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Democrats urge al-Maliki to clarify view on Hezbollah

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Congressional Democrats say Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should condemn the Hezbollah attacks on Israel if he wants to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress today.

Some members are considering skipping the planned speech, saying Mr. al-Maliki's July 19 remarks urging the world "to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression" are "troubling" because Iraq is supposed to be a U.S. ally.

"No matter how politically expedient he thinks it may be: To stand with America, you have to stand against terrorism," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. "Before he speaks in front of the Congress and the American people, there is a very simple question we are asking the prime minister today: Which side is he on when it comes to the war on terror?"

Mr. Schumer added that he has "grave doubts" about attending the speech.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and at least 20 other Democrats expressed similar worries.

In a press conference with President Bush yesterday, Mr. al-Maliki did not take back his earlier statements when asked his exact position on Hezbollah.

"We are not in the process of reviewing one issue or another, or any government position," he told reporters. "The important thing here is what we are trying to do is to stop the killing and the destruction, and then we leave the room and the way for the international and diplomatic efforts and international organization to play the role to be there."

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said that he is confident the Israeli-Lebanon conflict will be part of the ongoing dialogue between the United States and Mr. al-Maliki and that he will not disinvite the Iraqi leader.

"He should speak and we should all on a bipartisan basis be there to engage him," Mr. Hastert said.

Mrs. Pelosi said the Iraqi leader's comments are "unacceptable," adding, "Unless Mr. Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honor him with a joint meeting of Congress."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, circulated a letter to Mr. Hastert calling the address "inappropriate" and urging the speaker to cancel it unless Mr. al-Maliki apologizes.

The letter alludes to the unified statement issued by Iraq's parliament last week that called the Israeli attacks "criminal aggression."

"It is clear that their foreign policy goals are at odds with those of the United States," read the letter, signed by 20 Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Mr. Schumer sent a letter to the prime minister Monday saying that "Americans deserve to know whether Iraq is an ally in these fights."

"I will lose a lot of confidence in Maliki if he doesn't denounce what Hezbollah has done," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Reid, who plans to attend the speech because of his leadership role, said being present for the speech should be an individual decision.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he is "deeply troubled" by Mr. al-Maliki's remarks and said he will discuss the matter with the Iraqi leader today and urge him to criticize the attacks on Israel.

He noted other comments from Iraqi officials that he finds "offensive," considering the U.S. financial cost and lives lost in the Iraq war.

"Mr. Maliki must not associate himself with such comments through silence," he said.

The House last week voted 410-8 to affirm its "steadfast" support for Israel and the country's right to defend itself.