President Barack Obama is set to brief Congress' "Big Four" on Wednesday about U.S. reaction to the Iraq crisis and other pressing foreign policy issues.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will meet at the White House at 3 p.m. Wednesday, a White House official said.
The meeting is part of Obama's ongoing consultations with congressional leadership on foreign policy, including the situation in Iraq, the official said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the Obama administration for not anticipating the rise of the Sunni militants known as ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), who captured Iraq’s second-largest city last week and could pose a terrorism threat both within and outside the country’s borders.
“I think our intelligence has failed us miserably, from not being aware of the threat that we've faced and how this could unfold as quickly as it has. This has been planned for quite some time,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said Sunday on NBC’s "Meet The Press."
ISIS militants have seized or partially control at least six cities in northern Iraq in the past week and are threatening to sack the capital Baghdad in the effort to create a Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Kuwait.
The flare-up has become yet another hot spot in a centuries-old sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite divisions of Islam.
With that in mind, some U.S. lawmakers — even former hawks — are reluctant to get involved, again.
"Where will it lead and will that be the beginning or the end?" Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told The Associated Press when asked about the possibility of airstrikes. "We don't know that. This underlying conflict has been going on 1,500 years between the Shias and the Sunnis and their allies. And I think whatever we do, it's not going to go away."
Shelby was one of the 77 Senate Republicans and Democrats who voted to give President George W. Bush the authority to attack Iraq in October 2002.
Reid, who also voted for war 12 years ago, told the AP, "After a decade of war, we've all had enough."
Also on Tuesday the State Department said that the U.S. is open to further talks with Iran about the instability in Iraq — although discussions are likely to take place at a "lower level."
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns met with Iranian officials briefly Monday on the sidelines of wider talks in Vienna between Iran and six major powers about Tehran's nuclear program.
"We’re open to continuing our engagement with the Iranians, just as we are engaging with other regional players on the threat posed by (ISIS) in Iraq," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "It is likely ... those discussions would happen at a lower level."
And Psaki stressed that Iraq's problems will likely need to be solved by Iraqis.
"There is no outside country, not the United States, not any country, that can solve the challenges that the people of Iraq are facing. It needs to be the government that takes steps," she said.
— with The Associated Press
First published June 17 2014, 6:20 PM