Stability in Iraq is deteriorating "faster than we can appreciate," and communicating with Iran should be considered to ensure Baghdad doesn't fall into radical hands, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday.
"Now is not the time to cut the phone lines because what could happen in Iraq could affect that whole region of the world," he said.
Graham, R-S.C., who spoke at American Legion Post 147 on James Island, clarified a controversial message he delivered on national political talk shows Sunday about Iraqi security.
On air, he said a U.S. partnership with longtime foe Iran makes him uncomfortable but likened it to the United States working with Josef Stalin in World War II against Adolf Hitler. Graham spoke to CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS's "Face the Nation."
"I don't want airplanes flying over Iraq when you've got Iranians on the ground without us talking to each other," he said Monday in Charleston. "That's all I meant."
Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran about the security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation.
"We're open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform," Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo! News.
The Pentagon, however, quickly tamped down speculation that the United States would coordinate or consult with Iran on any potential military intervention.
It also flatly ruled out the idea of "joint military operations" with Iranian armed forces, which the U.S. has long accused of fomenting unrest and backing terrorism in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.
Kerry's comments were met with speedy rebuke from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been harshly critical of the administration's policy toward Iraq. In a statement, McCain said it would be the "height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner" in Iraq.
He noted that Iran has long been deemed the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department and argued that any greater Iranian intervention in Iraq would make matters worse and severely inflame sectarian tensions that are already near a boiling point.
McCain's position puts him at odds with Graham, whom he has long shared opinions critical of President Barack Obama's foreign policy.
"I hope Americans understand my goal is to keep the war over there and not bring it back here," Graham said in Charleston. "That means you need allies and lines of defense. ... I think the American public wants to be safe and they believe radical Islamists, if they could, would hit us again. The only reason 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 and not three million, they just didn't have the weapons to kill three million of us. Well, they're getting stronger."
Obama announced Monday evening that 275 military troops would be deployed to secure the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other interests. Already some staff members were being moved out of Iraq's capital city as it was threatened by the advance of by an al-Qaida inspired insurgency, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday. She did not specify the number of personnel affected by the shift. The embassy is within Baghdad's Green Zone.
"Overall, a substantial majority of the U.S. Embassy presence in Iraq will remain in place and the embassy will be fully equipped to carry out its national security mission," she said.
Some embassy staff members have been temporarily moved elsewhere to more stable places in Iraq and to Jordan, she said.
U.S. travelers in the country were encouraged to exercise caution and limit travel to certain parts of Iraq.
Joe Lysaght, District 2 commander for the American Legion Department of South Carolina, believes any intervention is a lost cause.
"Fifty years ago, when we were in Vietnam, that was a lost cause. And now, we've repeated it over and over again," said Lysaght, who introduced Graham at the Monday event. "The best thing we can do? If they don't want their country, it shouldn't be our responsibility."
Graham, who also discussed the Veterans Access to Care Act in Charleston, disputed a comparison between the situation in Iraq and the Vietnam conflict.
"I never worried about the Vietnamese coming to America. I worry about radical Islam coming back to America. Vietnam didn't want to destroy our way of life. These people do," he said. "We should have left some people behind to prevent this from happening."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north. (AP Photo/Nabil Al-Jurani)×