Iran appeasement redux
Was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suffering from amnesia or is he stuck between Iran and a hard place, that hard place being his boss, President Bush?
While testifying on the proposed 2009 defense budget today before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates was asked point blank by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., whether he agreed with Bush's assertion last week before the Israeli parliament that holding talks with Iran's theocratic regime would be akin to appeasement a la Neville Chamberlain's negotiations with Adolf Hitler over Czechoslovakia.
"Let me put it to you very bluntly, Mr. Secretary. Is President Bush correct when he says that it's appeasement to talk to Iran?" queried Specter.
"Well, I don't know exactly what the president said. I believe he said that it was appeasement to talk to terrorists, to negotiate with terrorists," replied Gates.
"Well, he said on April 24 - in the May 15th address, to the members of the Knesset, said, quote, 'Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals,'" Specter reminded Gates. "He does not say specifically Iran. But I think the inference is unmistakable in light of the entire policy of the administration."
After noting that he and Gates attended the same grade school in Wichita, Kan., Specter praised Gates - "forthright" and "really gutsy" - for a speech he gave a day before Bush's address in which the Pentagon chief said that the United States needed to gain some leverage over Iran and then "sit down and talk with them."
"I've had an opportunity to talk to the president about it directly. And I believe he needs to hear more from people like you than from people like me, but from both of us, and that it's not appeasement, and that the analogy to Neville Chamberlain is wrong. And we've got one government to deal with there (Iran)," Specter continued. "I've had a chance to talk to the last three Iranian ambassadors to the U.N. And I think there is an opportunity for dialogue. But I think we have to be a little courageous about it and take a chance, because the alternatives are very, very, very bleak."
What alternatives was Specter referring to? A much-speculated about war with Iran over what the U.S., Israel and other countries believe is a covert nuclear weapons program? He didn't elaborate.
But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino sought to dispel that notion again today, insisting that a Jerusalem Post report that Bush is planning to attack Iran before the end of his second term in January "is not worth the paper it is written on."
"Let me respond by reaffirming the policy of the administration: We, along with our international allies who want peace in the Middle East, remain opposed to Iran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon," Perino continued. "To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program."
Though military options remain on the table, "our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means," said Perino.