Democrats challenge Bush with offer to meet Iran's leaders
NANCY Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of the US House of Representatives, and Tom Lantos, chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, have suggested they are considering setting up a meeting with the Iranian leadership
Mrs Pelosi, whose recent trip to Syria was sharply criticised by Republicans, said that it was "important to have dialogue" with Iran.
Democrats in Congress believe that the Bush administration must be prepared to talk to Iran face to face, rather than rely on European proxies or the United Nations.
The White House has consistently resisted calls for bilateral talks, preferring to adopt a multi-lateral strategy that seeks to isolate Tehran from the rest of the international community.
The speaker admitted, however, that Iran had cast "a shadow" over her recent travels and that Iran's support for terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and its determination to press ahead with its nuclear programme, were the gravest security risks in the region.
"Iran's support of terrorist groups is something that must be stopped,'' Mrs Pelosi said. "Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon is something that must not happen, and we must stop them with the strongest of diplomatic measures."
Mrs Pelosi said that although she considered Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's views on Israel and the Holocaust "so repulsive that they are outside the circle of civilised human behaviour," dialogue with Iran was more important than personal distaste for Mr Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and threat to destroy the state of Israel.
"Speaking for myself, I'm ready to go [to Tehran]" said Congressman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who chairs the foreign affairs committee. "And knowing the speaker, I think that she might be [too].''
Mrs Pelosi's remarks demonstrated the increasing confidence with which Democrats are preparing to challenge the Bush administration's foreign policy. Faced with a lame-duck president, Democrats are demanding that the White House listen to Congressional concerns.
"We have an alternative Democratic foreign policy," Mr Lantos said recently. "I view my job as beginning with restoring overseas credibility and respect for the United States."
"We talked to the Soviet Union for over half a century, and there is no doubt in my mind that the tremendous amount of interchange had something to do with the collapse of the system," Mr Lantos said.
The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980.
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