It was Barak Obama, not John McCain, who was incorrect on this issue.
Their statements from the debate:
OBAMA: "Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who's one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran -- guess what -- without precondition. This is one of your own advisers..."
MCCAIN: "Look, Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to- face meetings between the president of the United States and the president -- and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that.
He said that there could be secretary-level and lower level meetings. I've always encouraged them. The Iranians have met with Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad.
What Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand that if without precondition you sit down across the table from someone who has called Israel a 'stinking corpse,' and wants to destroy that country and wipe it off the map, you legitimize those comments."
Here's the video:
The entire point of McCain's statement was to say that Kissinger did not support the idea of a US PRESIDENT meeting with Iran without preconditions. He was right.
McCain never disagreed that there should be negotiations and discussions with Iran. In fact, he explicitly stated that we are already meeting with, and should continue to meet with Iran at lower levels.
McCain simply said that there should not be negotiations between the US PRESIDENT and Ahmadinejad without preconditions, and that Kissinger never said otherwise.
Obama mischaracterized Henry Kissinger's stance, and McCain called Obama on this. This is what the current post-debate conflict was and is about.
Let us review the record. The statement in question was made by Henry Kissinger during a CNN special with five former secretaries of state, where he said the following:
KISSINGER: "Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level."If this statement is not conclusive enough, let us review Kissinger's take on the dispute ex post facto:
ABC News' Kirit Radia Reports: Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to the defense of longtime friend Sen. John McCain following Friday's presidential debate saying he "would not recommend the next President of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level."Quote courtesy of ABC News: Fact Check
"Senator McCain is right. I would not recommend the next President of the United States engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain. We do not agree on everything, but we do agree that any negotiations with Iran must be geared to reality," Kissinger said in statement issued by the McCain campaign.
During the debate, Obama pointed to Kissinger to defend his position because the former secretary of state supports direct talks with high-level Iranians without preconditions. Kissinger does not, however, support the U.S. president personally engaging in those talks, a point which McCain sought to drive home during the debate.
While it appears Kissinger and Senator Barack Obama disagree on what level those talks should occur, they do agree talks should begin, in Kissinger's words, “at a very high level” and without preconditions.
During the debate, McCain said that Kissinger would not endorse Obama's position that he would meet on a presidential level with leaders of enemy countries. "I guarantee you he would not say that," McCain said of Kissinger.
If all of this wasn't convincing enough, Henry Kissinger also spoke on FOX News, and not only did he reaffirm his stance as I've stated it above, he also stated that he agreed with McCain's argument in that a President meeting with the leader of Iran in the first term of his presidency without preconditions was not only a bad decision, but it would legitimize the Iranian leader in the eyes of the world, our people, their people, and it would undercut our credibility with our allies. Further, Kissinger argues that if negotiations at the Presidential level fail, there would be no other recourse available to us afterward. Kissinger also stated that Obama had mischaracterized his statements on the matter.
In politics we rarely get a chance to see black and white, in text, rightness and wrongness to these debates. With this one instance, that's exactly what we have. McCain was right and Obama was wrong.