GOP Congressman Calls for Mideast Negotiator

Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) has called on the Bush Administration to send a peace negotiator to the Middle East, saying the United States must lead the way toward resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Leach talks with Alex Chadwick about his strategy for easing tensions in the region.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Joining us is Iowa congressman Jim Leach, he's a Republican and member of the house committee on international relations. Congressman, you've called this quote the most dangerous week in the last generation of American foreign policy, why do you say that?

Representative JIM LEACH (Republican, Iowa; member, House Committee on International Relations): Well we are in the midst of an implosion and explosion in the Middle East and there are two contrasting circumstances. One in Iraq, the sectarian violence between the Sunni and the Shiites is rising, and then in Lebanon and Gaza we have a new coordination or possibly even competition - between Hamas which is led by the Sunni and Hezbollah which is led by the Shiite - in their challenge to Israel. And so we have a situation of increased violence and increased anger. Never in the Middle East has anger orchestrated to the degree it has today.

CHADWICK: You called yesterday for the administration to appoint a peace negotiator. What exactly do you mean and didn't we have years and years of a Middle East peace negotiator working for the American government?

Mr. LEACH: Well we have had such a thing, we've had it under Clinton, we've had it in prior administrations to Clintons. It is self-evident that the Middle East situation will never be stable unless and until there is a Palestinian state established that is credible. It's unlikely to ever occur unless there's some sort of mutual reciprocity of negotiations and any actions that don't focus on the Palestinian issue are actions that are going to be inadequate. And so, we can't continue to let events and momentum, particularly events and momentum by radicals, take hold to such an extent that reasoned people cannot come together to have reasoned settlements.

CHADWICK: Well there has been an election among the Palestinian people. There is at least the rudimentary workings of a, of a government there, whether or not it's bringing about the result that we would desire.

Mr. LEACH: Well it isn't just the, the fact of a government, whether we like it or not. There is no firm order that's established. There's no clear make up of a Palestinian state. And unless these border issues are dealt with, there is no conceivable set of compromises, directly within the region or from parties on the outer edges of the region.

CHADWICK: Are you saying that the United States should put increased pressure on Israel to draw a border and stick to it?

Mr. LEACH: I'm saying the United States and the international community are going to have to come together to work with all parties in the region. What is - is so self-evident again is, the United States is going to back, unequivocally, the sovereignty and viability of the state of Israel. But then the question is, is that state going to be viable unless other states in the region and other parties in the region accept it? And how you get to the acceptance point is going to take some give and take and negotiation. And that negotiation has been lacking. We've missed enormous opportunities in the early and mid 90s when we didn't follow up on - on the Oslo Accord. We missed a possible opportunity in the first weeks of this administration when there was some semblance of negotiations in a little town called Taba. If we'd followed up in timely ways with total support, we might have a different setting. Now with each passing year it gets more and more difficult.

CHADWICK: You used to work for Donald Rumsfeld. You were an assistant to Mr. Rumsfeld when he was a congressman and then when he was an earlier Republican administrations. I'm not sure that your former boss would agree with you. I think the administration's policy is we're doing what we think is best for this country and for developments in the Middle East and we're happy with what we're doing.

Mr. LEACH: Well, there are differences in judgment that occur in all people. I have an enormous amount of respect for the work ethic and the integrity of secretary Rumsfeld. In foreign policy I have my differences and they're well understood, and we agree to disagree.

CHADWICK: Jim Leach is a Republican congressman from Iowa. Mr. Leach, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. LEACH: Thank you Alex.

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CHADWICK: You can follow NPR's coverage of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East by going to NPR.org/mideast.

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CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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