Monday, December 10, 2007

Dem Prez Candidates on Iran … Again

Last week’s NPR-sponsored Democratic presidential debate in Iowa was initially dominated by all things Iran: the recently released NIE, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Iranian involvement in Iraq, etc. (Some might recall that last month’s MSNBC-sponsored debate also was dominated by the topic of Iran.) It then turned to foreign policy doctrines, China, safety standards for toys, China again, and immigration. The full transcript can be found here.

Although chalked full of interesting moments, one highlight came in the spat between NPR moderators Robert Siegel and John Inskeep and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, with former Sen. John Edwards thrown in for good measure. After noting “there's no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” Kucinich took exception to Edwards’s claim that “everyone at the table would acknowledge that Iran represents a serious issue for the Middle East and for us.” He then reinforced the point that he, and he alone, has opposed every piece of legislation ever … that said all options are on the table and that Iran had nuclear weapons programs.

Provided below are some key portions of the debate as they regard to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation. Key points are bolded.

ROBERT SIEGEL: … The new National Intelligence Estimate contains a major change. It says that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. Today President Bush said that nothing's changed in light of the report. He said the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, doesn't do anything to change his opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world.

For all of you — and let's go left to right across the radio dial — do you agree with the president's assessment that Iran still poses a threat? And do you agree that the NIE's news shows that isolation and sanctions work?

Senator Clinton.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I'm relieved that the intelligence community has reached this conclusion, but I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing's changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change.

I have for two years advocated diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I think that's what the president should do. He should seize this opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy, using both carrots and sticks. I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we're not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.


MR. MIKE GRAVEL: Iran's not a problem, never has been, never will be.

What you're seeing right here is something very unique, very courageous. What the intelligence community has done is drop-kicked the president of the United States. These are people of courage that have watched what the president is doing, onrush to war with Iran.

And so by releasing this information, which is diametrically opposed to the estimate that was given in '05 by showing that there is no information to warrant what the White House has been doing, they have now boxed in the president in his ability to go to war. So, my hat is off to these courageous people within the bureaucrats — bureaucracy of the intelligence community.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think Iran continues to be a threat to some of its neighbors in the region, so they're still funding Hamas, they're still funding Hezbollah, and those are things we have to be concerned about. But it is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology. And that's been the problem with their foreign policy generally. They should have stopped the saber-rattling, should have never started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.

I have said consistently since the beginning of this campaign that it is important for the president to lead diplomatic efforts, to try to offer to Iran the prospect of joining the World Trade Organization, potential normalized relations over time, in exchange for changes in behavior. That's something that has to be pursued.


SEN. CHRIS DODD: Well, again, this is 16 agencies that have drawn this conclusion, it wasn't just one. So it's a very compelling case that's been made here for exercising caution and pursuing what I've advocated, and others have as well, and that is, pursuing as much of a diplomatic solution to the problems that Iran poses. And there are some. It would be foolish to say otherwise here.

But the important point is we can't do this unilaterally. And that's one of the dangers here. If we really try to impose sanctions by ourselves or other such efforts here, they will fail. It's very important to understand the linkage, obviously, not only between Iran, but Iraq and Iran, and our ability to build this kind of international support for efforts to convince Iran on a variety of issues to move in a different direction is being seriously compromised by our continued military presence in Iraq.

So there needs to be not only understanding what's written in this report, but simultaneously understanding that that more multilateral approach is going to be hobbled and difficult as long as we find ourselves bogged down in the Iraq situation.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: With all due respect with anybody who thinks that pressure brought this about, let's get this straight. In 2003, they stopped their program.

You cannot trust this president. He is not trustworthy. He has undermined our security in the region. He has undermined our credibility in the world. He has made it more difficult to get cooperation from the rest of the world. He has caused oil to go up roughly $25 a barrel with a security premium because of his threat of war.

It is outrageous, intolerable, and it must stop. The president of the United States — it was like watching a rerun of his statement on Iraq five years earlier. This — Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly with the rest of the world at our side, but we've made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us? Who in Europe, who in China, who in Russia? It's outrageous.

