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McCain Calls Iran 'Foremost' Middle East Enemy

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addresses the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Washington Convention Center June 2, 2008, in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

By Michael D. Shear
Sen. John McCain called Monday for broad sanctions against Iran and a South African-style worldwide divestment strategy aimed at pressuring the country's regime to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and encourage its people's democratic aspirations.

In a speech to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC in Washington, McCain declared Iran the "foremost" enemy in the Middle East and said it could pose an "existential threat" to Israel if it succeeds in acquiring a nuclear bomb.

"A sponsor of both Hamas and Hezbollah, the leadership of Iran has repeatedly used violence to undermine Israel and the Middle East peace process," McCain said. "It has trained, financed, and equipped extremists in Iraq who have killed American soldiers fighting to bring freedom to that country. It remains the world's chief sponsor of terrorism and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East, from Basra to Beirut."

McCain once again mocked his likely Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, for his willingness to meet unconditionally with Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"It's hard to see what such a summit with President Ahmadinejad would actually gain, except an earful of anti-Semitic rants, and a worldwide audience for a man who denies one Holocaust and talks before frenzied crowds about starting another," McCain said. "Such a spectacle would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability."

Instead, McCain told the approving crowd, the U.S. should lead the world in political and economic sanctions against Iran, including limits on Iranian imports of gasoline and an enhanced effort by worldwide financial institutions to freeze the regime's assets.

The U.S. Treasury department has already begun to clamp down on Iranian financial transactions. In March, the administration issued a warning to U.S. banks about the dangers of doing business with Iranian banks. And the United Nations Security Council has passed three resolutions calling on an end to Iran's nuclear development, each with slightly tougher sanctions.

But McCain appears not to have much confidence in the U.N. process, saying the U.S. should be prepared to step in.

"Should the Security Council continue to delay in this responsibility, the United States must lead like-minded countries in imposing multilateral sanctions outside the UN framework," he said.

Obama's campaign responded quickly to McCain's speech, accusing the Republican nominee of "stubbornly" insisting on what spokesman Hari Sevugan called a "dangerous and failed foreign policy that has clearly made the United States and Israel less secure."

Sevugan noted that McCain had voted against a divestment bill sponsored by Obama and said he "stubbornly refuses to engage in aggressive diplomacy, ruling it out unconditionally as a tool of American power."

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 2, 2008; 11:24 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , John McCain  
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