Question #35The Iranian threat (Part II)
Are you concerned that the unfolding situation in Iraq is harming America's ability to grapple with the Iranian threat? What is the best way to manage the two?
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Hillary Clinton: As the outrageous, hateful comments of Iran's President demonstrate, Iran is a threat not just to Israel, but to the entire Middle East and beyond, including the United States. It is a threat because of its nuclear ambitions, and also because it uses its influence and its revenues to support terrorist elements that are destabilizing the entire Middle East. As I have said before, Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.
I believe that the rush to war in Iraq caused the United States to lose focus on defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the broader war on terror. Today, the situation in Iraq has left Iran in a much stronger position in the region.
One of the most important ways we should begin to improve America's ability to deal with this and other threats is to begin the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. That is why I have advocated beginning a phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq within 90 days.
While there may be a need for some small residual force to prevent a resurgent Al Qaeda, we must make clear that the United States seeks no permanent bases or permanent occupation. By beginning the process of withdrawing our troops from Iraq, we will be better positioned to face the threat posed by Iran's regional and nuclear ambitions.
Being able to deal with dangers such as those posed by Iran, means the United States should be prepared to employ a wide range of options, including diplomacy. We must continue to maintain economic pressure on the Iranian regime by effective sanctions.
The initiation of diplomatic discussions with Iran by the Bush Administration is a positive step, since I believe that vigorous diplomatic actions must also be part of our efforts.
Bill Richardson: The Iraq war has greatly strengthened Iran in the region. Saddam's Iraq was the main constraint on Iranian power and Iran now holds great influence with Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Hizbullah. Without a plan to constrain Iran today, thanks to a poorly executed effort in Iraq, Iran has more power and influence in Iraq and in the region than it has enjoyed in decades.
The current Iraq situation strengthens most of America's adversaries in the region and elsewhere, as it ties down our military, consumes our resources, weakens our alliances, and damages our reputation. And, as I have explained elsewhere, we need to get out of Iraq as quickly as we can, so that we can start rebuilding our reputation, redeploy our troops to fight terrorism and restore our capacity to work with and lead other nations.
Also in recent years anti-American and anti-Israeli politicians have come to power in places like Palestine and Iran. This gravely threatens our best friend in the region, Israel. A successful foreign policy will require that we be more attentive than the Bush administration has been to how our efforts can impact the domestic politics of Muslim states. I would re-establish a permanent Middle East special envoy as President.
President Ahmadinejad is a dangerous man with reprehensible views. But his power is constrained, and his popularity is collapsing. While many elements of the regime, including much of the clergy and the President, are fanatics and ideologues, there also are pragmatic and moderate figures in Iran - and much of Iranian society wants Iran to liberalize and to play a more constructive role in the world. We need to stop inadvertently assisting the most hard-line and paranoid elements, and instead start strengthening these moderate forces we can work with.
Ultimately, our challenge is to bring Iran out of the cold and into the community of nations. This will require constant engagement and tough, skillful diplomacy. We have four crucial priorities in our relations with Iran. First, we must prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power. Second, we must steer Iran toward playing a constructive, helpful role in stabilizing Iraq. Third, we must continue to enlist their help in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. And finally, we must get the Iranians to desist from supporting terrorist organizations like Hizbullah and Hamas.
To accomplish these goals, we absolutely must engage in direct talks with Iran. Refusing to negotiate with difficult regimes is not a foreign policy. To talk tough, you need to talk. Iran does not want Iraq to collapse and to see millions of refugees fleeing into Iran and other neighboring countries. Iran wants stability on its borders, and in the past has worked with us in Afghanistan against the Taliban. So there is some common ground, and we need to find it and build upon it.
Preventing Iran from going nuclear, and encouraging them work with us in Iraq and Afghanistan and to desist from supporting terrorists will require strong diplomacy backed up by credible power and clarity of purpose. This sort of engagement, with a stick in one hand and a carrot in the other, is how we got Libya to renounce nukes and terrorism, and this is how we must approach Iran.
We need tough sanctions, while at the same time offering Iran security guarantees and secure access to nuclear fuel if they desist from nuclear enrichment. The Iranians also must know that full diplomatic recognition, better access to international credit and investment, an end to trade sanctions, and acceptance as a legitimate regional power will be contingent upon ending their support for terrorists.
Success in all of these areas will require the cooperation of the international community, above all the Europeans, China, and Russia. If all these parties join us in tough economic sanctions, they will work. If they do not join us, they will not work. There is reason for optimism.
The Iranian economy is fragile and vulnerable, and the regime is increasingly unpopular because of this. With the right combination of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen Iran's moderates, weaken the extremists, and lay the bases for a more constructive relationship in the future.
Barack Obama: I have argued for many months that the time has come to begin a phased redeployment of US forces from Iraq. In a civil war where no military solution exists, this redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve the political settlement between its warring factions that can slow the bloodshed and promote stability. And my plan includes a robust regional diplomatic strategy to help Iraqis forge political compromises.
The redeployment of US troops will enable a more effective use of our resources against other pressing threats that we face. Within Iraq, we should keep a limited number of US troops to continue counter-terrorism strikes, train Iraqi Security Forces, and protect US military and civilians. Within the region, we should maintain a robust force to contain Iraq's sectarian strife, curb a humanitarian catastrophe, and reassure our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East.
The US military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. But a the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq has strengthened Iran's strategic position, reduced US credibility and influence in the region, and placed our ally Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril.
Iran's President Ahmadinejad's regime is a threat to all of us. His words contain a chilling echo of some of the world's most tragic history. Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing his calls for Israel's destruction as mere rhetoric.
The United States must lead the world in working to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy that is a state-sponsor of terrorism.
And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
This includes direct engagement with Iran similar to the meetings we conducted with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War, laying out in clear terms our principles and interests. Tough-minded diplomacy would include imposing stronger sanctions, both through and outside the United Nations.
It would mean harnessing the collective power of Iran's major European trading partners and Gulf state energy suppliers to increase pressure on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. It would mean full implementation of US sanctions laws and promoting divestment strategies to choke off the crucial flow of oil and gas revenue that funds Iran's ambitions.
I've introduced legislation to make it easier for states and cities to divest their pension holdings from companies that build up Iran's energy sector. In sum, we need international sanctions strong enough to have a profound impact on Iran's economy, forcing Iran's leaders to recalculate whether nuclear weapons are indeed in their interests.
As we confront the threat posed by Iran, we need broad international support, enhanced US credibility, and maximum flexibility. A responsible redeployment from Iraq would provide all of these, and significantly strengthen our leverage.