It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer. The new prime minister of Iraq was as surprised as anybody else by the news today. He was told that President Bush had suddenly arrived in Baghdad and wanted to meet him in five minutes. The two were supposed to meet by video conference, but met instead in person.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent David Greene is traveling with the president. And David, the last time we heard from you, the president was at Camp David in Maryland.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

He was, Steve. And I was actually up there with him. Yeah, the White House - in secret - organized a small pool of reporters. We were called and told that we couldn't tell anyone what was going on or what we were doing, but that we had to gather at a hotel, and off we went to Baghdad. And there's been an embargo during our flight and when we first arrived, and that embargo - as you've been reporting - has been broken within the last little bit. And but, we are here. It's hot, it's sunny, it's 109 degrees, and the president is getting his first up close look at Baghdad. He was here in Thanksgiving of 2003, but that was at the airport in the dark, and that was it.

INSKEEP: What is the president doing there?

GREENE: Well, he was scheduled to hold a video conference from Camp David with Prime Minister Maliki and his new cabinet, and the White House says he's sticking with that schedule, only he's doing it in person. And we're told this is even a surprise to a number of his cabinet members who spent the night at Camp David. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the vice president all knew about this, but that was mostly it. Other cabinet members woke up at Camp David this morning and expected to have breakfast with the president, and instead, they're going to be looking at him on a television screen.

INSKEEP: And we should mention this is all part of a series of meetings which began in the United States, the question being what to do about Iraq? Where to go next in Iraq? Is there some indication that the White House is trying to actually fashion a new direction here?

GREENE: Well, there is. They were planning this whole series of events at Camp David, and we now learn that they were planning this trip to coincide with Prime Minister Maliki forming his cabinet, whenever that happened. I think the White House feels like they got another boost with the death of Zarqawi, and they're really trying to capture this momentum and run with it. But as you know, the White House has often tried to capture momentum and positive news in Iraq, and violence can put a damper on that very quickly. And the violence has certainly not stopped here, and the fact that the president is here but can't leave the Green Zone - at least that's the plan - is an indication that things are very much, still very fragile. And I think the president's aware of that. But there will be a lot of image making, and certainly, they've chosen the backdrop of Baghdad to try to send message that the president is at a moment where he really wants to push things forward. But time will tell if he can do it.

INSKEEP: Well, what does that mean, substantively push things forward? Now that you've got a government in place - now that they've got a government in place - what do they do next?

GREENE: Well, I think the White House - and what they've said is that they see this as a window of opportunity. They haven't been incredibly impressed with previous Iraqi leadership. I think they see some potential in Prime Minister Maliki. They feel positive about the agenda that he's laid out. And in this window, I think they want to do anything they can to prop up the prime minister, and I think that's part of the trip, here.

How large that window is - how much time they give him to show that he can succeed is up in the air, because - as you know - the president and his team are under a lot of pressure to start bringing troops home. And at Camp David yesterday, the president said he'll be awaiting soon some recommendations from military commanders - once they see how successful Iraq can be in terms of developing their own security - whether and when they'll be able to start drawing down U.S. forces, which President Bush I think realizes he has to do at some point if he's going to make it through this politically.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Greene is traveling with President Bush, who has made a surprise visit to Baghdad. David, thanks very much.

GREENE: My pleasure, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue to bring you more on this visit as we learn more.

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