McCain, Kyl Demand Top Obama State Dept. Official Retract Statement and Apologize for Likening AZ Immigration Law to Chinese Human Rights Violations

By Susan Jones and Pete Winn | May 18, 2010 | 12:49 PM EDT

Michael H. Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, speaks about Iran’s human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Council gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/KEYSTONE/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

( -- Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) Tuesday called on the top Obama State Department official responsible for human rights issues to “retract and apologize” for telling officials of the Communist government of China that Arizona's new immigration-enforcement law is an example of a “troubling trend in our society” and for portraying Arizona as the moral equivalent of Communist China.

In a letter to Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, the senators said that he “seemed to imply” during the recent U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue that Arizona’s law “is morally equivalent to China’s persistent pattern of abuse and repression of its people.”

McCain and Kyl told Posner his comments were “particularly offensive” because he heads the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

“We demand that you retract your statement and issue an apology,” they wrote.

The human rights talks, held at various locations in Washington last week, focused on issues that both countries are dealing with, Posner told a press briefing on Friday.

Asked by a reporter if the Arizona law came up in the discussions, Posner said it did--and it was U.S. officials, not the Chinese, who brought it up.

"We brought it up early and often," Posner told reporters last Friday. "It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society," Posner said. The Chinese did not raise any concerns about Chinese people visiting Arizona, Posner added.

During the press briefing, Posner explained that "part of a mature relationship is that you have an open discussion where you not only raise the other guy’s problems, but you raise your own, and you have a discussion about it. We did plenty of that. We had experts from the U.S. side, for example, yesterday, talking about treatment of Muslim Americans in an immigration context. We had a discussion of racial discrimination. We had a back-and-forth about how each of our societies are dealing with those sorts of questions."

Posner characterized the discussions as a give-and-take: "I think the tone of the discussions was very much not 'We’ve got all the answers; we’re telling the Chinese how to behave.' It was framed in an international context, international standards. We’re both obligated. And let’s talk about things that we’re both dealing with, and try to figure out--can we help each other? And where we have differences, how do we mitigate those differences?"

In their letter, Kyl and McCain told Posner that according to the State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report, “China remains one of the worst human rights offenders and its reocd is only worsening”

They added: “Your bureaus’s report details how democracy activists, religious groups, journalists and human rights advocates in China continue to be ‘targeted for arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment.’

The senators quoted directly from the State Department report, citing brutal tactics “the Chinese regime uses to suppress these peaceful groups”—including unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces, and the use of electric shocks, beatings, shackles and other forms of abuse,’ and ‘arbitrary arrest.