Iraq Recommendations: Diplomacy with Iran, Syria
MIKE PESCA, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Alex Chadwick is away. I'm Mike Pesca.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, why JCPenney is on the rise and Wal-Mart is lagging behind after a weekend of intense holiday shopping.
PESCA: But first, our lead today is the Iraq Study Group and new details emerging about its recommended strategy. There are diplomatic initiatives and a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
The ten member panel is meeting in Washington today. You could say there's a palpable sense of anticipation about the group's final report, which is expected in December. The recommendations will likely have a big impact, if not be the driving force behind the future of the United States' involvement in Iraq.
David Sanger of the New York Times has been hearing exclusive whispers about what the study group will be discussing this week. He joins us now from our Washington studios. Welcome to the program, David.
Mr. DAVID SANGER (New York Times): Thank you, Mike.
PESCA: How big is this report? Is this 9/11 Commission big?
Mr. SANGER: Oh, it's big. But it's big because unlike most government reports in Washington, which look backward to try to figure out what went wrong, as the 9/11 Commission did, or as the space shuttle commissions did, this one is supposed to look forward and say, OK, forget how we got into this; how do we get out?
And at this point after the elections, which freed up the Republicans who had been sticking with President Bush on the Iraq strategy to now begin to separate themselves, this commission may give some political cover to those within the Republican Party, as well as those Democrats, who believe that the Bush administration has been on an unsustainable path here and does not have an exit strategy.
PESCA: Well, what are you hearing about what's left to be discussed among the five Republicans and five Democrats on the panel?
Mr. SANGER: This report will be divided into fundamentally two different sections. One part is a diplomatic strategy. And there is fairly broad agreement that the United States needs a much broader, more aggressive regional strategy to make sure that Iraq's neighbors are in on Iraq's future here and have a stake in making sure that the country is stabilized.
So far, of course, they have hung back. And the part the administration won't like is that it appears that the commission is coming down on the side of direct dealings at a very intense level with both Iran and Syria.
Now, whether or not Iran and Syria want to deal with us on this, that's another question which we can take up later.
PESCA: If I could ask, how can the U.S. expect to engage Iran on the subject of solving Iraq, when we can't even engage Iran on Iran?
Mr. SANGER: Well, that's the interesting question here, because the Iranians could be expected to say first and foremost, that's fine, we're happy to talk to you about Iraq as soon as you stop this whole effort to get us to suspend our uranium enrichment. Leave our nuclear program alone. We're willing to talk to you, is what you could expect them to say.
The administration would like to get to the point where it's in the Iranian's interest and the Syrian's interest not to have chaos going on on their borders, chaos that they may not be able to control.
But the big debate, Mike, in the commission isn't actually over the diplomatic strategy, complex as that is. It's about the military strategy. Right now the draft report is very unclear, very vague, on the question of under what circumstances should we begin to withdraw.
There is a group within the commission, there are a lot of people outside the commission, who want this commission to move to a timetable-based approach that says, look, we're going to go in, we're going to try one last shot at training the Iraqi troops, and then we're leaving within a year or so.
By leaving we seem to mean, or they seem to mean, about half of the U.S. force.
PESCA: So from about 150,000 troops to 70,000 or 80,000 U.S. troops?
Mr. SANGER: Right.
PESCA: And from what you're hearing, is the division on the panel breaking down along partisan lines?
Mr. SANGER: You know, it's hard to tell right now. One would expect that generally it would, but there may be exceptions on both sides to that. And that's what we're going to learn in the next couple of days as this group meets here in Washington and tries to sort out the last elements of this report.
PESCA: David Sanger is the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times. David, thanks a lot for joining us on DAY TO DAY.
Mr. SANGER: Thank you.