Raelyn Johnson, Sunlen Miller, and Eloise Harper Report: One month away from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic presidential candidates participated in a debate sponsored by NPR and Iowa Public Radio Tuesday that focused on Iran, Iraq, relations with China, and immigration.
The candidates immediately engaged in a heated discussion on Iran, one day after a national intelligence report revealed Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., was the first candidate asked to respond to the report as well as President Bush’s assessment this morning that Iran still posed a threat.
"I vehemently disagree with the President that nothing’s changed and therefore nothing in America’s has to change," she said during a two hour debate held at the Iowa State Historical Museum in downtown Des Moines.
"I have for two years advocated diplomatic engagement with Iran and I think that’s what this president should do. He should seize this opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy using both carrots and sticks," Clinton said.
The topic introduced a moment for Clinton’s rivals to criticize her vote in September to declare the Iranian revolutionary guard a terrorist organization.
"The United States Senate had an important responsibility in standing up to him and stopping him on the vote," said former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who has strongly criticized Clinton for her vote. "It’s absolutely clear and eerily similar to what we saw with Iraq."
Clinton defended the vote saying she was trying to urge aggressive diplomacy, not urge the President to take military action against Iran.
Edwards shot back, "declaring a military group sponsored by the state of Iran a terrorist organization, that’s supposed to be diplomacy?"
"I understand politics and I understand making outlandish political changes but this really goes way too far," Clinton responded.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who did not show up in Congress for the Iran vote said he believed Iran continued to be a threat to its neighbors in the region.
He cautioned, "It is absolutely clear that this administration and President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology and that’s been the problem with their foreign policy in general. They should have stopped the saber rattling, they shouldn’t have never started it and they need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front."