeting with Colombian officials pushing a trade deal with the United States.

Colombian officials said they terminated their contract with lobbying and public relations giant Burson-Marsteller in response to a statement released Friday by Penn, the firm's chief executive, calling the meeting an error in judgment. Clinton opposes the trade deal.

"The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable," government officials said in a news release. The government will continue its push for a free trade agreement with the United States, they added.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Penn had met with the Colombian ambassador March 31.

Clinton advisers said the meeting was not connected to the campaign, but made clear the candidate was not happy to learn of it. Penn later issued a statement expressing regret.

The Colombian government is trying to secure congressional passage of the agreement signed in 2006 by President Alvaro Uribe and the Bush administration.

According to Justice Department filings, Colombia agreed last year to pay Burson-Marsteller $300,000 to help "educate members of the US Congress and other audiences" about the trade deal and secure continued US funding for an antinarcotics program. Clinton and Barack Obama, her Democratic rival, oppose the deal. Clinton told the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO this week that the United States needs new trade policies before it has new trade deals. "That includes no trade deal with Colombia while violence against trade unionists continues in that country," she said.

Penn's political consulting firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, has been paid $10.8 million so far by Clinton's campaign.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama rejects description of McCain as a warmonger
WASHINGTON - Barack Obama's presidential campaign yesterday repudiated a liberal talk show host's description of Senator John McCain as a warmonger, a comment made to an audience that Obama later addressed.

Ed Schultz, host of a nationally syndicated radio program that is based in Fargo, N.D., was warming up the crowd Friday at a $100-a-person fund-raiser for the North Dakota Democratic party in Grand Forks when he tagged the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting as a warmonger, Schultz acknowledged yesterday.

He has used the term many times on air to refer to McCain because of his support for the war.

"He voted for this war. He's a perpetrator of the war. He's an advocate of the war," Schultz said. "In my personal definition, that's a warmonger."

But on Saturday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement: "John McCain is not a warmonger and should not be described as such. He's a supporter of a war that Senator Obama believes should have never been authorized and never been waged."

In Arizona yesterday, McCain said that Obama should reject Schultz's use of warmonger.

"I would hope that in keeping with his commitment that Senator Obama would condemn such language, since it was part of his campaign," McCain said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Biden says troop buildup in Iraq has not succeeded
WASHINGTON - A leading Democrat yesterday declared last year's troop buildup in Iraq a failure. Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former Democratic presidential candidate, said the military push did not succeed because US troops remain in large numbers and political reconciliation has not been achieved.

"The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically," said Biden, of Delaware, in this week's Democratic radio address. "Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together." He later added, "There is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon."

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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