DES MOINES, Iowa -- The major Democratic presidential contenders criticized President Bush yesterday for continuing to ratchet up danger warnings about Iran despite an intelligence report that shows Tehran has not pursued nuclear weaponry recently.
In one of the final debates before Iowa holds its leadoff caucuses Jan. 3, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois also said he believed the next president might have to address the public on the need for "drastic" action to deal with global warning because research shows the problem might be accelerating.
The two-hour debate, hosted by NPR and Iowa Public Radio, was sedate and conversational in contrast with the battle that has been waged in Iowa in recent days between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama as polls in the state have tightened.
In the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate report, which determined that Iran has not been pursuing an active nuclear weapons program since 2003, Clinton found herself under renewed attack by rivals for her recent Senate vote for a non-binding resolution that declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
"Senator Clinton has said she agrees with George Bush's terminology that we're in a global war on terror, then she voted to declare the military group in Iran a terrorist organization," said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
But Clinton, of New York, maintained that as a result of resolution, "we've actually seen some changes in [the Revolutionary Guard's] behavior" and said her vote in no way helped provide a "basis for a rush to war" in Iran.
Obama, who did not vote on the resolution because of a campaign scheduling conflict, said he feared the resolution was providing "yet another justification for a continuing mission in Iraq that I think is an extreme problem."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware said Bush's remarks during a White House news conference about the dangers still posed by Iran marked a policy that was "outrageous, intolerable and it must stop."
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, who voted against the Iraq war resolution and has criticized White House policy toward Iran, said his candidacy "offers the American people someone who was right the first time."
Former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska said Iran was "not a problem, never has been, never will be."
All of the candidates agreed on a need to step up trade enforcement and negotiate with the Chinese government over issues of product safety, particularly involving children's toys.
But Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who has temporarily moved to Iowa for the caucuses, declared, "I'm buying Iowa toys" and said his children are "going to eat Iowa foods."
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson did not participate so he could attend the funeral of a Korean War veteran from Iowa whose remains he repatriated from North Korea this year.
On immigration, the contenders agreed that a pathway to citizenship was needed for the millions of undocumented immigrants as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
While immigration brings changes to the American culture, the candidates agreed that change is nothing new for a country of immigrants. Obama and Clinton also said they believed it was inappropriate for Americans to act as vigilante agents to turn in illegal immigrants.
Obama was asked whether he was still grappling with an issue in the campaign. He responded with an ominous warning about climate change.
"I've put forward one of the most aggressive proposals out there," he said. "But the science seems to be coming in indicating it's accelerating even more quickly with every passing day, and by the time I take office I think we're going to have to have a serious conversation about how drastic of steps we need to take to address it."
Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning write for the Chicago Tribune.