Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson showcased his foreign policy credentials yesterday, saying both that the United States needs to reward Iran if it stops developing nuclear weapons and that a nuclear-armed Islamic republic is “unacceptable.”

“The clear message must be this: Develop nukes and you will face devastating global sanctions. Desist from developing nukes and you will receive meaningful rewards, including robust security guarantees and guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel from abroad,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told the 200 persons gathered at the National Guard Association Hall of State in Washington for a speech sponsored by the Center for National Policy.

Mr. Richardson, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States must approach Iran with “a stick in one hand and a carrot in the other” and urged the government to have broad talks with Iran with no “preconditions.”

Center for National Policy President Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, opened the talk by noting the United States has a “tarnished reputation” abroad. His group is hearing from all the candidates to share their ideas for restoring the country’s standing.

Mr. Roemer warmly welcomed Mr. Richardson, a former congressman and secretary of energy, as someone with experience who “is sent into some of the toughest diplomatic situations.”

“Our presidents like to send Bill Richardson to meet with bad guys and he often gets good results for the United States,” Mr. Roemer said, highlighting the governor’s work in North Korea.

Mr. Richardson said two themes are critical when considering actions about Iran — “bipartisan and international.” He said he backed a dialogue to engage Iranian moderates who share the U.S. belief that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “a dangerous man with truly reprehensible views.”

“We need to stop threatening the Iranians and talking about regime change,” Mr. Richardson said. “Instead we need to start applying meaningful pressure while working with them to change their behavior.”

The speech was one of several steps Mr. Richardson has taken recently to highlight his experience in hopes of breaking into the top tier of 2008 candidates.

Mr. Richardson has been gaining in polls lately, in part because he is running TV ads that focus on his resume. Still, he places behind the top three Democrats in polls, getting between 9 and 13 percent in most.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat and the current front-runner, also gave a speech on foreign policy yesterday. In remarks to the Center for a New American Security, the former first lady reprised her campaign stump theme that the Bush administration has squandered the country’s international standing.

“We have a long road ahead to repair the damage that has been done these past six years,” she said, adding she is “hopeful” because “We can create a new foreign policy that finally recognizes the wide scale and scope of the challenges before us by widening the scale and scope of America’s response.”

She also outlined a bill to dedicate more money for converting reactors from highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium, and to beef up security measures to track nuclear weapons, an effort Mr. Richardson also said was necessary.

Mr. Richardson, who recited the nine-page speech in an off-pace, near-monotone voice, got low marks from the crowd when it came to style. Several yawned, and one person shook himself awake when Mr. Roemer asked for questions. But he was hailed for the substance of the speech, which went into detail about Iran’s needs, its problems and opportunities to bring peace to the Middle East.

“No constructive dialogue with Iran is possible until we break the vicious cycle of suspicion and hostile, incendiary rhetoric,” he said. “If we want Iran to improve its behavior, we would do well to stop threatening to attack them.”

Mr. Richardson and the other Democratic candidates stressed the need for diplomacy in a recent debate, while Republican presidential candidates in a debate two nights later seemed more favorable toward pre-emptive force against Iran.

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