House can toughen Obama foreign policy: Ros-Lehtinen

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Republican-controlled House of Representatives can help stiffen President Barack Obama’s policies toward hostile states like Iran, the congresswoman in line to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee said on Wednesday.

U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) speaks with Reuters at her office in Miami, November 10, 2010. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who as senior Republican on the committee is poised to take over its leadership, told Reuters she believed the House body would have an “important voice” in foreign policy, without wanting to over-inflate its role or influence.

“I think that the majority of our committee, that has yet to be named ... will be able to help the president be tougher with countries,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview.

“I think it strengthens the president’s hand,” added the Florida representative, who is a fierce critic of countries like Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela that she terms “rogue regimes.” She spoke while Obama was on a tour of Asia, attending a G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea.

Ros-Lehtinen said Obama could even use a “tough Congress” to “play good cop, bad cop” with anti-U.S. states like Iran, which Washington and other world powers are pressuring over its nuclear program.

She said she believed the United States needed to convey the message it meant business about implementing sanctions against Iran, which denies Western accusations its nuclear program is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

“If the country with whom we are negotiating with and playing diplomatic niceties with gets the feeling that they can string us along and have no actions take place, I think that’s to the detriment of the United States,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

“If ... we convey a sense of weakness and a lack of resolve, then the centrifuges (in Iran’s uranium enrichment program) keep spinning,” she added.

Iran has been hit with four rounds of U.N. sanctions for continuing the program in defiance of Security Council demands for a halt. Tehran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity.

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On China, Ros-Lehtinen believed that many members of the new House Foreign Affairs Committee would be very concerned about human rights violations there.

The important U.S.-China relationship had also been compounded by mutual criticisms over economic policy, with Washington accusing Beijing of keeping the yuan artificially weak to benefit its exporters.

“Now with this currency manipulation problem, that adds a whole layer of domestic concerns, economic concerns for us as well,” Ros-Lehtinen said. China has responded with its own criticism of U.S. monetary policies.


The representative said the kind of foreign policy voice the new House Foreign Affairs Committee projected would depend on its final composition, to be formally determined along with the chairmanship in early December.

“It depends a lot on whether the makeup of our committee will be more Republican-Libertarian or Republican hard line,” she said.

“I think the common denominator is advancing America’s interest, keeping America safe, being non-apologetic about being a superpower, being proud of who we are, advancing human rights”.

Ros-Lehtinen said the committee would also increase oversight of U.S. overseas programs to “see whether they really work, do we want to continue funding them.”

She also hoped the committee could spend time on proposals to reform the United Nations, to try to improve the transparency and accountability of its operations.

“A lot of our money goes there, so we should be accountable to the people,” she said.

Ros-Lehtinen noted that Obama this week endorsed India’s long-held demand for a permanent seat on a proposed enlarged U.N. Security Council and welcomed his call for reforms at the United Nations, saying she would like to hear more about them from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She said such reforms should include reforming the U.N. Human Rights Council, which she previously described as being “hijacked” by Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, states that she terms “serial human rights abusers.”

Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged her long-standing criticism of the left-wing rulers of Cuba and Venezuela -- Havana’s state media has dubbed her “the ferocious she-wolf” -- but that did not mean it would dominate the House committee’s agenda.

“I bring my passions and my thoughts and my ideas to the position of chair, but that does not mean that what I believe and what I feel passionate about, everyone else should be dwelling on,” she said.

Editing by Peter Cooney