Foreign Relations Panel Hears from Rice on Iran
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And joining us now from Capitol Hill is Representative Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who's now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And Congressman Lantos, do you expect a showdown with Iran this year, say?
Representative TOM LANTOS (Democrat, California): No I do not. I anticipate that Iran will be a very high priority for the United States, both for the executive branch and for Congress, but I very much doubt that we are likely to see military action.
SIEGEL: You're not concerned about the possibility that widening the conflict might be an option under consideration right now?
Rep. LANTOS: Well, mind reading has never been my specialty. I'm a professional economist, and I deal with reality rather than mind reading. I think it's important for us to recognize that Iran is a growing force in the region. We have done Iran an enormous favor by removing the Taliban in Afghanistan and removing Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, and, quite clearly, it's obvious that Iran feels very, very powerful and even cocky, and its relationship with the U.N. Security Council is a rather good case study of how cocky Iran feels.
SIEGEL: But how does one reconcile the following aims in dealing with Iran, which I've heard you express in the past couple of days. Number one, have much tougher sanctions. Iran, you would say, cut out the Kabuki dance that passes for negotiation or discussions of the nuclear program, but at the same time talk to Iran, have real diplomacy with Iran. What's going to be the subject of that diplomacy if everything we have to say to them is stop the nuclear program?
Rep. LANTOS: Well, I am deeply of the opinion that a dialogue is very much in our interest, and I totally disagree with the administration, which wants to establish preconditions for a dialogue.
SIEGEL: What would be a constructive dialogue that might reassure both countries that a war is not in the offing?
Rep. LANTOS: Well, look. The bulk of the Persian people, on the basis of all the evidence we have, are friendly towards the United States. They would like to see a dialogue. We certainly have nothing to be afraid of in advocating a dialogue.
I think it is useful for members of Congress, if the administration is unprepared, to go to Tehran, sit down with the complex leadership of Iran, to indicate that we are more than ready to assist Iran in developing nuclear energy, as long as enrichment and reprocessing is done elsewhere. That would enable them to have nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes, and it would give us the assurance that they are not developing nuclear weapons.
SIEGEL: If, in fact, as you've said, you don't expect a U.S.-Iranian military showdown, why do you think the U.S. is dispatching Patriot missile batteries and a carrier group to the region if not to at least send a message to Iran?
Rep. LANTOS: Well, I think sending a message may not be so bad. Sending a message may, in fact, be a very useful device. It is important for the regime in Tehran to understand that the United States has many options. I very much hope that the diplomatic, peaceful, constructive option is the one that the Iranians will react to.
SIEGEL: But does the dispatch of those forces to the region say to the Iranians: If you don't choose the diplomatic course, if you don't decide to pursue a peaceful relationship with the U.S. and come clean on the nuclear program, that's the option? It's the aircraft carrier group that's sitting out there.
Rep. LANTOS: Well, U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups have done a great deal of good globally for many decades, and it is my hope that we will not need to utilize them, but saner counsels will prevail.
SIEGEL: Representative Lantos, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Rep. LANTOS: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, who is the chairman of the newly renamed House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
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