SAN MATEO — House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos thinks highly of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, but it's "inconceivable" that their testimony before his committee next month will change his mind about the need to start withdrawing troops from Iraq.

"While we will give General Petraeus a very respectful hearing, which he fully deserves, he has a very tall order," Lantos, D-San Mateo, said Wednesday. "Petraeus is an outstanding military leader, there's nothing wrong with Petraeus. The problem is that it is not the job of the American military to participate in and referee a religion-based, bloody civil war.

"What the American military needs is to be rebuilt and to be redeployed out of Iraq," he said.

Soon after the House returns to session Tuesday, Lantos' Foreign Affairs Committee will host a hearing on a 70-page report by the Government Accountability Office on prospects for Iraqi political reconciliation. Lantos said Wednesday he meets periodically with Stuart Bowen Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction appointed by Congress to watchdog U.S. efforts, and these conversations lead him to believe the GAO report will be "scathing."

That hearing, and another to be held next Thursday by the Armed Services Committee on a report by an independent commission of military experts, will set the stage for Petraeus' and Crocker's testimony to both committees in joint session.


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And that could prove to be a pivotal moment in the national debate on Iraq.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion more in funding for the war — perhaps a show of confidence that it can fend off Congressional Democrats and some Republicans who continue to press for withdrawal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said in a news release "the American people are demanding a New Direction on the Iraq war, not another quarterly invoice," and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, called the impending request "another blank check to continue an open-ended commitment to a failed policy."

On other issues, Lantos said Wednesday that his Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 — which he said would "dramatically increase" economic sanctions on Iran should it continue trying to develop nuclear weapons — is the only peaceful option for dealing with that nation's military ambitions. Iran should have the same access to civilian nuclear power as any other nation, he acknowledged, but mustn't bear nuclear arms.

The bill, House Resolution 1400, has 323 co-sponsors — more than enough to override a veto should President Bush balk at the bill's withdrawal of his ability to waive sanctions at will, Lantos said.

Meanwhile, Lantos praised a pending nuclear-energy agreement with India as "a historic breakthrough" which is "very profoundly in the U.S. national interest" and could lay groundwork for a Japan-India-U.S. alliance to peacefully counterbalance China's growing influence. Congress has agreed to the pact in principle, but it's threatened by discord within India's government.

"I intend to visit India later this fall for consultations with the prime minister and the rest of the Indian government on this issue," he said, also noting that he hopes and expects a closer U.S.-India partnership won't weaken U.S. relations with Pakistan. "I reject the notion that you're either a friend of India or a friend of Pakistan — we need the friendship and cooperation of both."

Lantos — a longtime, staunch supporter of Israel — drew Palestinian ire this month when he said that a major peace summit scheduled for November in Washington is unlikely to produce any great achievements. He defended that statement Wednesday.

"Under far more favorable circumstances than the ones currently prevailing, for well over half a century, all who have attempted to bring about a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians have failed," he said, noting today's "unbelievably unfavorable circumstances."

Israel's government is "not in the strongest position following a less-than-successful war a year ago" against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian government is wracked by internal chaos, having lost control of Gaza and holding only tenuous control in the West Bank. "With both parties in a relatively weak position, it must take incredible naivete to assume that both are prepared to take incredibly difficult, dangerous and heroic steps to create an ultimate peace settlement, or even the outlines of an ultimate peace settlement.

"Nevertheless I support the meeting — whatever steps forward can be taken, I welcome," he added. "But I think the worst service one can make to the cause of peace is to have unrealistic and unattainably high expectations, so my expectations are very modest."

There are some opportunities, however; he intends to visit Saudi Arabia in an effort to convince King Abdullah to meet face-to-face with Israeli officials. "That will come, I believe, because the Saudis now see the threat to them is not Israel, but Iran under (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad."

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com or 510-208-6428. Read the Political Blotter at http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics.