By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bill Richardson on Wednesday urged the Bush administration to continue a dialogue with Iran as the U.S. tries to thwart the country's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In separate speeches, the candidates offered a broad indictment of President Bush's foreign policies, from the Iraq war to the use of unilateral force to relations with Iran and North Korea.
Clinton said the administration has given Iran "six years of the silent treatment."
"In this vacuum, Tehran continues its progress toward developing nuclear weapons and increasing its influence in the region," she told the Center for a New American Security. "After initial talks with Iran and Syria on Iraq, the administration says it isn't sure that we need any more discussions with either of them. I think we should keep talking."
Richardson, who served as U.N. ambassador for Clinton's husband, said that instead of lecturing Iran's leadership, the United States should talk with them without preconditions. And instead of using inflammatory names, such as "Axis of Evil," the U.S. and its allies should seek and find common ground, particularly with moderates unhappy with the current leadership.
"If we want Iran to improve its behavior, we would do well to stop threatening to attack them," he told the Center for National Policy. "We must remember that no nation has ever been forced to renounce nukes - but many have been persuaded to do so with a combination of carrots and sticks."
Richardson, the New Mexico governor, said he would not seek immediate face-to-face negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner elected in 2005, but with others around him.
The administration has rejected direct negotiations with Ahmadinejad and has instead pursued international economic sanctions to stop the country's nuclear weapons development.
Meanwhile, nearly all the Republicans vying to replace Bush said during a recent debate they would not rule out using nuclear weapons to halt the program. Vice President Dick Cheney has repeatedly said the administration is keeping all options on the table for dealing with Iran, even as efforts continue to resolve the dispute diplomatically.
The New York senator said U.S. priorities should be bringing troops home from Iraq, demanding that Iraqis take responsibility for their country or lose U.S. aid and intensive diplomacy to restore frayed relationships.
"We have a long road ahead to repair the damage that has been done these past six years," she said.
She said she would introduce legislation soon to deal with nuclear terrorism. She said the administration has abandoned nonproliferation efforts, cutting off dialogue with Iran and allowing North Korea to reprocess enough material to make nuclear bombs and test a nuclear weapon.
Clinton said she would increase funds for the global threat reduction initiative, ensure the removal of highly enriched uranium from research reactors around the world and create a senior adviser to the president for nuclear terrorism.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Talhelm contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)