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Iran: The Revolutionary Guard Resolution

The debate kicked off with the topic of Iran. Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY) said none of the candidates are advocating a rush to war with Tehran, but differences do exist in their approaches to the issue. Much of the conversation on Iran focused on Clinton's decision to support a non-binding resolution to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization — something the Bush administration did this fall.

Clinton called the resolution an important "stick" that the U.S. could use in its diplomatic efforts toward Iran. And she argued that the move paid off, noting that U.S. military officials who had blamed Iran for supporting Shiite militias in Iraq have since seen a change in behavior.

U.S. officials have indeed said that violence by these Shiite militias is down. But it is not clear what may be motivating Iran.

Sen. Joe Biden (DE) said there is no evidence that the change in behavior resulted from designating the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and he called the resolution self-defeating, because other U.S. allies distance themselves from it.

For his part, former Sen. John Edwards (NC) questioned how designating part of Iran's military a terrorist organization can be called diplomatic. He accused Clinton of playing right into the hands of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Clinton called that outlandish.

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (AK) claimed that "Iran is not a problem, never has been and never will be," while Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) said "there is no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program." Actually, the latest National Intelligence Estimate said Iran did have a nuclear weapons program, but it was suspended in 2003.

All the candidates, including Sens. Barack Obama (IL) and Christopher Dodd (CT), said the NIE shows that the U.S. needs to pursue diplomacy in a way the Bush administration has avoided.

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Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.