By Mike Lillis - 06/19/14 12:53 PM EDT
The Obama administration has an obligation to combat terrorism in Iraq, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday, but it shouldn't ally with Iran as part of the process.
President Obama has scheduled a press conference Thursday afternoon on the issue, where he's expected to announce the deployment of 100 Special Forces troops to Iraq, according to numerous reports.
Pelosi declined to weigh in on that plan until she's seen it, but warned more generally that such a strategy could evolve into a more significant commitment.
"You have to be careful sending Special Forces, because it's a number that has a tendency to grow," she said. "So I'd like to see the context, purpose, timeline and all the rest for anything like that. But in any situation, under any president, I would say let's proceed cautiously in that regard."
The Democratic leader amplified her opposition to sending troops back into the field in Iraq, but she has not ruled out other military options, including providing more equipment to the Iraqi government and launching targeted missile strikes on the insurgents, in the name of protecting U.S. interests.
"That's different from being engaged in a sectarian war in Iraq," she said. "[That's] what is in our national interest in terms of counter-terrorism."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested Wednesday that Iran could play a role in stabilizing the region by nudging the much-derided Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki out of office, according to a report in Al-Monitor.
"Maliki has to be convinced that it's in the greater interest of his country to retire," Feinstein told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a Senate hearing on defense spending.
"What is the administration thinking ... on that subject? Because that's the one place where Iran can be of help, if they want to."
Pelosi didn't hesitate in opposing that view.
"I'm not one who's interested in working with Iran on this. I think you have to be open to where you can get support for things, but I don't have the confidence level that [they would help]," she said. "Right now we're trying to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon. That can't happen."
Pelosi blamed the rise of Iran on the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq, arguing that the United States toppled the "main check" on Iran when it deposed Saddam Hussein.
"I'm concerned that they [Iranian leaders] think we're going to go in and then they're going to go in after us," she said. "But we're not going to go in."
Pelosi was among the four top congressional leaders who met with Obama on the issue Wednesday afternoon at the White House. Obama informed the leaders that he's still weighing his options, but emphasized that he won't be seeking congressional approval if he uses military force because the 2002 law authorizing the Bush-era invasion is still valid.
Pelosi, who agrees, said Thursday that the GOP leaders at the meeting — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — did not object.
"I didn't hear any of them demanding congressional action," she said. "That was certainly not the case."
The question of whether Obama should use even limited force in Iraq is splitting Democrats on Capitol Hill. Leaders like Pelosi, by remaining open to certain military involvement, have provided Obama flexibility and cover as he decides his next move. But many liberals in the caucus are opposed to any renewed military operations less than three years after the last U.S. troops were pulled from the war-torn country.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, is offering three amendments to a House defense spending bill aimed at preventing Obama from launching any further military action in Iraq.
One amendment would bar funding for the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq — the same statute that Pelosi says has empowered Obama to use military force now without the current Congress's input.
Still, Pelosi applauded Lee Thursday for forcing a "worthy" debate.
"I salute her action in bringing it to the floor," Pelosi said. "I don't know if it will win ... but it's certainly a worthy discussion."
—This report was updated at 1:14 p.m.