In stark contrast to many Bush administration officials, Republican Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa is in favor of dialogue with Iran. The Islamic Republic says it is pursing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes, but Washington and most of the international community believe it is bent on developing a nuclear weapon.
In a recent interview on VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Congressman Leach said he couldn’t think of anything “more unfortunate” than the idea of force being applied to Iran, a third Muslim country in the Middle East, at this time. Moreover, he said having a military confrontation spread to Iran would be “counter-productive” to democratization efforts there.
With respect to the post-election situation in Iraq, Congressman Leach said he thinks the United States should “symbolically consider” withdrawing small numbers of troops in the very near future and then indicate it would be prepared to withdraw substantial numbers of military forces after next year’s elections. Congressman Leach is also opposed to the United States establishing permanent bases in Iraq.
Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Congressman Leach said the single most important question is what is in the best interest of the Israeli and Palestinian people. If a two-state solution can be reached, both Palestinians and Israelis will experience huge economic benefits, he believes. The Congressman said that there is “more positive momentum” in the region now than at any time since the Oslo agreement and that American cannot allow the process toward peace to falter.
When asked about President Bush’s reference in his State of the Union address to the lack of democracy in Egypt, Congressman Leach noted that Cairo is playing a “very constructive role” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But he also acknowledged that democratic institutions in Egypt are not as strong as they could be, and that there is room for improvement. He said America needs to “delicately balance” its goal of freedom from political oppression for the peoples of the Middle East with respect for other societies. In terms of America’s relations with China, Congressman Leach predicted that it would become the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century. Therefore, he said Washington should do everything possible to foster “mutual self-interest” and should take special care in dealing with sensitive issues such as Taiwan, North Korea, and bilateral trade.
A member of the House Committee on International Relations and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Congressman Leach recently visited the tsunami-affected areas of Asia. He said that what was unprecedented about the recent tsunami was the degree of international identity with its victims as “members of the human family.”
Ironically, he noted, two of the countries most severely affected by the tragedy – Sri Lanka and Indonesia – have ongoing civil wars. As a result, people are asking, if you can deal with a natural disaster with a spirit of cooperation, why can’t you deal with man-made disasters in similar ways. According to Mr. Leach, private sector America raised more than 600 million dollars in aid, and people in Germany, the Nordic countries, Britain, and Australia were equally generous. Although some members of the U.S. Congress have expressed hope for political benefits from American generosity – for example, help in the fight against global terrorism – Congressman Leach said the tsunami disaster was a humanitarian plight and it should be dealt with exclusively on those terms.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.