Top Bush aide offers skeptical review of al-Maliki
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.”