President appears willing to consider Iran talks, though not one-on-one
PresidentBushsaidDec.7hewill not support all of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations but seemed ready to endorse the panel’s call for talks with Iran through a regional alliance.
Inanhourlongpressconferenceat the White House with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president said the bipartisan panel’s report is justoneofseveralhewillconsiderbefore deciding on a “new way forward” in Iraq.
Thereportbythepanel,ledbyformer Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, included 79 recommendations on diplomacy, the military and politics. A Pentagon study to be delivered to the White House soon will focus on the military, and an upcoming State Department report will cover politics. Mr. Bush also is awaiting an assessment of the Iraq situation by the National Security Council.
“I don’t think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation,” Mr. Bush said. “Congressisn’tgoingtoacceptevery recommendation in the report, and neither will the administration.”
That position, though, is the oppositeofwhatthegroupproposedtoend the downward slide in Iraq. In the openingofthereport,titled“TheWay Forward — A New Approach,” the groupsaidtherecommendationsare “comprehensive and need to be im- plemented in a coordinated fashion.”
“They should not be separated or carried out in isolation. The dynamics of the region are as important to Iraq as events within Iraq.”
While already rejecting at least one proposal — direct, one-on-one talkswithIran—thepresidentcalled the 160-page report by the 10-memberpanel“veryimportant,”andsaid itoffersa“newapproach,anewway forward in Iraq.”
Senioradministrationofficialssaid Mr. Bush likely will pull together what he thinks are the best recommendations, and then present the new plan to Americans, probably in aprime-timespeechtothenationbefore Christmas.
Among the main recommendationsofthegroupwasacallforallU.S. combat troops “not necessary for forceprotection”topulloutofIraqin the next 15 months, “subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground.”
Anotherrecommendationcallsfor theUnitedStatesto“engagedirectly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues.” While the White House said hours after the report was released that such a course of action has been “ruled out,” Mr. Bush said Dec. 7 the idea is still in play.
“[The report] talked about the regional — the countries in the region, and the responsibilities of the region to help this Iraqi government. And the idea of having an international group is an interesting idea,” Mr. Bush said.
During the press conference, Mr. Blair repeatedly returned to the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, saying the strife in the region is intertwined with Iraq. The president, who announcedthatMr.Blairplanstotravel soontotheMiddleEast,reiteratedhis call for the creation of a Palestinian state that recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
But both leaders used hard rhetorictodescribetherolesIranand Syria are playing in the Iraq war.
Both leaders acknowledged that the situation in Iraq is bad and gettingworse,butthepresidentgotabit testy as he responded to a British reporter’squestionaboutwhetherheis “in denial.”