WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not back sending any U.S. troops into the conflict in Iraq, which he described as a "civil war" on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama about the escalating crisis.
"I do not support in any way putting our men and women in the midst of this civil war in Iraq. It is not in the national security interest of our country," Reid said in remarks opening the Senate's daily session.
Reid and three other congressional leaders - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi - are meeting with Obama later on Wednesday as the White House formulates its response to the crisis in Iraq. Administration officials have been holding a series of briefings and meetings for lawmakers - who may need to approve funding for U.S. action - to consult about the escalating crisis.
Separately, Boehner told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that he hoped to hear from Obama a "broader strategy" for Iraq. "What I’m looking for is a strategy that will guarantee some success in keeping Iraq free, and propping up the democracy that we fought so hard to get," he said.
The Ohio Republican criticized the Democratic president for failing to do something sooner to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq and strongly denounced the idea of reaching out to long-term rival Iran.
"No, absolutely not," Boehner said, when asked if he supported talking to Iran. "I can just imagine what our friends in the region and our allies would be thinking by reaching out to Iran at a time when they continue to pay for terrorism, foster terrorism, not only in Syria, in Lebanon, but in Israel as well."
Obama is considering military options to push back al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has swept the north of the country over the past week as the Shi'ite-led army has crumbled.
Iran, the leading Shi'ite power, has close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Shi'ite parties that have won elections since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Both Washington and Tehran are allies of Baghdad, but they have not cooperated in the past, although their diplomats discussed Iraq briefly on Monday in Vienna.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jim Loney