Iraq Report's Push for Middle East Talks Draws Fire The Iraq Study Group is recommending that the Bush administration launch a diplomatic offensive in the Middle East that would encompass both Iraq's neighbors and the larger issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It's a suggestion that many are ready to reject.
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Iraq Report's Push for Middle East Talks Draws Fire

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Iraq Report's Push for Middle East Talks Draws Fire

Iraq Report's Push for Middle East Talks Draws Fire

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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More reaction to the Iraq Study Group. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said he disagrees with the group's connection between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the situation in Iraq. He added he had no indication from President Bush during his recent trip to Washington that the U.S. was planning to push for direct talks between Israel and its neighbors.

The report calls for a broader look at the Middle East and a renewed commitment to the Arab-Israeli peacemaking. It also recommends that the Bush administration launch a diplomatic offensive - reach out to Iraq's neighbors.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the State Department is promising only to consider the recommendations.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Democratic co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, Lee Hamilton, was blunt about it. He said the U.S. can't make progress in Iraq without talking to Iraq's influential neighbors. That would mean a marked departure for the Bush administration to talk to adversaries, including Syria and Iran.

Mr. LEE HAMILTON (Co-chair, Iraq Study Group): You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with. Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else. And this diplomatic initiative that we have put forward recognizes that.

KELEMEN: Former Secretary of State James Baker took that analysis further, pointing out that the U.S. needs allies in the region. And to get them, Washington has to show it's trying to resolve what many consider the core issue in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mr. JAMES BAKER (Co-chair, Iraq Study Group): Given the central importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict to many countries both in and out of the region, the United States must again initiate active negotiations to achieve a stable Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts.

KELEMEN: That is Lebanon, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian front. This aspect of the report has already sparked some debate. Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process a stretch.

Mr. ROBERT SATLOFF (Executive Director, Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Regrettably, the Middle East is not a system where the road to Baghdad passes through Tehran or Damascus or Jerusalem or Gaza. The road to Baghdad goes to Baghdad.

KELEMEN: Satloff also questioned the suggestion in the report that there should be a conference along the lines of Madrid in 1991 to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and also between Israel and Syria.

Another Middle East expert, William Quandt, who was consulted by the Iraq Study Group, says there's a reason the report recommended this.

Professor WILLIAM QUANDT (Political Science, University of Virginia) Baker's fingerprints are visible in calling for the pro-diplomatic efforts. He's Mr. diplomacy. You know, talk to Iran, talk to Egypt, talk to Syria, talk to Saudi Arabia. And put the Arab-Israeli issue into the mix.

KELEMEN: It was Baker, when he was secretary of state, who organized the Madrid conference to promote the Arab-Israeli peace process after the Persian Gulf War. The Iraq report he co-authored said it is again time for a bold approach to the region. The State Department spokesman had little to say about the report yesterday, only that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will consider the recommendations. Sean McCormack added that Rice is already active in diplomacy in the Middle East.

But Quandt, a professor at the University of Virginia, says diplomacy has been a missing ingredient in the Bush administration.

Mr. QUANDT: They've devalued diplomacy. If we're going to try new diplomatic initiatives, let's cast as wide a net as possible. You never know quite what will come of it.

KELEMEN: Quandt says it's unclear whether President Bush will buy into this idea of approaching the region through a different lens, but it is a message Mr. Bush has expected to hear again today when British Prime Minister Tony Blair goes to the White House.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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