Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Senator Specter on Engaging Iran and Parliamentary Exchanges

On August 1, 2007, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) delivered a lengthy statement on the Senate floor regarding US policy in Iraq, including his view that the US should engage both Iran and Syria. His remarks included discussion of his support for two amendments to HR 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (debate on the bill was suspended in the Senate in July). The two amendments in question are S.Amdt. 2208, introduced by Senators Warner (R-VA) and Lugar (R-IN), and S.Amdt. 2063, introduced by Senators Salazar (D-CO) and Alexander (R-TN).

Senator Specter stated:

“…Both the Warner-Lugar and Salazar-Alexander proposals address the issue of diplomacy in the region. I have consistently urged the administration to work with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in order to develop cooperative stabilization efforts. To that end, I have met with President Bashar Assad of Syria. I have met with Iran's Ambassadors to the United Nations, Seyed Muhammed Hadi Nejad Hosseinian and Muhammad Javad Zarif, on four occasions in New York and Washington, DC. Additionally, I was the only Member of Congress to attend the September 2006 address by former President Khatami at the National Cathedral. [Ed. Note: This is an untrue statement. I personally spoke with Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) at the National Cathedral event.]

“During my meetings with Iranian officials, I developed a proposal for an exchange of visits by Members of Congress to Iran and Iranian parliamentarians to the United States to try to open dialogue between our two countries. In January 2004, my efforts to foster such a dialogue were successful. There was a tentative agreement for U.S. Members of Congress to meet with Iranian parliamentarians in Geneva. Regrettably, this parliamentary exchange never came to fruition.

“In an effort to jumpstart this exchange, on May 3, 2007, I sent a letter, with support from Senators Biden, Hagel and Dodd and Representatives Lantos, English, Moran, Gilchrest and Meeks, to the Speaker of Iran's Parliament suggesting we convene a meeting of U.S. and Iranian parliamentarians.

“I have amplified my strong belief that dialogue with nations such as Iran and Syria is necessary in an extensive Senate speech on June 16, 2006 and most recently in an essay 'Dialogue With Adversaries' published in the winter edition of The Washington Quarterly. While we can't be sure that dialogue will succeed, we can be sure that without dialogue there will be failure.

“I am not alone in calling for enhanced dialogue with U.S. adversaries. Of the many suggestions gleaned from the Baker-Hamilton commission, one passage crystallizes their conclusion: ‘Our most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly. We believe that these two recommendations are equally important and reinforce one another.’

“However, the President's plan places a disproportionate emphasis on military force while neglecting the needed diplomacy and political efforts.

“Having served in the Senate for 26 years, holding the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee and senior positions on the Appropriations subcommittees on Defense and Foreign Operations, I am aware of what challenges nations like Iran and Syria pose to the United States. A world in which Iran seeks nuclear weapons and supports terrorist groups such as Hezbollah is not a safe world. A world in which Syria provides refuge for Hamas and Hezbollah and permits its territory to be used as a conduit for terrorism is counterproductive to peace and stability. I expressed my views on the danger the connectivity between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah poses to peace and security in an August 2, 2006, floor statement.

“Today, however, Americans are not dying from nuclear weapons or from direct attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. Many are dying policing a civil conflict.

“President Assad, during our December 2006 meeting in Damascus, suggested that a conference with regional players and the United States would be beneficial to addressing the issues confronting Iraq. On January 22, 2007, I conveyed this proposal and my support for it to Secretary Rice in a meeting in her office at the State Department. One month later, on February 27, 2007, during her testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary Rice announced such a proposal…

“Very little has happened to effectuate that ‘new diplomatic initiative.’ The Iraq Study Group clearly states: ‘Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively.’

“It would have been my hope that these types of meetings would have occurred frequently in the intervening months. However, I am pleased that the President has recently indicated a commitment to ramp up diplomatic efforts in the region.”

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