Iran General NewsIran biggest Mideast challenge for Obama - W.House

Iran biggest Mideast challenge for Obama – W.House

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ImageReuters: President-elect Barack Obama should seek tougher sanctions against Iran, which will be his biggest Middle East challenge, outgoing White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on Wednesday.

By Tabassum Zakaria

ImageWASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) – President-elect Barack Obama should seek tougher sanctions against Iran, which will be his biggest Middle East challenge, outgoing White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on Wednesday.

In a speech to be delivered at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hadley also said the outgoing Bush administration had laid the groundwork for progress toward Palestinian-Israeli peace, despite the fighting in Gaza.

"For the next administration, the biggest challenge in this region is Iran," Hadley said in prepared remarks looking back on eight years of President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

"Negotiations with Iran, as some have proposed, without leverage on Iran will not produce a change in Iranian behavior or advance U.S. interests," he said.

Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he may be willing to reverse Bush's policy by offering direct talks with Iran. He would offer economic incentives for Tehran to stop its nuclear program but has also warned that sanctions could be toughened if Iran refused.

"We are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or the easy way," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" in December.

Hadley said Bush was leaving Obama "with significantly increased leverage on Iran. The issue is how the new team will use this leverage to produce a different Iranian policy on its nuclear program, terrorism and Middle East peace."

Under Bush, the United States has tried to impose tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran to stop its nuclear program which the West believes is for producing weapons. Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes.

"Working with our European partners, the next administration should be able to enforce tougher sanctions on Iran," Hadley said.

The White House has accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza and which the United States views as a terrorist organization.

Israel has been pounding Hamas for almost two weeks to suppress rocket fire against its citizens.

Hadley said there was still hope for peace. "Despite the violence in Gaza, there is the prospect of a freer and more hopeful future for the region," Hadley said.

"Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest opportunity for the new administration may be Middle East peace," Hadley said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)

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