Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this week that the United States would join Iran and Syria at a regional conference in Baghdad next month. Newspaper columnists discuss the decision and its implications.
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When Secretary of State Rice announced yesterday that the United States would willingly join Iran and Syria at a regional conference in Baghdad next month, it represented a departure from previous administration policy. This is what Secretary Rice told the NewsHour's Margaret Warner just this past December.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: We've given the Iranians a chance to talk; in fact, we've said we will reverse 27 years of policy. I myself have said I'll show up any place, any time, anywhere to talk with my Iranian counterpart, with other European leaders, if the Iranians will just do the one, simple thing that the world has been asking them to do for almost three years: suspend their enrichment capabilities — enrichment activities so that they'll continue to perfect the technologies to produce a nuclear weapon.
So what changed? And what can this new multilateral approach accomplish?
For that, we turn to two columnists with extensive experience covering the Middle East: David Ignatius of the Washington Post and Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Trudy, that was a very important "if" that Secretary Rice told Margaret last December, which is, yes, I'll go to this meeting, if these other things happen. That "if" was not repeated yesterday. What changed?
TRUDY RUBIN, The Philadelphia Inquirer:
I think what changed is that Secretary Rice realized that you can't have stability inside Iraq unless there is some kind of contact between the United States, Iraqi leaders, and Iraq's neighbors, and that includes contact between the United States and Iran.
Because, right now, you have a civil war inside Iraq, and it threatens to spill out outside, with Sunni Arabs supporting one side, Shiite Iran supporting its coreligionists, who are Arabs, inside Iraq. And there's really a danger of explosion.
And a lot of tension has been ratcheted up by overt U.S. pressure on Iran recently. And I'm surmising that the secretary understood that this was getting really dangerous and that it was time, perhaps, for the kind of diplomacy, maybe, recommended by the Iraq Study Group.