Top Bush aide of­fers skep­ti­cal re­view of al-Ma­liki

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Stephen Di­nan

AM­MAN,Jor­dan—IraqiPrime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki abruptly can­celed the first round of face-to­face meet­ings sched­uled here on Nov. 29 with Pres­i­dent Bush, just hours af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of a clas­si­fied memo from the pres­i­dent’s top se­cu­rity aide that says the Iraqi leader is ei­ther “ig­no­rant,” de­vi­ous or in­ca­pable of gov­ern­ing right now.

The White House said the events were not re­lated, said the can­cel­la­tion was not a snub, and said the two men would have enough time to­gether on Nov. 30, when they had a work­ing break­fast and meet­ing.

“No one should read too much into this,” said Dan Bartlett, se­nior coun­selor to Mr. Bush.

The meet­ing had been sched­uled to in­clude Mr. Bush, Mr. alMa­liki and Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah II. On the evening of Nov. 29, though, the meet­ing was re­duced to a one-on-one be­tween the pres­i­dent and the king.

The can­cel­la­tion and the leaked memo by Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Stephen J. Hadley set off a day of “back­ground” brief­ings by White House of­fi­cials who re­fused to be named but tried to ex­plain the ups and downs of diplo­macy.

An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told re­porters Mr. al-Ma­liki and King Ab­dul­lah, af­ter hold­ing their own bi­lat­eral talks, de­cided “they did not feel it was nec­es­sary” for Mr. Bush to meet them to­gether. They had Zal­may Khalilzad, the U.S. am­bas­sador to Iraq, call Mr. Bush, fly­ing on Air Force One from Latvia, to tell him they wanted to can­cel the meet­ing. The pres­i­dent agreed, the of­fi­cial said.

The As­so­ci­ated Press quoted Iraqi of­fi­cials here with Mr. al-Ma­liki say­ing the Iraqi leader can­celed the meet­ing be­cause he didn’t want King Ab­dul­lah to be a part of U.S.- Iraq dis­cus­sions.

The pres­i­dent only re­cently tacked this trip on to the end of his jour­ney to Latvia for the NATO sum­mit, with the White House an­nounc­ing two weeks ago that Mr. Bush wanted face-to-face time with Mr. al-Ma­liki. Mr. Hadley said there “is re­ally no sub­sti­tute for the two men get­ting to­gether, sit­ting across a ta­ble and talk­ing face to face.”

But the can­celed meet­ings re­duced the amount of face-to-face time sub­stan­tially.

The memo, ob­tained by the New York Times and printed in Nov. 29 edi­tions, of­fers a stark as­sess­ment of Mr. al-Ma­liki.

“The re­al­ity on the streets of Bagh­dad sug­gests Mr. Ma­liki is ei­ther ig­no­rant of what is go­ing on, mis­rep­re­sent­ing his in­ten­tions, or that his ca­pa­bil­i­ties are not yet suf­fi­cient to turn his good in­ten­tions into ac­tion,” Mr. Hadley wrote Nov. 8, af­ter an Oct. 30 trip to Iraq to meet with Mr. al-Ma­liki.

That third ex­pla­na­tion is the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cho­sen con­clu­sion, said two se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials brief­ing re­porters in Latvia.

“This is an enor­mously com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion for which there is no cook­book an­swer,” said one of the of­fi­cials. “There is not sum­mary judg­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Ma­liki, but in­stead there is a great deal of re­spect for the enor­mity and com­plex­ity of the chal­lenge he faces.”

Just how com­plex was un­der­scored on Nov. 29 when Mr. alMa­liki lost part of his gov­ern­ing coali­tion.

Law­mak­ers and Cabi­net min­is­ters loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr sus­pended par­tic­i­pa­tion in par­lia­ment and the gov­ern­ment to protest the meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to wire ser­vice re­ports.

“This visit hi­jacked the will of the peo­ple dur­ing days when the sons of Iraq write their des­tiny with blood and not ink,” the As­so­ci­ated Press quoted law­mak­ers and min­is­ters say­ing in a state­ment which re­ferred to Mr. Bush as a “crim­i­nal” and the “world’s big­gest evil.”

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