Bush presses Iran, Syria to help Iraq

Updated: 2007-03-12 08:35

BOGOTA, Colombia - President Bush said Sunday that Iran and Syria need to follow through on pledges to help Iraq, but left the door open to additional contacts between Washington and its chief Mideast foes.

US President George W. Bush, left, stands with Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe during an arrival ceremony in Bogota, Sunday, March 11, 2007. (AP US President George W. Bush, left, stands with Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe during an arrival ceremony in Bogota, Sunday, March 11, 2007. [AP]

"If they really want to help stabilize Iraq, there are things for them to do, such as cutting off weapons flows and or the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq," Bush said during an appearance here with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

The president's cautious assessment came on a six-hour stop designed as a show of confidence in Uribe and the battle against narcoterrorists in this strong but drug and violence-plagued US ally. It was his first public comment on Saturday's international conference held in Baghdad with Iraq, its neighbors and other key countries, such as the United States.

The one-day, closed-door meeting featured rare direct communication between Iran and the United States. Envoys from the two countries did not meet outside the larger meeting, and each blamed the other for Iraq's security crisis.

Reports of testy exchanges aside, Bush praised the session as constructive. He said he hoped momentum from this conference will carry over to the next, which is expected to be held next month in Turkey.

As a sign of the US commitment, he said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be the nation's representative next time.

"People are now committed publicly to helping Iraq, which I thought was very positive. The other benefit from the conference was that the government gained some confidence," he said. "In terms of the expectations of the next meetings, we'll see."

Iran said it was ready to support any plan that would help end the bloodshed in its neighbor.

Responded Bush: "Those are nice statements, and now they can act on them."

Bush also sought to assure Americans that 4,700 additional US troops being sent into Iraq are slated for support roles only. He said they are needed to help the extra 21,500 combat troops he ordered in January do their jobs.

The president did not directly respond to a question from a reporter asking whether Americans should expect more troop increases.

Bush asked Congress on Friday for $3.2 billion to pay for the new Iraq troops, as well as for 3,500 new US troops to expand training of local police and army units in Afghanistan.

That money is to come out of his request for nearly $100 billion to finance this year's war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Democratic leaders say they will try to attach language to that war funding bill that would require Bush to remove US combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2008. That deadline could be expedited, possibly to the end of 2007, if the Iraqi government fails to meet commitments for stepping up security operations, distributing oil revenue and allowing amendments to the country's constitution.

The Democratic plan would also bar the military from deploying troops who do not meet existing standards for equipping, training and resting US troops, though Bush would be allowed to waive those standards.

My hope, of course, is that Congress provides the funding necessary for the combat troops to be able to do their job - without any strings attached," said Bush, who has threatened to veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk with the restrictions being pushed by Democrats.

No votes have been taken on the latest Democratic proposals.

Top World News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours