Pres­i­dent ap­pears will­ing to con­sider Iran talks, though not one-on-one

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joseph Curl

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.”

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