Reuters: Iran’s support for anti-U.S. extremists in Iraq should not go unchallenged, despite U.S. hopes of avoiding confrontation with Tehran, President George W. Bush’s pick for deputy secretary of state said on Tuesday. By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran’s support for anti-U.S. extremists in Iraq should not go unchallenged, despite U.S. hopes of avoiding confrontation with Tehran, President George W. Bush’s pick for deputy secretary of state said on Tuesday.
John Negroponte, the U.S. intelligence chief who was Bush first ambassador to post-war Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that an emboldened Iran presented new difficulties for U.S. interests in Iraq, the Gulf region, Lebanon and in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
“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,” Negroponte said at his Senate confirmation hearing.
“If they feel that they can continue with this kind of activity with impunity, that will be harmful to the security of Iraq and to our interests in that country,” he added.
Democrats at the hearing warned the Bush administration to avoid war with Iran.
U.S. officials charge that Iran is providing Shi’ites with high-grade explosives capable of tearing through the armor on military vehicles.
Negroponte has a 40-year career as an American diplomat and has been through seven previous confirmation hearings.
He is viewed as a diplomatic heavyweight capable of helping the Bush administration implement its new strategy for Iraq and dealing with other foreign policy crises, from Iran to North Korea. The deputy secretary of state job has been open since Robert Zoellick left to join Goldman Sachs last July.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised Negroponte’s record at the hearing. The panel’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, predicted its members would vote quickly to recommend his confirmation by the full Senate.
Negroponte’s remarks on Iran come at time when two U.S. aircraft carriers have been stationed in the Gulf as a warning to Iran. Tough talk from Bush and other U.S. officials has stirred speculation of a possible military strike.
Democratic lawmakers complained that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ignored the question of whether the administration believes it has the authority to strike without congressional approval.
“This committee’s 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,” Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, told Negroponte.
Biden accused Negroponte of offering misleading remarks when the nominee suggested U.S. and European officials were unified in opposing talks with Iran until Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment program.
The West describes the program as an effort to develop nuclear arms, but Tehran insists it is aimed solely at electricity generation.
“Our European friends, as I talk to them, think we should be having dialogue separate and apart. So it’s misleading to suggest that there is a unilateral view,” Biden said.
Negroponte said he believed Iraq could still emerge as a viable democracy, despite spiraling sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
“I believed and still believe that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for Iraqis, for our friends in the region and for the United States,” he said.
But repeatedly pressed on the possible advantage of engaging Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq, Negroponte reiterated the administration position that Iran must first suspend its nuclear program and Syria crack down on extremists entering the country.
“They know what they need to do,” Negroponte said.