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01 Oct 2009 05:35 pm

Cantor: Don't Trust Iran

Rep. Eric Cantor (VA), the Republican House whip, is as skilled and polished as politicians come--at the age of 46, he's risen to become one of the most prominent Republicans in government--and, armed with both a PAC and a grassroots-style think tank, some say he's on a fast track to a 2012 presidential run.

He's also the only Jewish Republican in Congress (though Joe Lieberman is often subject to facetious inclusion in that category) and a staunch backer of Israel.

Today, in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd at the First Draft of History, he reacted to news that Iran has agreed to allow UN inspectors in its now-public enrichment plant and to new international talks about its nuclear program...and he wasn't terribly enthralled with the possibility of Iran as a state the U.S. can deal with.

"We shouldn't be disillusioned by representations made by the regime in Iran," Cantor said, and, when Todd raised the question--so hotly contested during the 2008 presidential campaign--of whether or not to engage Iran in talks, Cantor made it clear that he sees that path as less than fruitful.

"If this president takes that position, that is his prerogative. In a perfect world, if I were the one deciding, no, I don't think we should be engaging with a regime that has every step of the way given us every reason to doubt its sincerity," Cantor said.

But what, exactly, is the downside of that engagement--the process of opening relations that was begun at the end of the Bush administration and advertised by Obama as part of a broader movement in American foreign policy, a policy of openness and willingness to sit down with anyone, that Obama came to represent? Todd pressed Cantor on the question, and the congressman says it's about buying into an illusion:

"The downside to engagement is if we are entering that engagement with the illusion that we can necessarily trust the representations made by a regime that is an outlaw regime--by a regime that has defied the will of this community, that has essentially perpetrated untruths and misrepresentations to the world," Cantor said.

The Middle East is a big part of Cantor's profile, and, as President Obama wades into the difficult waters of seeking peace between Israelis and Palestinians, we can expect to hear a lot more form him on the matter in the coming years.

And he said that, on his last trip to Israel, he sensed a "real concern" over the status of Israel's alliance with the U.S.: "It was the first time I have been there in my official capacity that I have sensed this uncertainty."

To Cantor, Iran's nuclear status is a key to the Israeli/Palestinian peace process--not the other way around. "It is my sense that if we can address the existential threat coming from Tehran...we will have an environment at some point that could promote a lasting peace, or at least a perceived avenue toward [one]."

Cantor and Todd also talked health care, and, when Todd asked the GOP whip where the Republican plan is, he told him GOP plans abound, directing the audience to his congressional website.

When asked what story of our present age the media has missed, Cantor said education--the same topic of his National Council for a New America's first forum. For Cantor--in his role as the GOP whip, and in any plans he might have down the road--it could become a signature issue.

"Really, think about it. In the last nine months, how much have we talked about education? Not much," he said. "But that's really gonna be the secret to our ability to lead."

Watch the full video of this session:


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