Iran General NewsBush adviser: Iran, Pakistan key Obama challenges

Bush adviser: Iran, Pakistan key Obama challenges

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ImageAP: President George W. Bush's national security adviser said Tuesday that Iran is the biggest challenge President-elect Barack Obama will face in the Middle East and that more sanctions will be needed to force Tehran to forgo its nuclear ambitions and support for extremists.

The Associated Press

By DEB RIECHMANN and LOLITA C. BALDOR

ImageWASHINGTON (AP) — President George W. Bush's national security adviser said Tuesday that Iran is the biggest challenge President-elect Barack Obama will face in the Middle East and that more sanctions will be needed to force Tehran to forgo its nuclear ambitions and support for extremists.

Outside the Mideast, the next administration's top priority should be stabilizing an increasingly volatile Pakistan, said Stephen Hadley, who has been a senior foreign policy adviser for the Bush administration for eight years.

In a nearly hour-long interview in his West Wing office with The Associated Press, Hadley said the Bush administration has been trying to "shore up and store up leverage" on Iran to bequeath to the Obama administration. Obama's challenge, he said, will be to use those sanctions to pressure Iran to change its behavior.

Saying that European officials have pointed to Tehran's dependence on gasoline imports and its need for additional refining equipment, Hadley added that "one of the questions is whether these kinds of vulnerabilities provide a potential source of leverage, and this is the kind of dialogue that we will continue to have with the Europeans."

While the Middle East presents challenges, he said Obama also may find his biggest foreign policy opportunity there, in the form of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. That's a lofty goal considering the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Last month, Obama suggested that a combination of economic incentives and tighter sanctions might persuade the Iranian government to change its behavior and alter its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies believe that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities and has demanded it suspend its enrichment program. Tehran insists it is interested only in nuclear power generation.

Iran, however, has rejected the carrot-and-stick approach as unacceptable and insists it has the right to continue with its nuclear program.

Hadley would not offer advice on whether the incoming administration should increase dialogue with Iran. But, he said, the U.S. "would be foolish to talk without leverage, because talking and negotiating without leverage won't get you a deal that will advance your interests."

Hadley also is urging the new administration to build on the work the Bush administration has done toward forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He outlined those thoughts in the interview as well as in a speech prepared for delivery Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"I hope the new team will not feel compelled to reinvent the wheel," Hadley said in his prepared remarks.

As the U.S. and its allies push for a cease-fire agreement in Gaza, Hadley said it is not clear whether it will be a single document or a series of understandings that can be phased in.

"What we'd prefer is durable and would be respected," he said. "Now there are a lot of ways to get there. It depends on what the parties are willing to accept and what the parties are willing to step up to."

Much will depend, he said, on what other allies, such as Egypt, are willing to do.

Asked whether Egypt has done enough to stop the smuggling of weapons through tunnels into Gaza, Hadley wouldn't point fingers.

"Preventing them is very hard because Hamas clearly wants them and countries like Iran and Syria clearly want to supply them," he said. "It is a difficult task."

In addition, he said that more work needs to be done to interdict the weapons between the source and the tunnels that lead to Gaza. The U.S., he said, might be able to help by increasing its efforts to share intelligence. Still, he acknowledged that Hamas will stop its rocket attacks into Israel only if it serves the interests of the militant group, "if they understand that if they don't, they'll pay a heavy price."

"And that's the kind of deterrence that Israel is trying to establish," Hadley said.

"But it also means it has to be a situation where Hamas will pay a political price, in terms of its standing in the Arab world and with its own people, if it once again starts launching missiles and therefore, once again, provokes the kind of retaliation or response" from Israel, Hadley said.

On Pakistan, Hadley said the U.S. needs to continue to provide equipment, training and greater intelligence to the security forces there so they can better police the mountainous border, where insurgents cross into Afghanistan.

Asked about potential terrorist ties among Pakistan's military-controlled spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Hadley would only say that it is "an issue that has been raised with the government of Pakistan. It is an issue that they are going to have to deal with."

India has charged that Pakistani authorities must have had a hand in the deadly Mumbai siege in November, but has stopped short of accusing Islamabad of directly aiding the gunmen.

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