Bush, Iraqi Leader Address Baghdad Violence

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visits the White House for the first time as his troubled country's leader. During a joint news conference with President Bush, the two men focused on the need to end sectarian violence in Iraq. But Maliki also offered his thoughts on the conflict in Lebanon, calling for an immediate cease-fire.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, as Secretary of State Rice meets with Israel's prime minister and the Palestinian president, a Republican congressman says this is the worst foreign policy time in a generation.

First, the lead. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington. He met with the president at the White House. Afterwards, the two appeared at a news conference.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Prime Minister Malaki was very clear this morning. He said he does not want American troops to leave his country until his government can protect the Iraqi people. And I assured him that America will not abandon the Iraqi people.

CHADWICK: We are joined by NPR White House correspondent, David Greene.

David, the president and prime minister met this morning. They talked first and foremost about security in Iraq, and apparently, they've agreed to put more U.S. troops in Baghdad. What about that?

Mr. DAVID GREENE reporting:

They have. That's right, Alex. They talked about actually embedding some more U.S. military police with Iraqi police in Baghdad, and in addition to that, moving in some more U.S. forces from elsewhere in the country.

So certainly a suggestion that both leaders feel the situation in Baghdad is pretty bad. In fact, the president said it's terrible, which is not an assessment that you usually hear from him when it comes to Iraq. And now it seems that the United States is going to be taking more control of the situation in Baghdad for now, and not less.

CHADWICK: We're going to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad in a moment, but it had been our objective to distribute U.S. troops more broadly around the country, hadn't it?

GREENE: It had, Alex. And it had also been the objective of the White House and the president to help Iraqi troops stand down, as Mr. Bush always put it - I'm sorry - Iraqi troops to stand up, as he liked to put it, so American troops could stand down. And he liked to use that phrase quite a bit. In fact, so much that members of the press corps covering presidential speeches would wait for the line to come.

It appears now, that at least in the capitol, the opposite is happening. So it's not following the policy that the president hoped for.

CHADWICK: Now this meeting between these two leaders - in recent days, Prime Minister al-Maliki has made comments about U.S. policy in Israel and Lebanon that cannot have been to the administration's liking. That is, he's been critical of what Israel is doing in southern Lebanon.

How about that? Did that subject come up for the two?

GREENE: It certainly did. And actually, both leaders used the term - frank - to describe their discussions. Which is often diplo-speak for, We really disagreed on this and are trying to paper over that.

And you even got the sense in public that these two leaders really had an open discussion and really aired their differences. The president repeated that he wants a durable ceasefire when it comes to the violence in the Middle East. And that of course, means that the president does not support an immediate ceasefire, but he supports a ceasefire that he believes will ensure that Hezbollah is no longer operating in southern Lebanon.

The president even tried to turn it a bit on Maliki, and say, Look, your government has suffered through a lot of violence. The way to make sure that that's going to end is for some sort of long-term peace.

Maliki very openly but eloquently said to the president, essentially, this is not about looking forward, diplomacy, international pressure to make sure a country is safe. The first need is to stop the violence and to stop the killing now, and then we'll move on from there.

So the two leaders - certainly not on the same page.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene reporting on the meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Washington today.

David, thank you.

GREENE: My pleasure, Alex.

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