'Hotline to Iran' Aims to
Head Off War
WASHINGTON, Jun 10 (OneWorld) - Members of Congress joined religious and civil
society leaders today in an urgent call to stop the "drumbeat of war"
with Iran and open up
diplomatic talks to resolve growing tensions between Washington
"We hear the same
people who supported a disastrous war in Iraq
now steadily beating the drum for war with Iran," said Congresswoman
Barbara Lee, adding: "We have been down this road before."
Lee joined Reps. Ron Paul
and Sheila Jackson Lee in a "Time to Talk to Iran" event on Capitol Hill,
organized by the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran (CNAPI), along with
groups such as Physicians for Social Responsibility and the American Friends
The event featured
1960s-style red "hotline" telephones that enabled people to speak
with ordinary citizens in Iran,
including Washington, D.C. tourists attracted by the outdoors
Outside Washington, Americans were mobilized to call
their Congressional representative to urge direct dialogue between the two
A bill sponsored by Lee, the
"Iran Diplomatic Accountability Act of 2008," is gathering momentum
in Congress. The Act calls for the appointment of a high-level envoy to conduct
direct, unconditional, bilateral negotiations with Iran.
The Capitol Hill event
reflects the sharp divisions within the United
States over how to deal with the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, particularly in regard to Iran's nuclear program and activities in Iraq and the Middle East.
The International Atomic
Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at
producing nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration
remains unconvinced. Washington demands that Iran suspend
its nuclear enrichment program before talks can begin.
The Bush administration also
accuses the Iranian regime of fomenting conflict in Iraq
and the Middle East.
In response to what it sees
as Iranian meddling, according to CNAPI, current U.S. policy toward Iran is to
"publicly threaten and insult Iran, while taking provocative actions such
as adopting a policy of regime change, attempting to increase unilateral
sanctions, deploying additional military assets in the region, and arresting
Iranian representatives in Iraq."
Iran, meanwhile, is concerned about
Bush administration efforts to extend the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the current end-
During a Sunday visit to Tehran by Iraqi President Nouri
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated: "The presence of
occupiers in Iraq,
particularly the U.S. armed
forces...is the main obstacle to unity in Iraq."
spectrum of U.S.
military, political, and civil society leaders, along with ordinary Americans,
that these very real tensions should be addressed by direct talks and
diplomacy, not veiled threats.
A February Gallup Poll found
that nearly 7 of 10 Americans favor direct political and economic engagement
over military action.
Retired Army, Air Force, and
Navy officials, such as Army Generals John Abizaid
and Wesley Clark and Admiral Michael Mullen, currently head of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, have also spoken out in
favor of diplomatic engagement.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Sam
Gardiner stated succinctly in a speech last month to the Academy
of American Diplomacy: "You have
no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make
Former Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski and Lt.
General William Odom agreed in a May 26 contribution to the Washington
Post: "The United States
would have a better chance of success if the White House abandoned its threats
of military action and its calls for regime change."
Obama and Hillary Clinton called during their
presidential campaigns for direct contact with Iran as the best way to begin
ironing out differences. Presidential hopeful John McCain has repeatedly
belittled that approach, calling it "naive."
But McCain's Republican
colleague Senator Chuck Hagel has also called for
action on the diplomatic front.
Hagel wrote to President George
W. Bush late last year, warning that the United
States finds itself in a "dangerous and increasingly
isolated position," and urging that "now is the time for the United States to actively consider when and how
to offer direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran."
While issues of war and
peace were not resolved through today's hotline conversations, they gave both
Americans and Iranians an opportunity to remember that dialogue is possible,
and served as a reminder by seasoned politicians that Congress can and must
play a role in preventing war.