Rice: Dialogue with Iran is surrender to blackmail
Recommendations of Baker-Hamilton Report call United States to hold talks with Iran, Syria in order to recruit their help in Iraq. Secretary of state says, 'We aren't prepared to pay price of Tehran, Damascus' help. Iran will want easing up on their nuclear program and Syria will want us to turn blind eye to their involvement in Lebanon'
WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended in a Congress hearing Thursday the Bush administration's opposition to maintaining contacts with Iran and Syria in an effort to recruit their help in Iraq, in opposition to the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Report.
Rice explained that Iranian and Syrian aid in Iraq has a clear price tag that the United States is unwilling to pay.
Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a day after Bush's speech unveiling his strategic change in Iraq, in which he declared a series of moves to be made in an attempt to stabilize the country, and to put an end to the spiraling violence that has taken a high toll on American lives in Iraq.
In the hearing, which was summoned Democratic Senator Joe Biden, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said that the United States needs to hold a dialogue with Tehran and Damascus.
Rice responded that dialogue with Iran and Syria will mean that the United States is succumbing to blackmail. Iran, according to her, will demand in exchange for aiding the US in Iraq that the US lighten up its tough stance on Tehran's nuclear program.
In like kind, Syria, Rice asserted, would demand that they US show more flexibility in its decisive stand against Damascus' involvement in Lebanese affairs, including the international tribunal of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Moderates vs. extremistsRice clarified that in the new Middle East, there is a "new alignment of forces." On one side are "reformers and responsible leaders who seek to advance their interests peacefully, politically and diplomatically," including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, and Iraq.
On the other hand, she said, are "extremists of every sect and ethnicity who use violence to spread chaos, to undermine democratic governments and to impose agendas of hatred and intolerance" such as Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah.
Rice continued, saying that Iran and Syria made the decision to undermine, and not to strengthen stability. As such, Rice claimed, the US must recognize the fact that if Iran and Syria wanted to stabilize the Middle East, they would do so.
"I have a hard time believing that Iran will, on one side, talk to us about stabilizing Iraq and say, 'Oh, by the way, we won't talk about what you're doing in the Security Council to stop our nuclear program; that's not part of the price' -- or that Syria will talk about stabilizing Iraq while they continue to destabilize it and say, 'Oh, we aren't actually interested in talking about the fact that we are irreconciled -- we have not reconciled -- to the loss of our position in Lebanon or to the existence of a tribunal to try those who are responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri,'" said Rice.
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who has presidential aspirations, said to Rice during the hearing that Bush's speech is the worst, and most failed foreign policy since Vietnam. His statements were met with applause from the onlookers, something that is considered inappropriate in a meeting such as this. One of those present took the opportunity and started yelling "stop the war!" He was later removed from the hall by security.