Iran General NewsEdwards would open talks with Iran if elected

Edwards would open talks with Iran if elected

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Reuters: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards says if elected president his administration would open direct talks with Iran to try to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards says if elected president his administration would open direct talks with Iran to try to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Edwards proposes an abrupt shift in Bush administration policy toward Iran in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine’s upcoming issue, in which he says he would increase U.S. diplomacy worldwide if elected in November 2008.

Edwards does not rule out the option of military force, saying: “With a threat so serious, no U.S. president should take any option off the table.”

But he would be prepared to engage the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a way that has not been done since the United States severed relations after Tehran’s 1979 revolution.

President George W. Bush has refused talks with Iran over its nuclear program, limiting contacts to talks about Iraq. Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Edwards said “instead of saber-rattling about military action, we should employ an effective combination of carrots and sticks” and try to isolate Ahmadinejad from moderate forces within his country while continuing to offer Iran economic incentives for good behavior.

“At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad’s government when it refuses to cooperate. To do this, we will have to deal with Iran directly. Such diplomacy is not a gift, nor is it a concession,” the former North Carolina senator wrote.

Edwards did not say he would be willing to meet Ahmadinejad. A Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, was accused of being naive by front-runner New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for saying he would be willing to meet with Ahmadinejad and other leaders of hostile nations in his first year as president.

In the article, Edwards slams Bush’s approach to foreign policy and said if he wins, he would lead a U.S. re-engagement with the world, starting by ending the Iraq war.

He would immediately withdraw 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops followed by an orderly and complete pullout of the rest.

“Once we are out of Iraq, the United States must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, a regional spillover of the (Iraqi) civil war, or the establishment of an al Qaeda safe haven,’ he said.

Edwards said quick-reaction U.S. forces would be needed in Kuwait and a significant naval presence in the Gulf.

As he has in the past, Edwards took issue with Bush’s use of the phrase “war on terror” to describe the U.S.-led struggle against Islamic radical extremists.

Edwards called the phrase “a political sledgehammer used to stifle debate and justify policies that would otherwise be utterly unacceptable.”

While he said the United States must stay on the offensive against al Qaeda, he would also go after the causes of terrorism to prevent it from taking root in the first place. He did not explain how he would do that.

“In fact, defining the current struggle against radical Islamists as a war minimizes the challenge we face by suggesting that the fight against Islamic extremism can be won on the battlefield alone,” Edwards said.

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