Edwards Calls Lack Of Direct Talks With Iran A Mistake

Sunday, February 18th 2007, 5:23 pm
By: News On 6

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) _ Democrat John Edwards criticized the Bush administration on Sunday for failing to engage directly with Iran to resolve problems with the Iraq war and Iran's effort to develop nuclear weapons.

``It's a huge strategic mistake not to be dealing directly with Iran,'' Edwards told the Associated Press in an interview before a campaign event in this eastern Iowa city.

``What we should be doing with Iran, both on the Iraq issue and the nuclear issue, is being much smarter than we're being now. We have tools available to us to engage them.''

America's relationship with Iran emerged as a hot topic last week amid reports the Iranian government was shipping armor-piercing weapons to militias in Iraq that were used to kill American soldiers.

Some intelligence reports suggested the shipments were being authorized by top Iranian officials. President Bush acknowledged Iran was providing hostile weapons to Shiite groups, but stopped short of blaming top Iranian leaders.

But Edwards said Bush's reluctance to open diplomatic lines with Iran and Syria was costing the United States in its efforts to stabilize Iraq. The former North Carolina senator said the United Stats and its European allies have the leverage and resources necessary to enlist Iran's cooperation.

``The way for America to engage them on this issue is to use the economic tools available ... to make it clear if they are willing to give up their nuclear weapons we are willing to make nuclear fuel available to them,'' he told the AP.

Edwards said the United States should offer a serious package of economic incentives and make it public, ``so the Iranian people, who have not been historically anti-American, know that we've made this offer ... and hopefully drive a deeper wedge between a radical leader (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and his own people.''

Edwards' stop in Dubuque on Sunday wrapped up a weekend of campaigning with voters in Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the presidential nominating process.

At a town hall meeting, Edwards focused on his new plan for a universal health care system.

``We have a dysfunctional health care system,'' Edwards told a crowd of approximately 450 people. ``It's unaffordable to a lot of people. Premiums are going up. We can't wait for the next election and the next president to solve our problems.''

Edwards' plan would require employers to cover workers or pay into a fund to provide access to health insurance for everyone. The plan would also work to reduce to the cost of insurance with a series of new tax credits and government subsidies for insurance premiums that would be based on income.

In the interview, Edwards dismissed the failure of the Senate on Saturday to pass a resolution opposing Bush's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq. He said it was up to congress to find other ways to curtail America's involvement with Iraq.

``That means using its appropriations authority in the Constitution to put a cap on the number of troops in Iraq so they can force him (President Bush) to start drawing down the number of troops,'' he said.

Edwards also addressed criticism aimed at his campaign pledge to fight poverty in America. In recent weeks, Edwards has taken heat for his new multimillion dollar home in North Carolina. The 28,000-square-foot estate sits on 102 acres, has five bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths and connects to a recreation facility with an indoor pool, handball court and indoor basketball court.

Laughing at a question about the home, Edwards said the work that he and his wife, Elizabeth, have done to help less fortunate people speaks for itself.

``We've shown that commitment through our lives, not just in our public lives but in our private lives as well,'' he said.