NC reps call for Middle East diplomacy

by Amy Kingsley

Two North Carolina congressmen, including one from Guilford County, have sent a letter to President Bush asking him to initiate diplomacy with Syria and Iran, a key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group report.

Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Durham, and Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Greensboro, spearheaded the effort to persuade Bush to step up diplomatic efforts in the region. A total of 26 representatives signed the letter, most of them Democrats. The Iraq Study Group report suggested Bush open talks with Iraq’s neighbors to avert a possible regional escalation of the conflict.

“The United States should embark on a robust diplomatic effort to establish an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq and ease tensions in other countries in the region. This support structure should include every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors,” the report read.

The Iraq Study Group was co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton. In the letter, the representatives suggest Bush appoint the pair special envoys to Iraq.

“It’s obvious that this is a civil war that we’re in,” Miller said. “We can’t pick a side in this conflict, but Iraq’s neighbors have already picked sides. If we are going to put pressure on those sectarian groups to curb the violence, we may be able to do it through neighboring countries.”

Widespread media reports indicate Bush has not been receptive to the study group’s suggestions, especially those relating to regional diplomacy. Miller said he does not expect Bush to embrace the letter’s recommendations.

As commander-in-chief and national executive, Bush steers diplomacy and military strategy with limited input from Congress, Miller said. He said the incoming Congress will prioritize discussion on the Iraq War.

“It’s hard to know how Congress can shape the president’s conduct,” he said. “It’s very difficult to direct diplomacy or direct the military from Congress.”

Miller said next year’s Congress may pass a resolution similar to what their letter proposed requesting more information from the president on military and diplomatic progress in Iraq. Congress might also organize oversight hearings, he said.

“I really think controlling funding is a pretty blunt instrument,” Miller said. “I hope that we ultimately don’t have to resort to reducing of eliminating funding.”

Whatever the solution, Miller said he is interested in changing course in the war sooner rather than later. When the congressman visited Iraq in late 2003, American commanders warned against occupying Iraq for longer than two years.

“I have felt an urgency to make a decision on this for three years now,” Miller said. “I have not seen such an urgency on the side of the Bush administration.”

– Amy Kingsley