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Former US Secretaries of State Call for Diplomacy on Iraq

Two former U.S. secretaries of state say the United States should step up diplomacy in the Middle East as a way to bring stability to Iraq. But in testimony before Congress, they disagreed on whether President Bush should move ahead with his decision to send more troops to Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright urged the administration to engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

Kissinger, who was secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, proposed talking to Iran and Syria as part of a regional conference on Iraq.

"There should be some such conference. In my view, that should include the neighbors, the Security Council, countries like Indonesia, India, and Pakistan," he said. "That would be a rather large and unwieldy body that could then form subgroups to include regional issues. The importance is that only in such a framework can you really deal with the issue of autonomy, because you create a wider legitimacy for what is emerging, and against intervention."

Kissinger said radical fundamentalism promoted by Iran is the biggest threat to the region. Although he said he believes Iran may have little incentive to help the United States solve the Iraq problem, he argued that Washington should seek to engage Tehran, nonetheless.

"We have no quarrel with Iran as a nation. We can respect Iran as a major player in the region with a significant role in the region. What we cannot accept is an Iran that seeks to dominate the region on a basis of a religious ideology and using the Shi'ia base in other countries to undermine stability in the region on which the economic well being of such a large part of the world depends," he said.

The Bush administration has placed conditions on any talks with Iran and Syria. U.S. officials say Iran must halt its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, before bilateral talks are possible with Tehran. They also say Syria must stop sending foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq before Washington opens talks with Damascus.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under the Clinton administration, takes issue with those arguments.

"We can talk to governments without endorsing them or overlooking past actions. Talking to governments about hard problems is why diplomacy matters," she said.

Although Albright and Kissinger agreed on the need for more diplomacy, they disagreed about President Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, the majority of whom will be sent to Baghdad to help Iraqi forces clear and secure neighborhoods.

Albright said U.S. troops should not be sent on such a mission.

"We do not speak the language, we do not know the culture well enough, and quite frankly, we do not have the recognized legal and moral authority to go into Iraqi homes and compel obedience. Each time we do, we lose as much ground politically as might hope to gain militarily," she said.

But Kissinger said the troop surge could help bring stability to the country and allow a unity government to be established.

The Senate next week is to consider several non-binding resolutions relating to the proposed troop increase. Among them is one sponsored by the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, which expresses opposition to sending additional troops to Iraq.