Bush Team Opens Up Review of Iraq

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The White House begins a highly visible two-day review of the conflict in Iraq. Monday, President Bush will hear the latest from his civilian and military advisers. Tuesday, a video conference will involve Iraqi leaders.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush's work takes him to a meeting with his national security team at Camp David today. Joining us now to discuss the situation are NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea, MORNING EDITION Senior Political Analyst Juan Williams. Good morning to you both, gentlemen.

DON GONYEA reporting: Morning, Steve.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And, Don, first, I understand that President Bush is not only meeting with his advisors, but with Iraqis.

GONYEA: Right, it's actually a series of meetings we're going to see over the next couple of days. The first meeting this morning is with his national security team to really talk about events of the past week and what the U.S. needs to do to move forward from here. Then, this afternoon, they're going to broaden it out; they're going to bring other members of the Bush Cabinet in, the Energy secretary, for example, members of the cabinet beyond the core national security team. Also, we're told they're going to bring outside experts in to provide advice on Iraq.

And then, tomorrow, there is the meeting - it's a teleconference with the new Iraqi government, the new Iraqi prime minister and his cabinet. And again, we'll see images of the President and his cabinet officers talking to those brand new Iraqi officials, trying to find out what they need.

INSKEEP: This is an administration where officials have generally been seen as quite confident in what they wanted to do and not eager to listen to other people's suggestions, for better or worse. Does this exercise suggest that they are listening more intently?

GONYEA: It shows that they are trying to open up the process and demonstrate that they are open to all ideas to see how to move forward and how to make this work. The message they really want to send from this session is that the U.S. government has resources that can be brought to bear on this still very, very difficult situation in Iraq. And this meeting today is designed to kind of create some momentum after the news of last week and, again, to demonstrate to demonstrate to the public that this administration is being very proactive in trying to bring this to a successful conclusion down the road.

INSKEEP: Don, stay with us as we turn to NPR's Juan Williams. Juan, what is the president hearing when he listens to Congress?

WILLIAMS: Well, he's hearing it's time to, you know, bring the troops home, Steve. And there's a sort of a sense that they're on the edge of public tolerance for this war and that a meeting at Camp David, the death of Zarqawi, gives them a chance to sort of have the public take a second look and see whether or not the Bush administration really does, now, have some sort of exit strategy in mind. And I think that's what Capitol Hill, what politicians are looking for from the meeting.

INSKEEP: Doesn't this happen at a moment when lawmakers are considering money for Iraq?

WILLIAMS: Exactly, and, you know, the House and Senate are looking to approve a supplemental this week of $94.5 billion. There's no significant fight anticipated over the supplemental; but this week, the Senate also starts to look at a proposed $517 billion authorization for the next fiscal year, and that debate is going to be more directly about the purpose and the politics of the war.

Senator John Kerry is expected to propose an amendment requiring that U.S. troops come home by the end of this year, 2006, and that'll open the door to debate about U.S. policy in Iraq and it's likely to be a preview of the political debate over the war in the mid-term elections this November.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about another national security issue. The president has been taking a lot of heat over domestic wiretapping. One person who's been questioning him is Arlen Specter, Republican Senator from Pennsylvania.

WILLIAMS: Specter, who's the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the vice president - and here I'm quoting - "went behind his back" to speak with other Republicans on the Committee. The vice president doesn't want the Committee to agree to Specter's proposal to have the telephone company executives testify about what goes on in the National Security Agency's wiretapping program. [Post-Broadcast Correction: The quote, "Went behind his back," is from The New York Times and Washington Post, not from Senator Arlen Specter.

Josh Bolten, who's the White House Chief of Staff, tried to get Senator Specter to back off, and Specter refused, and that's when Cheney got involved. Since Specter complained about Cheney going to his panel members, but not to him, Cheney wrote back to him to say, you know, the White House is willing to listen but reserves the right to make the ultimate decision about how best to fight terrorists.

At the same time, in Detroit, you're going to have the first legal challenge to the White House authority to do this in U.S. district court. The ACLU is suing the National Security Agency on behalf of a group of journalists, lawyers and scholars.

INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, we just heard about a lawsuit there; we heard about questions in Congress over the administration's conduct in the war in terror; we have a Supreme Court ruling coming up on Guantanamo Bay and military trials there; we have the suicide of Guantanamo detainees - three of them over the weekend. How concerned is the administration about critics of the way that it conducts itself in this war?

GONYEA: Certainly, they are very concerned about the way the public is viewing the war. But, again, they're looking at this event today and tomorrow up at Camp David as a chance to kind of get a fresh start to start to turn things around, to focus on something positive and to offer some constructive, specific guidelines for moving forward.

INSKEEP: Okay, gentlemen, thanks very much. That's NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea. Thank you. And MORNING EDITION Senior Correspondent Juan Williams was also with us on this Monday morning, filling in for Cokie Roberts.

And here's an update on last week's news from Iraq. U.S. military officials are giving more details today on the death of the insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Colonel STEVE JONES (Command Surgeon, U.S. Army, Baghdad): The cause of death was closed space primary blast injury of the lung.

INSKEEP: Blast injury of the lung. That's U.S. Army Colonel Steve Jones briefing reporters from his post in Baghdad. He said Zarqawi's injuries were not immediately fatal. In fact, he lived for a bout 52 minutes after a U.S. warplane bombed his hideout in a village north of Baghdad.

Col. JONES: All the injuries found were consistent with the type seen in blast victims. The abrasions, lacerations, and the fracture were likely due to flying debris, or Zarqawi being thrown against a hard object by the force of the blast.

INSKEEP: Today's briefing followed days of speculation about the death of Zarqawi and his spiritual advisor, who was also killed in the same attack. The U.S. military said no decision has been made about what to do with the remains of the two.

Zarqawi's group, al-Qaida in Iraq, is also communicating today. In a web posting, the group Zarqawi once led said it had named his successor.

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