(AFP) – Dec 4, 2007
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democratic White House hopefuls Tuesday accused President George W. Bush of "saber-rattling" on Iran, and said US intelligence that Tehran halted its nuclear program in 2003 debunked his hawkish policy.
The 2008 rivals urged Bush to open talks with Iran, and rejected the president's contention in a news conference Tuesday that US policy towards the Islamic Republic should not change as Tehran was still dangerous.
"I vehemently disagree with the president that nothing has changed and therefore nothing in American policy has to change," front-runner Hillary Clinton said, in a debate in Iowa hosted by National Public Radio.
"He should seize this opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy using both carrots and sticks," Clinton said in the two-hour debate, a month before Iowans vote in the first nominating clashes of the 2008 race.
Clinton's top rival Senator Barack Obama warned that despite the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran released Monday, the Bush administration would not modify its tough line on Iran.
"It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology."
"They need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front."
"They should have stopped the saber rattling -- should never have started it," said Obama.
Hillary Clinton meanwhile fought off attacks from rivals over her vote for a Senate resolution in September that called for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Some critics saw the bill as paving the way for a possible military strike against Iran.
"We have a real division here," said former senator John Edwards. "That is exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted."
"I think it is very clear Bush and Cheney have been rattling the saber about Iran for a very long time," Edwards said.
But Clinton hit back that she had been the first major Democratic candidate to warn against a rush to war, and styled her vote as an attempt to increase US diplomatic pressure on Iran.
"I was the first at this table to go to the Senate and speak against the possibility that Bush could take us to war with Iran," Clinton said.
Several candidates said that sharp Bush administration rhetoric on Iran was similar to the drumbeat of accusations that preceded the Iraq war.
"Let's get this straight, in 2003 (Iran) stopped their program, you cannot trust this president, he is not trustworthy," said Senator Joseph Biden.
"It is outrageous, intolerable and it must stop ... the president of the United States -- it's like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier."
"Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly with the rest of the world at our side."
Long-shot Democratic candidate, former senator Mike Gravel, meanwhile praised the courage of intelligence analysts who he said had refused to give the administration intelligence to support a military strike on Iran.
"What the intelligence community has done is drop kick the president of the United States," he said. "They have boxed in the president."
The new NIE -- the consensus of all 16 US spy agencies -- said Iran's nuclear weapons program has been dormant since 2003.
The report suggested that Tehran was more susceptible to global diplomatic pressure than previously thought and bluntly characterized US rhetoric about the standoff as overblown for at least two years.
Bush earlier used a White House news conference to shore up his embattled Iran strategy, and refused to rule out the use of force.
"Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," he said.
"The best diplomacy, effective diplomacy is one in which all options are on the table."
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