Senators Urge Effort to Engage Iran
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Lawmakers did express many concerns about Iraq and Iran, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: As the first U.S. ambassador to post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and the first director of national intelligence, John Negroponte faced many questions yesterday about where the U.S. is heading on Iran. He repeated several times to skeptical senators that the U.S. wants a peaceful solution to its problems with Iran.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: I would characterize our policy as desirous of resolving any issues we have with Iran by peaceful means. But at the same time we don't believe that their behavior, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged. So it's a balance, if you will.
KELEMEN: But several members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the Bush administration on balance has had a tendency to focus on military solutions, not diplomacy. Illinois Democrat Barack Obama said he understands the need to deal with Iranians who might be putting U.S. troops at risk in Iraq, but he warned Negroponte to think through the consequences of U.S. action.
BARACK OBAMA, Host:
What I think many of us are concerned about is that we stumble into active hostilities with Iran without having aggressively pursued diplomatic approaches, without the American people understanding exactly what's taking place.
KELEMEN: Obama vowed to stay on top of this.
OBAMA: This committee is going to be paying attention and we do not want to see precipitous actions that have not been thought through, have not been discussed, have not been authorized.
KELEMEN: When newcomer to the committee Virginia Democrat Jim Webb picked up on this theme of congressional authorization, Webb told Negroponte that he's still waiting for a yes or no answer to a question he posed to Secretary Rice.
JIM WEBB: I asked, is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran in the absence of a direct threat without congressional approval.
KELEMEN: But the Bush administration isn't talking to Iran about the situation in Iraq nor is it talking to Syria at a high level. Negroponte endorsed that policy, albeit in a mild way. Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel tore into the strategy both at the Negroponte hearing and later at a hearing with members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
CHUCK HAGEL: I find it all incomprehensible when you talk about Iraq and Iran and America's policy that we won't talk with them, we won't engage them; when in fact our allies, the sovereign government of Iraq, is engaging the Iranians.
KELEMEN: Republican co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, James Baker, defended Secretary Rice on some points, saying she did just go to the Middle East and is working to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process, another recommendation by the Iraq Study Group. But Baker still has major differences with his former protÃÂ©gÃÂ©.
JAMES BAKER: Where I think we're really missing the boat is Syria. I think we have tremendous opportunity here to perhaps move them away from a marriage of convenience with Iran.
KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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