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Sweet Column: Baker, Hamilton on need to engage Iran, Syria

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The co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group were at the head of a long table, and James Baker scrunched over as he draped his right arm around Lee Hamilton to underscore a point he was making.

The move was prompted by my question about the Bush administration policy of using talks with antagonistic nations to reward behavior, rather as diplomatic tools toward a goal.

That means the Bush White House is not willing to engage in direct talks with Syria and Iran to get their help on Iraq.

President Bush reaffirmed his position at Thursday's press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair:

If Iran "would like to engage the United States, they've got to verifiably suspend their [nuclear] enrichment program."

What's the point of non-engagement? The Bush administration needs to pull away from the faulty notion that the United States is somehow making concessions to have diplomatic discussions.

"Look, we've got problems to solve. And you got to talk to people to solve problems," Hamilton said.

And with that, Baker moved closer to Hamilton and for dramatic effect put his arm around him. "On this issue," said Baker, "There is no daylight."

The 10-member bipartisan panel strongly calls for "new and enhanced" diplomatic efforts, specifically with Iran and Syria as part of a revamped U.S. strategy to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.

• • The report is at www.usip .org/isg/. Vintage Books printed a $10.95 volume, with maps and key player glossary.

• • Baker, Hamilton and the other commission members dominated the news with the help of a highly orchestrated media blitz by the Washington office of Chicago-based Edelman, a public relations firm.

Edelman's D.C. office was a ground zero of press and commission members Thursday. After my group of reporters finished, Hamilton and Baker took a short break before facing a gaggle of columnists.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 8, 2006 1:21 PM.

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