CARTAGENA, Colombia—Senator John McCain took a fast ride on a Colombian drug interdiction boat in the Bay of Cartagena this morning on the second day of a Latin American tour meant to promote his comfort with national security policy and his differences with Senator Barack Obama.
“We have a long way to go to stem the flow of drugs into the United States of America,’’ Mr. McCain said at a news conference here after he sped through the waters of this Caribbean resort city. Nonetheless, he said, “the progress that I’ve seen since previous visits here has been substantial and positive.’’
At the same news conference, Mr. McCain denied a recollection from Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, that he had grabbed an associate of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua roughly and lifted him out of his chair during a trip to Central America in 1987.
“McCain was down at the end of the table, and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,’’ Mr. Cochran said in an interview with The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever.’’
Mr. Cochran, who has spoken about Mr. McCain’s temper in the past, added, according to the newspaper: “I don’t know what he was telling him, but I thought, ‘Good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission.’ I don’t know what had happened to provoke John, but he obviously got mad at the guy…and he just reached over there and snatched'’ him.
Asked about Mr. Cochran’s remarks, Mr. McCain said, “It’s simply not true,’’ although he acknowledged, “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas.’’ Then he added, “There was never anything of that nature, and it just didn’t happen.’’
In between the boat ride and the news conference, Mr. McCain toured a container inspection warehouse in the Port of Cartagena, where he looked at cartons of Spanish-language books bound for the United States that had been opened so workers could check for smuggled drugs. The port serves all of Colombia, and the waters around Cartagena are a major exit point for illegal drugs.
Mr. McCain, who stayed overnight on Monday at the Cartagena retreat of President Alvaro Uribe, has seemed to revel in the brief trip to this seaport resort –- he called it “one of the most beautiful cities on earth’’ at his news conference this morning -– but presidential politics have stayed in the foreground. Before Mr. McCain left for his boat ride this morning, Senator Barack Obama’s campaign had released a statement criticizing Mr. McCain for supporting “unfair trade deals’’ that were part of President Bush’s “failed economic policies that have left nearly 2.5 million unemployed.’’
Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has not mentioned Mr. Obama by name, at least not in Colombia. But he criticized Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, on his campaign plane en route to Colombia on Monday for not supporting a U.S-Colombian trade deal that Mr. McCain said was essential to relations with a crucial American ally.
The New York Times