ATHENS, Ga. (AP) _ Five former U.S. secretaries of state on Thursday urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and open a dialogue with Iran.
The former chiefs of American diplomacy, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, reached a consensus on the two issues at a conference in Athens aimed at giving the next president some bipartisan foreign policy advice. Each of them said shuttering the prison camp in Cuba would bolster America's image abroad.
"It says to the world: 'We are now going back to our traditional respective forms of dealing with people who potentially committed crimes,'" said Colin Powell, who served as President Bush's first secretary of state.
Powell was joined by Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, who sat in a round-table discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia at a sold-out conference center in downtown Athens.
Kissinger called Guantanamo a "blot on us" and agreed it should be closed, but wondered aloud about the consequences of a closure.
Baker, a lawyer who served in President George H.W. Bush's Cabinet, said he has struggled with its legal implications.
"It gives us a very, very bad name, not just internationally," he said. "I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we can hold someone, pick someone up, particularly someone who might be an American citizen — even if they were caught somewhere abroad, acting against American interests — and hold them without ever giving them an opportunity to appear before a magistrate."
The former secretaries of state also urged that the U.S. open a line of dialogue with Iran, each saying it is important to maintain contact with adversaries and allies alike.
Albright stressed the importance of finding "common ground" and Christopher urged diplomats to explore opening contact with other "vectors of power," such as clerics and former political leaders. Albright and Christopher served under President Clinton.
Baker suggested the dialogue could center on a common dilemma, saying a "dysfunctional Iraq, a chaotic Iraq, is not something that's in the interest to Iran. There's every incentive on their part to help us, the same way they did in Afghanistan."
Kissinger, who served the Nixon and Ford administrations, urged an open — if delicate — line of communication with Iran.
"One has to talk with adversaries," said Kissinger, who served the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Powell compared the potential talks to difficult visits he made to Syria while he served as America's chief diplomat.
"They are not always pleasant visits," he said. "But you've got to do it."
Kissinger, who laid the groundwork for Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China that opened relations with that nation, had sharp words when the topic veered to America's perception of China.
"We should not look at China as a military adversary," said Kissinger, adding that a military confrontation is unlikely. "We should see where we could cooperate."
Powell said he agrees, arguing that the biggest threat to a peaceful relationship with China would be Taiwan declaring its independence.
"And, frankly we can keep that from happening," said Powell.
Some of the strongest words were reserved for the trade embargo against Cuba.
"The 50-year-old embargo has not worked, not worked to our benefit or their benefit. This is one of those issues that is driven more by politics than foreign policy," said Christopher.
"When policies don't work for 50 years," he said, "It's time to start thinking about something else."
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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.