Senators criticize Iranian president’s warm welcome in Iraq
March 5, 2008
WASHINGTON — Senators blasted the Iraqi government’s warm welcome of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week, saying it belittles the sacrifice of American troops and the threat Iran still poses to them.
“We’ve shed a lot of blood and our taxpayers have spent a lot of money to give Iraq an opportunity to be independent,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. “[Iran] is providing weaponry that is killing our men and women, still. And then we see their president come to visit Iraq. I think it’s offensive.”
The comments came as Ahmadinejad finished his two-day visit to Iraq, the first time an Iranian president has visited its neighbor since 1979. The two countries billed the visit as a chance to sort out trade issues and normalize their diplomatic relations.
Adm. William Fallon, Commander of U.S. Central Command, told the senators that while Iraq needs to have stable relations with all of its neighbors, Iran’s actions so far have been “unhelpful and very damaging” to the future of Iraq.
During his trip Ahmadinejad denied that Iranian forces have aided Iraqi insurgents. But on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the former No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference he has “no doubt” that Iranian leaders are still supporting attacks on American troops.
“[Iran’s leaders] have a huge role to play in Iraq as helpful partners in the Middle East and to the Iraqi government,” he said. “What they have to stop doing is training surrogates, funding surrogates and supplying weapons to them — which they are still doing today.”
Levin and several other members of the committee said while Iraqi leaders have sovereignty to meet with whomever they please, any move placating Iran goes against both the United States and the United Nations.
But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., rebuked his colleagues, saying that Iraqi officials meeting with Iranian leadership and endorsing attacks on U.S. soldiers aren’t the same thing.
“I find it interesting that those who want the United States to talk to anyone in the world now think the greatest concern is that Iraq would talk to its neighbor,” he said. “Having some sort of relationship with Iran is important for their long-term success.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.