WASHINGTON - US President Bush, facing intense pressure to craft a new
blueprint for the Iraq war, said Tuesday the US is holding fast to its
objectives and commitment. The White House said he knows the general direction
he wants to move US policy but won't announce it until next month.
President Bush gestures during his
meeting with the Iraq Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, not shown, in the
Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006.
Bush gave no hints of a change in direction after a meeting with Iraq's Sunni
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of several Iraqi powerbrokers he's recently
hosted in the Oval Office.
"Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and
the killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable, who
want peace," Bush said.
"We want to help your government be effective," he said. "We want your
government to live up to its words and ideals."
Bush met for 25 minutes with al-Hashemi, who has been linked to a
behind-the-scenes effort to form a new ruling bloc that could topple the fragile
Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki.
The White House would not say whether Bush and al-Hashemi talked about the
movement afoot to form a new ruling coalition that would exclude anti-American
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and radical Sunni Arabs. Bush has called al-Maliki
the "right guy" for Iraq, but al-Maliki is dependent on al-Sadr for political
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the president had expected to make
a speech before Christmas to announce his new strategy for Iraq but still had
questions and was not yet ready to make all the decisions he needed to make.
"The president generally knows what direction he wants to move in, but there
are very practical things that need to be dealt with," Snow said. "This is not a
sign of trouble. This is a sign of determination on the part of the president."
Democrats didn't see it that way.
"It has been six weeks since the American people demanded change in Iraq,"
said Harry Reid, who will become Senate majority leader. "In that time, Iraq has
descended further toward all-out civil war and all the president has done is
fire Donald Rumsfeld and conduct a listening tour."
"Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not
relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his
policy now," said Reid, of Nevada.
Bush began his day by having breakfast with his new defense secretary, Robert
Gates, who plans to travel to the region to talk with military commanders
shortly after he is sworn in next Monday.
Gates also joined Bush in a secure video conference with Rumsfeld; the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, and Gen. John Abizaid,
the top US commander in the Middle East. Participating from Iraq was Gen. George
Casey, the chief US commander in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush had decided to take more time
partly to give Gates time to settle into his new job at the Pentagon and help
develop the new policy. She said the president was still considering advice from
administration officials and commanders in Iraq and was studying the report
issued last week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.