Reuters: Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, who will be the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, set down benchmarks on Monday that he said should be addressed by an influential panel considering the United States’ alternatives in Iraq. WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, who will be the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, set down benchmarks on Monday that he said should be addressed by an influential panel considering the United States’ alternatives in Iraq.
Biden of Delaware issued a statement as the Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, met to decide its recommendations.
Biden said the group must address three central points, including U.S. troop deployments, a political roadmap for Iraq and the need to convene an international conference and engage Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria.
“If the Baker-Hamilton commission addresses these three issues in detail, it can meet Americans’ growing expectations,” Biden said. “If it doesn’t, it risks forgoing the bipartisan support we need for any plan to leave Iraq responsibly, without trading a dictator for chaos.”
The panel has been under pressure to conclude its deliberations since Democrats won control of Congress this month amid calls for a new U.S. policy toward Iraq.
The group is expected to try and produce its report before Congress concludes a “lame duck” session that begins December 4.
The New York Times reported that a draft report prepared for the study group urges direct talks with Iran and Syria, but sets no schedule for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and the group may be split on setting a timetable.
The study group has been circumspect about giving out any information in advance of its report.
“They are not sharing with us what their recommendations may or may not be,” Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in Estonia where President George W. Bush stopped en route to a NATO summit.
“As far as Iran and Syria are concerned, we’ve expressed a number of times that Iran and Syria know the steps they can take to improve the situation in Iraq,” Johndroe said.
Bush will hold talks in Jordan this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on the security situation in Iraq.
Bush is not required to accept the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council are also working on similar studies.
But the panel is likely to command significant influence because of its bipartisan makeup and its co-chairmanship by Baker, a Republican who is very close to Bush’s father and served in the elder Bush’s administration.
Some Baker-Hamilton commission members are considering proposals to withdraw a significant number of U.S. forces from Iraq as quickly as a year from now even if Iraq’s own military is not ready to defend the country, The New York Times said.