Arlen Specter 'would meet' Ahmadinejad

Republican senator disagrees with the policy of not dealing with Iran.

specter 88 ap (photo credit: )
specter 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania who broke ranks with the Bush Administration and met Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier this week, said Thursday in Jerusalem that he would now like to sit down and talk with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Asked by The Jerusalem Post if he would like to meet the Iranian President, Specter - in Jerusalem for a series of meetings as part of a regional tour -- replied, "You bet I would like to, and give him a piece of my mind." The present US policy is not to engage in high-level dialogue with either Syria or Iran, even though the recently published Baker-Hamilton report advocated actively engaging those two countries. Bush has said he would not change his policy regarding those two countries; Specter thinks he should. "I disagree with the policy of not dealing with Iran," he said. "When he [Ahmadinejad] says he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, I'd like to tell him how unacceptable that is," Specter said, explaining what he would tell Ahmadinejad. "When he says there was no Holocaust, I'd like to tell him about the Holocaust survivors I've talked to, and about how much evidence there is about the Holocaust. Yes I'd like to see the president of Iran, he could use some information," he said. Specter brushed aside the criticism of his trip to Damascus that was voiced by some in the Bush Administration who argued that his visit, as well as recent visits by three democratic senators, granted legitimacy to the Syrian government. Specter said that as a member of the powerful Senate appropriations committee that sends billions of dollars each year to the Middle East, he was duty-bound to see first hand what was happening in the region. Specter said that while he acquiesced to the Bush Administration's request not to visit Damascus on previous tours to the region last December and August, "this year in coming it seemed to me that the Administration's program is not working." Regarding what he hoped to achieve by going to Damascus, Specter said, "I believe that all the wisdom doesn't lie with the Administration, there are others of us who have studied the matters in detail, have made contributions in the past, and have something to add here." The senior Pennsylvania senator said that while he had a great deal of respect and admiration for US President George W. Bush, there were issues with which he did not agree with the president, and that it was his responsibility "to speak up, and do so in an independent way." Specter said he did not believe that his visit "alters the issue of legitimacy" regarding Syria, and pointed out that the US talked to the leaders of the Soviet Union even though there was a Cold War for decades, and that the US talked with the Chinese despite disagreements over slave labor. Specter reiterated what he said in Damascus earlier this week, that the Syrians were interested in entering into negotiations with Israel without preconditions, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad had told him that in return Syria could be helpful in dealing both with Hamas and Hizbullah. Specter said that Assad denied that arms were being smuggled into Lebanon through Syria. Asked whether he believed Assad, Specter, who has met with him five times and with his father Hafez Assad nine times, said, "I don't know, I can not make the judgment on that, the Israelis will have to do that." Specter, who has served in the senate for 26 years, said that the situation in the Middle East is more problematic now than at any time since he was first elected. "I do not see anyway out except through dialogue," he said. "I do not think there are any assurances that dialogue will succeed, but I think there are assurances that without dialogue there will be failure."