The Democratic presidential contenders criticized President Bush Tuesday for his administration's approach toward Iran. The Democrats condemned Mr. Bush's assertion that nothing has changed regarding Iran despite a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program back in 2003. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has the latest on Iran and the U.S. presidential race from Washington.
The comments about Iran came in a Democratic debate held in Des Moines, Iowa, and broadcast on National Public Radio.
In this and previous debates, the Democratic contenders have emphasized diplomacy in dealing with Iran.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois was among those Tuesday who criticized the Bush administration for an overly aggressive hard line toward Iran in the wake of the latest intelligence estimate.
"President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology, and that has been the problem with their foreign policy generally," he said. "They should have stopped the saber rattling and should never have started it."
Another contender is Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden contends the president's tough line on Iran hurts U.S. policy interests throughout the Middle East.
"I am talking about the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world who look at us, and when we say and do things as we are talking about now with Iran, conclude that this is a war on Islam," he said.
Some of the Democratic contenders were critical of Senator Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner in national polls for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
Clinton's rivals took her to task for supporting a Senate resolution in September calling on the Bush administration to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and proliferators of mass destruction.
Among her critics Tuesday was former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
"We have a real division here," he said. "I mean, among the Democratic candidate, there is only one who voted for this resolution, and this is exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted."
Senator Clinton defended her vote on the Iran resolution and added that she has long favored a tough diplomatic approach when dealing with Iran.
"I believe in aggressive diplomacy when it comes to Iran and when you engage in aggressive diplomacy, you need both carrots and sticks," she said. "And I think the designation provides one of those sticks that will give us a chance to make progress where we could have a resolution."
Earlier Tuesday, President Bush told a news conference in Washington that Iran remains dangerous and that the international community should continue to pressure Tehran on its nuclear program.
"And the best way to insure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians, we are going to isolate you," said President Bush.
The Democratic debate took place in Iowa, which kicks off the presidential nominee selection process for both parties with its caucus voting on January 3.
Public opinion polls indicate Obama, Clinton and Edwards are battling for the lead among Democrats in Iowa.
In the Republican race in Iowa, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has surged into a lead in recent weeks in several polls, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a close second.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani lags behind in the Republican race in Iowa, but continues to lead the Republican presidential field in national polls.