Petraeus: Diplomacy, Not Force, With Iran

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, President Bush's nominee to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, supports continued U.S. engagement with international and regional partners to find the right mix of diplomatic, economic and military leverage to address the challenges posed by Iran.

In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he will testify today, Petraeus said the possibility of military action against Iran should be retained as a "last resort." But he said the United States "should make every effort to engage by use of the whole of government, developing further leverage rather than simply targeting discrete threats."

Petraeus's views echoed those expressed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who this month said that talks with Iran could be useful if the right combination of incentives and pressures could be developed.

Despite President Bush's repeated commitment to diplomacy to resolve problems with Iran -- including its activities in Iraq, an alleged nuclear weapons program and support for terrorist groups -- some lawmakers and U.S. allies remain concerned that military action is being contemplated.

Bush has nominated Petraeus, currently the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to take over the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility extends from the Horn of Africa to Pakistan. Petraeus would replace Adm. William J. Fallon, who resigned this year amid reports that he questioned the administration's sharp focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan and other conflicts.

Petraeus is to appear at today's confirmation hearing with Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who served as his deputy in Iraq and has been nominated to replace him there. Petraeus's 46-page statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, was prepared in response to Senate questions in advance of his committee appearance.

Asked to assess conditions and potential actions in Afghanistan, where U.S. and other NATO troops are battling the Taliban, and in the tribal regions of Pakistan where al-Qaeda's leadership is based, Petraeus said he could not devote full attention to those areas until he assumed his new command.

Petraeus's answers on Iraq reiterated much of his testimony last month. Asked what he thought were the "most significant mistakes the U.S. has made" in Iraq, his lengthy list included: erroneous prewar assumptions; a misplaced emphasis on early elections that resulted in "hardened sectarian positions"; slow adjustment of U.S. strategy to security challenges; failure to recognize the negative impact of the Iraqi government's slow political reconciliation; and U.S. misconduct at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere that "inflamed the insurgency and damaged the credibility of Coalition Forces in Iraq, in the region, and around the world."

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