Administration Hints at Troop Changes in Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says American forces could be scaled back in Iraq, if Iraqi troops can take control. Steve Inskeep talks to Cokie Roberts about the politics of Iraq. Also up for discussion, an immigration bill that the Senate will take up this week.

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Every development in Iraq is closely followed here in Washington, so we'll get some analysis this morning, as we do every Monday morning, from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was speaking over the weekend, saying that despite of the violence, the United States should expect a drawdown of forces in the coming year.

ROBERTS: It's interesting. She was all over the Sunday TV shows yesterday, and I think that part of what we were seeing was some attempt on the part of the Bush administration to repair some damage that the president might have done in his news conference on Tuesday when he talked about a future being the person to decide when troops would finally come out of Iraq. I think that there was a sense that that was somewhat depressing for the American people who are more and more unhappy with this war, according to the polls.

And that there should be some sense of hope. Now, the secretary of state said that the troops coming out depended on political progress in Iraq, and on the police forces on Iraq being able to take control of the situation there. Those are two big depends on for American troops to come out.

INSKEEP: And now, the secretary of state was also answering questions about this story, Cokie: reports that Russia supplied Iraq with some version of the U.S. war plan before the start of the U.S. invasion in 2003. What's going on here?

ROBERTS: Well, that's a report out of the Pentagon, examining the lead-up to the war, and the early stages of the war, and that's exactly what it says, that Russia did give information to Iraq--some of it correct, some of incorrect. Now, the secretary of state says that she will ask the Russian government about this, and see whether it was the government itself, or intelligence sources inside the government that passed on this information, and she said, and I'm quoting here: "We take very seriously any suggestion that a foreign government may have passed information to the Iraqis prior to the American invasion that might have put our troops in danger."

Now, this comes at a very interesting time, Steve, because the United States is trying to get Russia to pressure Iran on nuclear materials, and it's also the lead up to the G8, which is taking place in St. Petersburg, at a time when a lot of people are questioning whether Russia should even be in the G8, given the fact that it seems to be moving away from Democracy.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another issue, here. The U.S. Senate is taking up an immigration bill this week, which could be a challenge for Republicans, couldn't it?

ROBERTS: Indeed. And over the weekend, we saw hundreds of thousands of people showing up in demonstrations around the country to protest a bill that some Republicans are pushing, which is essentially a bill that says arrest illegal immigrants and deport them, and put up fences at the borders. And now, the president is not for that. He has made it very clear where he stands here. He's going to a naturalization ceremony at Constitution Hall today, to Mexico later this week.

And, you know, this is an area where President Bush has been very interesting, Steve, on wooing the Hispanic vote into the Republican Party. When he was governor of Texas, each time he ran his percentage of the Hispanic vote increased, same thing in his runs for president, on getting the percentage of the Hispanic vote up to almost 50 percent in the last run. And there people in Republican Party who understand that this is a huge, growing group in the country, and they want to land Hispanics in the Republican Party.

And they remember back in California when Governor Pete Wilson put in Proposition 187 and drove Hispanics out of the party by the thousands, and California hasn't voted Republican since. Now, there are others, though, in the party who think that the way to handle this issue to play to the most conservative elements in the party, and that includes the Senate leader, Bill Frist, who is running for president, and he is opposing the president and going with the harshest immigration bill here. So it's a big fight inside in the party.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much, as always. That's NPR news analyst, Cokie Roberts.

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