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Specter: Direct Talks With Iran Represent the Way to Move Forward
Just this week, the senator's wish for direct talks with Iran came to fruition, though the subjects for discussion at the meeting were strictly relegated to the Iraq war and Iran's suspected involvement in funding, training and arming militants.
Specter called these talks "a good starting point" during a May 21 event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, but claimed that other topics, like Iranian nuclear ambitions, must also be addressed in a similar way.
"I sense a softening at the White House," he said of the George W. Bush administration, which has been reluctant to negotiate with international rivals.
"We don't have to agree with them to be dignified and respectful with what we have to say," stated Specter to an audience of about 100 at the Union League of Philadelphia, "and I think, by and large, we have earned the title the 'ugly Americans.' "
After claiming that he's been trying to visit Iran ever since the Iran-Iraq war ended back in 1989, Specter discussed his plan for diplomatic relations.
"I have proposed over the past decades that there ought to be a delegation of members of Congress meeting with Iranian parliamentarians," he began. "We came very close in 2004 to having such a meeting in Geneva. Efforts are being undertaken again to structure such a meeting. I think there's a reasonable chance that that can happen."
Some lawmakers are skeptical about full-blown bilateral talks between the United States and Iran for fear that it may legitimize the current regime or force the United States to deal with an international problem alone. Specter stressed, however, that bilateral talks could eventually lead other countries to step up to the plate.
"It is not in the interest of Russia or China to have Iran with nuclear weapons," said the senator, "but if we expect to get a maximum effort from those nations, I think we're going to have to demonstrate to them our willingness to be very sincere and very open, and willing to have the bilateral talks with Iran and to treat them with dignity and respect."
While a military option is clearly not the ideal scenario, as far as Specter's concerned, he said that very threat may assist America at the negotiating table.
"I think for the Iranians to be concerned by what we might do militarily can be a help in negotiations," he said.
However, if the United States should negotiate with Iran, an audience member asked, then why not hold talks with other adversaries, like Hamas?
"The situation with Hamas is significantly different ... . There has to be that basic understanding of Israel's right to exist before you can really deal with them," he replied.
Specter acknowledged that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," but he claimed that "other statements coming out of Iran [suggest] that that is not the Iranian government's position -- and that he is so extreme that he is not to be taken at not only face value, [but] any value."
After quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said that the only way to defeat an enemy is to make them your friend, Specter discussed what he feels are realistic expectations for diplomacy.
"I don't expect to make the leaders of Iran or North Korea friends, but I do think we can do much to neutralize them."