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Diplomatic Efforts Must Accompany Troop Surge, Hamilton Says

January 19, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Former Congressman Lee Hamilton was back on Capitol Hill today to talk about the president’s plan to send 21,500 more American troops to Iraq.

It was the first time a member of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by Hamilton, has testified since the president announced his plan last week. The former Democratic representative from Indiana said the U.S. effort to train Iraqi troops should be paramount.

LEE HAMILTON, Co-Chair, Iraq Study Group: Training, in our view, cannot become the primary mission for U.S. forces in Iraq if the mission includes a stepped-up security mission in Baghdad. If you do both, the training mission is going to suffer.

KWAME HOLMAN: In its report last month, the Iraq Study Group called for focusing the U.S. effort on supporting and training Iraqi security forces and withdrawing American combat troops by early next year. Today, Hamilton reiterated the group’s recommendation that the U.S. condition its support on the Iraqis meeting firm benchmarks on controlling sectarian fighting.

LEE HAMILTON: In the absence of pressure, the Iraqi government will not perform. In the absence of pressure, there will be no national reconciliation. In the absence of national reconciliation, there will be sectarian violence without end.

Doubts about al-Maliki?

KWAME HOLMAN: Like many in Congress, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had doubts about whether the current Iraqi government would be able to bring down the violence.

REP. JIM COSTA (D), California: I'd like your take on whether or not you think this current Maliki government is capable of performing the political agreements necessary to make this effort a success, because, frankly, absent that, I don't see, even with the best of your recommendations, us getting out of here successfully.

LEE HAMILTON: The honest answer is, I don't know. We can all make our judgments. The one thing we can all agree on is they have not performed.

Does he have the strength, the political will to do it? I just do not know. Now, in the president's approach and in our approach, in the Iraq Study Group, we depend very heavily on Maliki performing.

But what other choice do you have? You can't pick people off the street of Baghdad and make an agreement with them. You've got to deal with the government as it is.

Negotiating with Iran, Syria

KWAME HOLMAN: Another major topic at the hearing was the study group's recommendation, rejected by President Bush, that the U.S. engage in talks with Iran and Syria.

LEE HAMILTON: Iran and Syria have influence in Iraq; that's simply a fact. There are things they are doing that we want them to stop doing, a good many of them. There are things they could be doing that they are not doing, also a good many of them.

But we cannot wish that influence away. Undoubtedly, they are part of the problem; it was the view of the study group that we must try to make them a part of the solution.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: I'd like you to just follow up and see if I can get you to maybe quantify your recommendation there on how urgent it is. Is it just a good idea, very urgent, critical?

LEE HAMILTON: How urgent is it? Well, look, I don't think it's the end of the world if we're not able to begin conversations with Iran and Syria immediately. On the other hand, I think our chances of stabilizing Iraq are higher if you begin to do it.

But how do you know unless you try? And who can be satisfied with the way things are today? And what have you got to lose?

Are we so fearful that, if we sit down with this country, that we're going to agree to make all kinds of concessions to them? That just shows a total lack of confidence in American diplomacy.

KWAME HOLMAN: Hamilton is to testify January 30th before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with his study group co-chair, former Secretary of State James Baker.