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US Lawmakers Press Bush Administration Officials on Iran


The Bush administration is coming under increasing pressure from members of Congress regarding any possible moves against Iran because of its role in Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, concerns intensified after the president's speech last week in which he said U.S troops will be moving to interrupt support from Iran and Syria for insurgents in Iraq.

Although the administration has downplayed suggestions the U.S. would take military action against Iran or Syria, concern about a possible escalation across Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria is shared by Republicans as well as Democrats.

On Thursday, a group of House lawmakers introduced legislation designed to force the president to obtain specific approval from Congress before any such move could be taken.

North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, the most outspoken anti-war Republican in the House:

"If the president is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must come to Congress and make their case," said Walter Jones. "The Congress answers to the American people and must justify why it would be in our national security interests to engage militarily with Iran."

Referring to what he called lies by the administration regarding the need to act militarily in Iraq, Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan:

"It sends a strong message that Congress won't stand by idly, and won't be railroaded into another war, that will only make America and the world less safe," said Marty Meehan.

Legislative steps in the House mirror those in the Senate, and come against the background of warnings by key Senate Democrats that President Bush should not consider the 2002 congressional authorization for military action in Iraq justification for any move against Iran.

Speaking in Bahrain (Thursday) Defense Secretary Robert Gates said U.S. difficulties in Iraq have given Iran, what he called, a tactical opportunity in the short-term, but added there are many alternatives to military conflict:

"Nobody wants another conflict in this region," said Secretary Gates. "My view is that these matters, that there are many courses of action available that do not involve an open conflict with Iran. There is no need for that."

At the same time, Gates said Gulf states have made clear their hope that the U.S. will take steps to contain Iranian ambitions.

His additional comment that Iran has been emboldened by events in Iraq was echoed by other U.S. officials testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.

Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, says Iran is looking at the region in what he called a much more assertive way:

"They have been providing, through their intelligence services, lethal assistance to some of the extremist Shia groups in Iraq, which is a factor contributing to the instability," he said.

The Bush administration has never taken the military option off the table when it comes to the impasse with Tehran over Iranian nuclear ambitions, while emphasizing its commitment to a diplomatic solution.

Members of Congress who favor an outreach to Iran express frustration, meanwhile, with the Iranian government's refusal to allow them to travel there for discussions.

Congressman Tom Lantos, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says he is ready to lead a congressional delegation to Tehran, if only Iran would approve visas:

"The Iranian authorities in Tehran have denied visas to members of Congress, who have sought to visit there, for a conversation," said Tom Lantos.

Lantos says Iranian authorities bear what he called a very heavy share of the responsibility in preventing a dialogue with members of Congress.

On Thursday, the bipartisan House (of Representatives) Iran Working Group, held its first meeting in the new Congress.

Tom Friedman, author and New York Times columnist, told the group the U.S. needs to consider carefully what its objectives are regarding Iran.

"What is our objective, regime change or change of behavior? We really do have to make up our mind on that," said Tom Friedman. "If it is truly regime change, then is moving another aircraft carrier in[to] the Gulf, is that going to do it? What are the tools, if that is our goal, do we have the tools to achieve that? And do we have the allies to achieve that, and I don't think we do."

Two lawmakers on the House Iran Working Group, Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Steve Israel, recently met with Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations.

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