Democrats worry Bush setting up war with Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some Democratic presidential candidates worried on Thursday the White House had begun a march to war by declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorism supporter while a top Republican said “bombardment” of Iran should be an option.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a hard-line stance against Iran after the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard in a bid to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

Washington also accuses Iran of supplying explosive devices to Iraqi militants that are being used to kill U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Romney, trying to win his party’s presidential nomination for the November 2008 election, said in New Hampshire the military option must be on the table in the event sanctions do not work.

“I really can’t lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind, and that’s something we very much have to keep on the table, and if you will, ready ourselves to be able to take because frankly it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons,” Romney said.

Democrats, meanwhile, were afraid they were hearing a drumbeat for war against Iran, much as occurred in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

“I am deeply concerned that once again the president is opting for military action as a first resort,” said Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a long-shot Democratic presidential candidate.

Dodd and others in the battle for the party’s presidential nomination took a shot at the Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, for voting in favor of a Senate resolution that recommended the State Department label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

“Instead of blocking George Bush’s new march to war, Sen. Clinton and others are enabling him once again,” said one candidate, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Another Democratic candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, said that unfortunately, the Senate measure “made the case for President Bush that we need to use our military presence in Iraq to counter Iran — a case that has nothing to do with sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard.”

Clinton, however, strongly defended her vote in favor of the Senate resolution, said she supported the sanctions announced by the State Department, and urged the Bush administration to engage in “robust diplomacy” with Iran.

“We must work to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism, and the sanctions announced today strengthen America’s diplomatic hand in that regard,” she said in a statement.

Clinton, trying to prevent the issue from becoming a point of contention with liberal Democrats concerned she would lead the United States into another war, has been seeking to assure Democrats her vote should not be seen as giving Bush authority for war on Iran.

“I believe that a policy of diplomacy backed by economic pressure is the best way to check Iran’s efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons program and stop its support of terrorism, and the best way to avert a war,” she said.

Clinton is still taking heat from anti-war liberals for her 2002 vote in favor of a Senate measure that authorized the use of force against Iraq.


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Bush tours fires, sees ‘better day ahead’

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – Firefighters gained the upper hand on nearly all of the California wildfires on Thursday as winds died down after five days battling 20 fires from the mountains north of Los Angeles down to the Mexican border.

Most of the 500,000 people in the largest evacuation in California’s modern history were on their way home, officials said. Some 1,600 homes have been destroyed since Sunday.

Two burned bodies were found in a house in hard-hit San Diego County, bringing the death toll to at least eight. Most were elderly who died while being evacuated.

“This is a better day than any we’ve had since this thing started,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender said.

President George W. Bush, who declared California’s wildfires a “major disaster,” was due to survey the damage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday and check on the government’s response.

“It’s a sad situation out there in southern California. I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts and they just need to know a lot of folks care about them,” Bush said before leaving the White House.

He said he wanted to make sure California was receiving the help it needed to deal with the wildfires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, criticized along with Bush for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had 1,000 people on the ground in badly scorched San Diego County.

Though fire officials were relieved that the hot, dry Santa Ana winds driving the flames had weakened, they conceded that offshore breezes replacing them presented a danger. Even those milder winds could fan the flames, being fought by some 9,000 weary men and women.

The wildfires broke out during the weekend after the Santa Ana winds began to blow and have blackened nearly 800 square miles, and injured more than 60 people, many of them firefighters.


San Diego County has suffered losses in excess of $1 billion, and three of the largest fires were still burning there, mostly in the eastern, less populated part of the county.

“This is going to be a re-entry day for many of the thousands of San Diegans that are out there,” said Ron Lane, head of county emergency services. “We are absolutely thrilled.”

Fewer than 1,000 people spent the night at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, compared with some 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday. The good food, showers, acupuncture and massage at evacuees’ disposal might have attracted chronically homeless street people.

“You see a lot of them walking around the parking lot,” evacuee Jennifer Ryan said. “They know a good thing when they see it.”

One of the most critical fires was in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, where containment of the 20,000-acre (8,094-hectare) Santiago fire suffered a setback overnight.

Authorities said federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined local authorities in investigating the Santiago fire as arson.

“Those are crime scenes,” said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He said a $70,000 reward was posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Three out of four of Los Angeles County’s fires had 100 percent containment, including one in the celebrity enclave of Malibu that garnered much attention in the first days.

A risk modeling firm said insured fire losses from the fires would likely cost between $900 million and $1.6 billion.


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