Thursday, April 12, 2007

Capitol Hill’s top two Democrats yesterday said they have no problem with individual lawmakers visiting Iran and its leaders, but neither will personally make the trip.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and staffers for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the Iraq Study Group recommended engagement with Iran, Syria and other neighbors of Iraq.

“I think there should be, as the Iraq Study Group said, strenuous diplomatic negotiations with all the parties mentioned,” Mr. Reid said. “I personally am not going to Iran but that’s up to individual members.”

He was responding to a report suggesting that Mrs. Pelosi would want to visit Iran, which the State Department classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism. But Mrs. Pelosi’s office dispelled talk of the speaker visiting Iran yesterday, in the aftermath of harsh criticism for her weeklong trip to Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories and Syria.

“Speaker Pelosi has no intention of going to Iran,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi.

She held a press conference Tuesday with Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, who said he was “ready to get on a plane tomorrow morning” for Tehran.

Mr. Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “it is important that we have a dialogue with” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even though many of his statements are “objectionable, unfair and inaccurate,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle reported that Mr. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, said Mrs. Pelosi “might be” ready to visit Iran, and noted that the speaker did not correct him.

The White House called Mr. Lantos’ comments “troubling,” but Democratic leaders said Mr. Lantos was free to visit Iran.

“He has expressed interest and it was recommended by the Iraq Study Group. If others want to proceed, sure,” Mr. Elshami said.

The Iraq Study Group identified Iran as a key to stability in the Middle East, and noted that it has provided weapons and potentially bombs to insurgents in Iraq. The report said any diplomatic talks should be “extensive and substantive.”

“The president is not doing that,” Mr. Reid said yesterday. “He had a little meeting that really didn’t amount to much.”

Foreign relations analysts said a conversation with Iran would be favorable.

“You need more engagement. We’ve missed a whole generation of engagement with Iran,” said Scott Lasensky, who runs the “Iraq and its Neighbors” initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a key organizer of the Iraq Study Group.

Mr. Lasensky advised any U.S. lawmakers who visit Iran to be on guard for manipulation by the nation’s leaders.

Republicans were quick to denounce Mrs. Pelosi for her trip to Syria last week. Vice President Dick Cheney said she was rewarding “bad behavior” of the regime.

Brian Kennedy, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mrs. Pelosi “met with one state sponsor of terrorism [and] refused to rule out a meeting with yet another” in less than a week. He predicted that such moves will alarm the American people.

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