MR. JOHN EDWARDS: … What — what I believe is that this president, who just a few weeks ago was talking about World War III, he, the vice president, the neocons have been on a march to possible war with Iran for a long time. We know that they've prepared contingency plans for a military attack. My view is that the — this has been going on since the famous "Axis of Evil" speech, and the United States Senate had an important responsibility in standing up to him and stopping him on the vote on whether to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. The president says we're in a global war on terror, and then he declares the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and also a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. It's absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq, where they were headed — and there's a different approach, a smart approach using our friends in Europe and the European banking system to deal with this.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Just as five years ago I warned that there was no evidence that would merit war against Iraq and warned this country not to do it, so for the past few years I've been saying that there's no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. And unfortunately, the president, just as he was able to convince some of my colleagues here to vote for the war against Iraq, despite the fact there wasn't any real evidence, so he has been able to get some of my colleagues here — Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards — to say of Iran "all options are on the table." As a matter of fact, he's still saying that. So we really need to switch to not just diplomacy, but my candidacy offers the American people someone for president who was right the first time.


STEVE INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, as some of your opponents have noted, in September you voted on a resolution involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which, among other things, called them proliferators of mass destruction. In view of this latest intelligence estimate, which says Iran's nuclear program was stopped in 2003, do you believe that's still true?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, there were other purposes for that resolution. It does label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, and there is evidence that they do support Hamas and Hezbollah, as Senator Obama just said, and in addition have, until recently, been supplying weapons and technical advisers to various factions within Iraq.

Since that resolution passed — which was non-binding and did not in any way authorize the president to take any action that would lead to war — our commanders on the ground in Iraq have announced that we've seen some progress from the Iranians backing off, no longer sending in weapons and materiel, and beginning to withdraw their technical advisers.

INSKEEP: Forgive me, are the Revolutionary Guards proliferators of mass destruction?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, many of us believe that. You know, earlier this year, Senator Edwards told an audience in Israel that the nuclear threat from Iran was the greatest threat to our generation. Back in 2004, Senator Obama told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board that he would even consider nuke — surgical strikes by missiles to take out Iran's nuclear capacity. So there was a very broadly based belief that they were pursuing a nuclear weapon.

INSKEEP: Let's hear from people you've just mentioned. Senator Edwards, do you remember saying that?

MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Senator Clinton and I just have an honest disagreement about this, but a very strong disagreement. I think it's very clear that Bush and Cheney have been rattling the saber about Iran for a very long time, and I said very clearly when this vote took place on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that it was important for us to stand up to them.

INSKEEP: But your remarks in Israel that Senator — that Senator —

MR. EDWARDS: Well, everyone — everyone at the table would acknowledge that Iran represents a serious issue for the Middle East and for us

REP. KUCINICH: No, I do not acknowledge

INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich does not, but —

MR. EDWARDS: Let me finish, if I can.

REP. KUCINICH: Let me characterize my own remarks.

MR. EDWARDS: If I can just finish, Dennis, for just a second.

But I do want it to be clear that, especially on an issue as big as Iran, it's very important for voters in Iowa — caucus-goers in Iowa and New Hampshire voters — to understand the differences. And I do believe very strongly that it was important for us to stand up because what Bush and Cheney did after the vote in the Senate is they declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.


SEN. OBAMA: Well, Senator Clinton's mention of the Chicago Tribune article back in 2004, I think, is a little bit misleading. Because what I was specifically asked about was if Iran was developing nuclear weapons, how could we respond? And in those situations, what I said is we should keep options on the table. But what I've been consistent about was that this saber-rattling was a repetition of Iraq, a war I opposed, and that we needed to oppose George Bush again. We can't keep on giving him the benefit of the doubt, knowing the ways in which they manipulate intelligence.


SIEGEL: … A moment ago when Congressman Kucinich objected to or interrupted the statement from Senator Edwards that everybody agrees Iran is a threat, you say, Congressman Kucinich, I misinterpreted your earlier remarks that Iran is not a threat.

REP. KUCINICH: All I did was raise my hand. I wanted a chance to respond.


REP. KUCINICH: … The point that Senator Clinton made was a valid point with respect to the comments of Senator Obama and also the comments of Senator Edwards at the Herzliya conference. See, when people say all options are on the table, as the three senators have, they actually encouraged President Bush and licensed his rhetoric. And what I'm saying is that I'm the only one here who in Congress repeatedly challenge, in every chance and every legislation, repeatedly challenge this mind-set that said all options are on the table and that Iran had nuclear weapons programs.

SIEGEL: OK. Cleared up.

REP. KUCINICH: I'm the only one who can make that claim.

SIEGEL: Clarified.

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