President Bush Turns to Pentagon, State Dept.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
As we just heard from Corey Flintoff, President Bush will be seeking advice from many sources as he redefines his Iraq policy. This week the president will visit several powers centers within his administration, the State Department and Pentagon among them.
As for the 79 recommendations made last week by the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group, NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports there are clearer signs he will not accept them all.
DON GONYEA: We do know there's one thing in the report by the Iraq Study Group that the White House likes. It's a statement the president quoted this week.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Which is an Iraq which can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.
GONYEA: That's a phrase that the report's writers actually borrowed from the White House itself. But when it comes to the best way to achieve such an Iraq, the White House has not yet endorsed any specific recommendation from the report. And it has been dismissive of some.
Take the call for a gradual removal of U.S. troops from combat positions within Iraq, while leaving forces in place in an advisory roll. The White House stressed that that will only happen when conditions warrant such a move. Then there's the call for direct U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, stating that it's important to engage adversaries without pre-conditions. But when asked about that this week, the president had a blunt answer replete with pre-conditions.
For Syria, the sticking point is the government of Prime Minister Siniora in Lebanon.
President BUSH: If we were to have a conversation, it would be this one to Syria. Stop destabilizing the Siniora government. We believe that the Siniora government should be supported, not weakened. Stop allowing money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don't provide safe haven for terrorist groups.
GONYEA: As for Iran, the president says first it must verifiably stop enriching uranium that the U.S. is convinced is for nuclear weapons. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow insists the president is not throwing cold water on the Iraq Study Group. He says Mr. Bush takes the group's report seriously, but still needs to hear from the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council, each of which is working on its own report.
Snow also rejects the notion that the president is just waiting for a report he likes.
Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): The president doesn't sit around and say, a-ha, this is the one I've been waiting for. Because they're all ones he's waiting for.
GONYEA: But Democrats counter that the Iraq Study Group report is the only one the president will get from a group with such solid bipartisan credentials. At week's end, the president hosted Congressional leaders from both parties to pledge his readiness to work with them in a bipartisan manner. Afterward, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin spoke to reporters. They urged the president to get behind the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The time for change is now. It is apparent to the American people. They made this decision one month and one day ago. And the Iraq Study Group reinforced some of the concerns of the American people about the urgency.
Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): That report called for us to reassess where we are going, a new direction in Iraq. The president acknowledged that he may be looking for new tactics, and I'm glad to hear that. I hope that it goes further.
GONYEA: This coming week, much of the president's schedule will deal with Iraq. On Monday, it'll be the topic of a State Department meeting. Tuesday, it's a teleconference with military commanders in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador there. Then Wednesday it's a Pentagon meeting. A major speech unveiling what path Mr. Bush has decided upon is expected before Christmas.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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