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US Official Says Democratic Iraq Is Still Possible


The outgoing U.S. director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, believes it is still possible for a democratic Iraq to emerge from sectarian violence. Negroponte, whom President Bush nominated to be deputy secretary of state, made his comments at a Senate confirmation hearing, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

John Negroponte, with his long and distinguished diplomatic career, is expected to be easily confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the coming days.

Before he was sworn in as the first director of national intelligence in April 2005, he had served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and then as the first U.S. ambassador to post-war Iraq.

Negroponte told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday that he remains as hopeful about Iraq's future as he was when he went to Baghdad as ambassador in June 2004. "I believed, and still believe, that it is possible for Iraq to make a successful transition to democracy. I believed, and still believe, that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for Iraqis, for our friends in the region, and for the United States," he said.

But Negroponte added a note of caution. "Iraq is at a precarious juncture. That means the situation could deteriorate, but that there are prospects for increasing stability in Iraq," he said.

He said achieving increased stability would depend on several factors, including the extent to which the Iraqi government can establish effective national institutions that transcend sectarian or ethnic interests, the willingness of Iraqi security forces to crack down on extremist elements, and the extent to which neighboring countries stop the flow of militants and ammunition into Iraq.

But Negroponte said the United States would not open high-level talks about stabilizing Iraq with Syria and Iran. He said Iran must first end its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies believe is aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons. He also said Syria must stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq to carry out attacks before talks between Washington and Damascus are possible.

Still, in its report to Congress, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group urged the United States to engage Iran and Syria as a way of controlling the violence in Iraq.

The co-chairman of the group, Lee Hamilton, reiterated the point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later in the day. "We recognize, of course, that dealing with Iran and Syria, is controversial. But it is clear that Iran and Syria have influence in Iraq. They are part of the problem. It is also our assessment that neither Syria nor Iran have a long-term interest in a chaotic Iraq, which could negatively affect their own national security interests," he said.

At his confirmation hearing, Negroponte said a long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq would be sent to Congress next week.

Democrats, who requested the report last July, had expressed anger and frustration that it was not completed before President Bush announced his decision to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

If confirmed as expected, Negroponte would succeed Robert Zoellick, who left the State Department to join the investment firm Goldman Sachs last July.

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