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The Courier News - District 7 congressional candidates have differing views on Iran policy"

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The Courier News - District 7 congressional candidates have differing views on Iran policy"

The two major party candidates running for a 7th District U.S. House seat agree Iran is a serious threat to U.S. interests, but disagree on the impact of America's presence in Iraq when it comes to Iran and whether the president should take a lead role in diplomacy with the country.

State Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Clinton Township, is running against Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Fanwood. The seat's current occupant, U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson, R-New Providence, announced last year he would not seek reelection.

A serious matter

Iran has long supported Hezbollah and Hamas — which have been listed by the United States and other countries as terrorist organizations — and U.S. military officials have accused Iran of supporting insurgents in Iraq. The test firing of nine long- and medium-range missiles by a branch of Iran's military, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, drew international criticism in July.

"This is a serious matter, and I do not underestimate what Iran is doing," Lance said.

Iran's nuclear program has stirred international concern, with the United States and other countries pushing for it to cease enriching uranium. Iran has said its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and, despite U.N. sanctions, refused to stop its uranium enrichment activities.

"The fact that they are clearly interested and intent on developing nuclear weapons is dangerous, disturbing, it's a violation of international law and could certainly provoke chaos in an already unstable region," Stender said.

Stender said the decision to go into Iraq has made Iran a stronger player in the region and elevated its position internationally. Lance said Iranian-U.S. tensions go back to the Islamic revolution in the country in 1979.

"I would not believe that it's a result of what has occurred in Iraq, I think it predates that," Lance said.

Stender, who supports a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq, said America's role has to move into "a more determined diplomacy."

"We have to be leaders in terms of bringing the region together, something that hasn't been done in a very serious way," Stender said. "Up until only recently, in fact, this administration insisted that we shouldn't even speak to Iran."

Handling Iran

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, supports presidential-level diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. The presumptive GOP nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, has called that position "a serious misreading of history."

Lance said he agreed with President George W. Bush and McCain on the matter, arguing diplomacy should be at a ministerial level, such as the U.S. secretary of state, or below.

"I do not think the president of the United States should give added weight to the Iranian president, added influence, by negotiating with him as a first matter," Lance said.

Stender said we have to use "every tool within the diplomatic cart."

"That would mean you would of course establish some preconditions, but that you would be open to using your standing as the leader of the greatest country on earth to be an agent for building a peaceful solution for the region," Stender said.

Stender was a primary sponsor of a bill signed into law early this year that prohibited the investment of state pension funds in foreign companies that do business in Iran.

"In addition to having a strong military and being a strong leader, I think that we have to use the power of the purse to cut them off and hurt their ability to grow their programs and their influence," Stender said.

Lance was a co-sponsor of the bill in the state Senate.

Last year, McCain supported a U.S. Senate proposal to label Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and has criticized Obama for opposing it.

Obama — who backed an earlier measure to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization — has said language in the Kyl-Lieberman amendment could be used to justify a continued troop presence in Iraq or justify an attack on Iran, according to published reports.

Lance said he would have supported the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. Stender said she generally supported labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

President Bush has not ruled out military action in confronting Iran, though the administration has said it wants to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Stender said she wants the country's military to be strong and protect American interests, but actions in the Middle East have been about protecting the interests of the oil industry.

"Military action against Iran to benefit the oil industry I don't believe is the proper course of action," Stender said.

Lance said military action should be a last resort and the United States should pursue diplomacy first.

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