Contacts with Syria, Iran indicate progress
The secretary of state and other officials have departed from their refusal to talk with Syrian and Iranian officials.
UNDER increasing pressure, the Bush administration has begun to move toward diplomacy with Syria and Iran to help stabilize Iraq. However scanty the contacts have been, they are an encouraging sign that the White House is changing its rejection of dialogue recommended six months ago by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met for a half-hour on Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem during a regional conference in Egypt. The next day, Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and a senior adviser to Rice conversed briefly at the conference with an Iranian deputy foreign minister.
Arab allies of the United States have exerted pressure on the Bush administration to depart from its position that direct talks with adversaries should be conducted only as a reward for good behavior. Aside from last week's contacts, Rice said it would "engage in a broad range of issues" with Iran only if Iran accepts demands that it suspend its nuclear enrichment program.
The United States has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq for attacks on American troops. In opening remarks at the conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki suggested that America's problems in Iraq put the United States in no position to point fingers at others. His assertion is well taken.
The Bush-Hamilton panel advised that "a nation can and should engage its adversaries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts and differences consistent with its own interests." It recommended that an international Iraq support group, including the United States, "should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions."
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