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The Nation

Shut jail, ex-diplomats say

Powell, Kissinger, Albright, Baker and Christopher also urge the next president to open talks with Iran.

March 28, 2008|From the Associated Press

ATHENS, GA. — Five former U.S. secretaries of State on Thursday urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and open a dialogue with Iran.

The former chiefs of American diplomacy, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, reached a consensus on the two issues at a conference in Athens aimed at giving the next president some bipartisan foreign policy advice.

Each of them said closing the prison in Cuba would bolster America's image abroad.

"It says to the world: 'We are now going back to our traditional respective forms of dealing with people who potentially committed crimes,' " said Colin L. Powell, who served as President Bush's first secretary of State.

Powell was joined by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine K. Albright, who sat in a round-table discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia at a sold-out conference center in downtown Athens.

Kissinger called Guantanamo a "blot on us" and agreed it should be closed, but wondered aloud about the consequences of a closure.

Baker, a lawyer who served in President George H.W. Bush's Cabinet, said he had struggled with its legal implications.

"It gives us a very, very bad name, not just internationally," he said. "I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we can hold someone, pick someone up, particularly someone who might be an American citizen -- even if they were caught somewhere abroad, acting against American interests -- and hold them without ever giving them an opportunity to appear before a magistrate."

The former secretaries of State also urged that the U.S. open a line of dialogue with Iran, each saying it was important to maintain contact with adversaries and allies alike.

Albright stressed the importance of finding "common ground," and Christopher urged diplomats to explore opening contact with other "vectors of power," such as clerics and former political leaders. Albright and Christopher served under President Clinton.

Baker suggested the dialogue could center on a common dilemma, saying a "dysfunctional Iraq, a chaotic Iraq, is not something that's in the interest to Iran. There's every incentive on their part to help us, the same way they did in Afghanistan."

Kissinger urged an open -- if delicate -- line of communication with Iran.

"One has to talk with adversaries," said Kissinger, who served the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Powell compared the potential talks to difficult visits he made to Syria while he served as America's chief diplomat.

"They are not always pleasant visits," he said. "But you've got to do it."

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