Democrats welcome 'check' on White House Iran policy
Elana Schor – The Guardian December 3, 2007
Democrats on Capitol Hill welcomed today's new US intelligence estimate on Iran as a valuable check on White House tough talk, urging George Bush to pursue diplomatic channels with Tehran.
The party's presidential candidates also used the estimate, which concluded that Iran ceased developing nuclear weapons in 2003, to fuel their simmering debate over a vote earlier this year that linked the US presence in Iraq to Iran.
"I hope this administration reads this report carefully and appropriately adjusts its rhetoric and policy vis-à-vis Iran," said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
Reid urged Bush to take a cue from Ronald Reagan and sit down for talks with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite the enmity between the two men.
Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, one of the Democrats' strongest critics of the Iraq war, advised both the Bush administration officials and lawmakers to "take a deep breath and reconsider" moves toward military action against Iran.
"Iran's nuclear program remains a serious concern but it is clear from the [intelligence estimate] that vigorous and coordinated diplomacy is the right way to approach it," Feingold said.
The spectre of war with Tehran has trailed Democratic presidential candidates throughout the campaign, particularly New York senator Hillary Clinton. The former first lady's foes have criticised her for backing a September resolution that linked the US military presence in Iraq to the behaviour of Iran, creating what liberals considered a new justification for war.
The September resolution, called "Kyl-Lieberman" after its two Senate sponsors, stated "it is a vital national interest of the US" to prevent Iran from gaining influence through Shia militia in Iraq, also urging the Bush administration to designate Iran's revolutionary guard corps a terrorist organisation. Clinton was the only Democratic presidential candidate to support it.
Her White House rivals were back on the case following the report's publication. John Edwards said the new Iran intelligence estimate underscores the need to "avoid radical steps" such as the September resolution, while Connecticut senator Chris Dodd took a more oblique shot by decrying "reckless talk by the administration and reckless votes by some members of Congress."
Lee Feinstein, the Clinton campaign's national security director, issued a statement contending that the new intelligence estimate ratifies her preferred approach to Iran.
"Neither sabre-rattling nor unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad will stop Iran's nuclear ambitions," Feinstein said. "Senator Clinton has the strength and experience to conduct the kind of vigorous diplomacy needed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons." Clinton's chief rival, Barack Obama, has said if he were elected, he would meet with Ahmadinejad without setting pre-conditions.
Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, praised US spy agencies for releasing an estimate that conflicts with 2005 findings on the Iranian nuclear programme.
"The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle," Rockefeller said. "It has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials."
Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the intelligence committee, was one of a few in his party to make public comment on the estimate. Bond offered only guarded optimism, warning that the "Iran problem" remained unsolved.
"At first blush, this looks like a good news story," Bond said in a statement. "Good because the intelligence community was willing to reconsider an important intelligence judgment. More importantly, it's good news that Iran doesn't appear to be currently working on a bomb."
Five Democratic senators requested the new intelligence estimate in May 2006 and followed up by requiring it in a law passed several months later. Although the director of national intelligence had signalled a break with usual practice in releasing the estimate publicly, Congress already had called for a declassified report.
Last updated 05/12/2007