[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/16/art.baker.gi.jpg caption="Five former Secretaries of State weighed in Monday."](CNN) - Five former Secretaries of State from both parties told CNN Monday the Bush administration’s hard-line approach on Iran needs to be abandoned by the next president – with one GOP foreign policy heavyweight calling the current White House position “ridiculous.”
"I would advise the president to fully engage with Syria," former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said at a George Washington University forum co-sponsored by CNN. “I think it's ridiculous for us to say we're not going to talk to Syria, and yet the Israelis have been negotiating peace with them for the last six or eight months.”
Watch Colin Powell on the presidential race
(Powell's full comments will air on “The Next President: A World of Challenges” this Saturday night at 9pm ET and again Sunday at 2pm ET.)
Baker, who has endorsed John McCain’s presidential bid, appeared with former Clinton Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, who served under Nixon and Ford, and former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell. Albright has been an active supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
As the former diplomats urged a cautious approach in the conflict between Russia and Georgia, Powell seemed to take a swipe at John McCain’s tough criticism of Moscow.
“Some debate in the presidential elections has basically been, ‘We are all Georgians now,’” said CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. “What does that mean? It's the same as was said after 9/11.”
Responded Powell, “One candidate said that, and I'll let the candidate explain it for himself.” Pressed to explain his response, the retired general said the crisis called for caution.
“The fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you take a good analysis of the whole situation….
“The Russian Federation is not going to become the Soviet Union again. That movie failed at the box office. But they do have interests. And we have to think carefully about their interests.”
Powell, who has not yet decided which candidate to back in this year’s presidential race, said Monday the election of an African-American president “would be electrifying,” Powell told a George Washington University audience, “but at the same time [I have to] make a judgment here on which would be best for America.
“I have been watching both individuals, I know them both extremely well, and I have not decided who I am going to vote for. And I'm interested to see what the debates are going to be like because we have to get off of this ‘lipstick on a pig’ stuff and get into issues,” he said