Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards told a group of New Hampshire voters Saturday that he would consider pursuing a nonaggression pact between the United States and Iran.
Edwards' statement came in answer to a voter's question at a house party in Nashua on Saturday morning. Asked about it later in an interview with ABC News, Edwards confirmed that he views such a treaty -- in which the United States would promise not to attack Iran -- as "a possibility down the road." But he emphasized that the Iranian government would first have to change its behavior in several areas.
Watch all of Terry Moran's interview with former Sen. John Edwards tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.
"I wouldn't give away anything until it became clear what the intent of Iran was, that they've given up any nuclear ambition, that they would no longer sponsor Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations," Edwards told ABC News, in an interview to be broadcast on "Nightline" Monday night. "So there would be huge jumps and these things would all have to be verifiable. We'd have to be certain that they were occurring in order to get to that stage. But I think we would consider all of our relations on the table."
Edwards' willingness to pursue a nonaggression pact with the Iranian government could put him at odds not just with President Bush, but also with his Democratic rivals, none of whom has gone as far in advocating an alternative to the administration's increasingly confrontational stance toward Tehran. But Edwards' statement could win him support of many Democratic primary voters, who are deeply mistrustful of the president's policies and motives and deeply concerned about the possibility of another war in the Middle East.
In the "Nightline" interview, Edwards also specifically refused to say whether, as president, he would be willing to use military force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"I wouldn't make that decision. It would be a foolish thing for the president to say in advance what they would do," Edwards said. "And under no circumstances should the president of the United States ever take anything off the table, but the issue of threats and talking about the use of force is a foolish thing to do. This idea of preemptive strike that came out of the Bush administration I think is also completely unnecessary."
Instead, Edwards advocates what he calls "a much smarter course in Iran," starting with direct negotiations with Tehran on several issues. The United States, Edwards said, should be "engaging Iran directly on both nuclear weapons and on Iraq, bringing our European friends, to put a system of carrots and sticks on the table, a proposal that would allow Iran to do better economically and still have nuclear power without developing a nuclear weapon, with there being consequences, economic consequences if they fail to do that."
Those steps, Edwards argued, would "empower the moderates and the reformers within Iran who want to get on a more responsible course and not on a course toward proliferation."