WASHINGTON -- Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland hand-delivered a letter to President Bush yesterday asking that the U.S. open direct talks with Iran and Syria to help quell the violence in Iraq.
The Eastern Shore Republican was at the White House for the signing of a fisheries bill when he gave the letter to Bush. The congressman's office later issued a news release about it.
"An increase in American troop levels alone cannot resolve this conflict," Gilchrest wrote. "A positive outcome in Iraq requires regional cooperation and positive engagement from all neighboring states."
Gilchrest's position mirrors that of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission whose recommendations about diplomatic outreach to Iran and Syria have been rejected by the administration.
Bush has resisted direct talks with Iran and Syria, governments that his administration considers adversaries in its war on terror.
Aid and extortion
In his address on Iraq this week, Bush said that Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops there and that Iran and Syria both are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of the country.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress the next day that Iran would seek to tie talks to concessions on its nuclear program and Syria to the inquiry into involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
"That's not diplomacy; that's extortion," she said.
Gilchrest said Iran shares the U.S. interest against a resurgence of al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Baathists or the Sunnis.
"Iran and Syria have influence in the region," he said. "They will continue to exert that influence, whether we talk to them or not. Now their influence I believe will be more positive with open dialogue with the United States."
Other Mideast conflict
In the letter, which quoted liberally from the report of the Iraq Study Group, Gilchrest also called on Bush to address the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"The history of the Middle East is too vast, too complex and too tumultuous to expect progress without an integrated diplomatic effort and multinational support from all of Iraq's neighbors," he wrote.
Gilchrest said he handed the letter to Bush and described its contents to him as he was leaving the Oval Office.
The letter was cosigned by 28 members of Congress, including Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland.
Gilchrest said Bush told him he would read it.
A White House spokeswoman could not confirm that Bush received the letter and declined to make any direct comment, referring a reporter to Rice's congressional testimony.
Gilchrest, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, voted in October 2002 to authorize Bush to use military force in Iraq. He has said since then that he was "sold a bill of goods." He cosigned a separate letter this week opposing the president's plan to increase U.S. forces there.
Sun reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this article.