Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bush, Blair hold talks following Iraq report

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush met with his most important ally in the Iraq war Thursday, a day after the White House said it may be able to "announce a new way forward" by year's end.

White House spokesman Tony Snow told CNN's "Larry King Live" Wednesday that Bush would need to compare the newly released Iraq Study Group report with pending studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council before any policy changes are announced.

"We're hoping to have all that pulled together so that maybe by the end of the year, the president can announce a new way forward," Snow told King. (Watch how Bush's approach may change )

Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday as the president faces pressure to change course in Iraq. The bipartisan report said Bush's war policies could lead to chaos and "time is running out." (Full story)

Bush and Blair's Oval Office meeting was preceded by an unscheduled breakfast. No details of the meeting were announced.

The two leaders are set to hold a joint news conference at 10:55 a.m. ET.

In presenting the group's report Wednesday, co-chairman James Baker said that because "events in Iraq could overtake what we recommend," members of the group "believe that decisions should be made by our national leaders with some urgency." (Full story)

Calling the situation "grave and deteriorating," the report urges that military brigades be pulled back by early 2008 and the U.S. troops evolve into a support role for the Iraqi Army.

Eleven U.S. troops have died in Iraq during the past 24 hours, according to the Pentagon, bringing the total U.S. military personnel killed in the war to 2,920 -- 30 in the month of December.

The report also calls for a "renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace." (Watch report's co-chairs explain why linking Iraq to Israeli-Arab conflict adds "legitimacy" )

"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability," the report says.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert balked at the link drawn between the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq.

"The attempt to create linkage between the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue ... we have a different view," Olmert said, according to a translation by The Associated Press. (Full story)

A day after the report recommended launching a "New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq and of the region" by December 31, Iraq announced two regional conferences to address the nation's violence and instability.

Within the next four months, a a conference on security and other issues will be held in Baghdad, Iraq's Interior Ministry said. Countries in the region and the Arab League and the United Nations will participate.

Iraqi officials will also meet with representatives of Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey early next year.

Bush: Proposals will be taken seriously
Bush first received the report from panel members Wednesday at the White House. The president told group members that "we will take every proposal seriously, and we will act in a timely fashion." But he did not indicate when he might announce any changes in his Iraq policy.

The group's co-chairmen said Wednesday that they believe their recommendations could also be a "tough sell" given the variety of views circulating about the war.

"We think we have put forward recommendations that are achievable in the political environment in Washington and the political environment in Iraq," said Iraq Study Group's co-chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and former Indiana congressman.

"Of course it's a tough sell," Hamilton said. "You've got a lot of people, good people, in this country thinking about it from all perspectives." Both chairmen answered questions about the report Thursday on Capitol Hill before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Baker said he and Hamilton had been "pleasantly surprised" by Bush's reaction when they presented the report to him at the White House. (Watch Bush's reaction to Iraq report )

He said Bush told them that the report "might very well present us with a common way of moving forward."

Hamilton said their conversation about the report with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also "went very well."

"He obviously has concerns about any policy recommendation that deeply affects his country. But I believe overall, they will see it positively," Hamilton told King.

"They're very sensitive about their own sovereignty, so when we recommend a new regional framework for diplomacy, they want to be very careful that Iraq is, in fact, in control of that, or at least very prominent.

"And they certainly resist any idea that the United States or anybody else is imposing something on them," Hamilton said.

The 10 members of the Iraq Study Group -- evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats -- spent nearly nine months gathering information and talking to many experts about possible strategies for Iraq.


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