ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
President Bush is leaving tomorrow for a foreign trip that will end with a much-anticipated visit to Amman, Jordan and talks with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Before that, he will be in Latvia for a NATO summit. And the trip begins with a brief ceremonial visit to Estonia.
NPR's White House correspondent David Greene is in Washington packing for the trip. He joins us now.
David, we definitely want to talk about Iraq, but first things first. Mr. Bush goes to Estonia for a few hours?
DAVID GREENE: That's right, Andrea. He arrives Monday evening in Estonia and he only has five hours or so of official business there on Tuesday morning. He's made it a routine, whenever he's in Europe, to stop in what the White House calls one of these new democracies. And they say that Estonia has been a successful democracy.
These visits, even though they're brief and ceremonial, they can be important as the Baltics - these former Soviet countries - are sitting at Russia's doorstep and Russian President Vladimir Putin has, I think we can say, become less predictable lately. And nations like Estonia, they're concerned. Then they're happy to be part of NATO, and they're happy to get a visit from an U.S. president who can come and say, hey, we stand with you no matter what happens.
SEABROOK: Next up for Mr. Bush will be the NATO summit in Latvia. NATO is playing a huge role in Afghanistan right now. Is that the focus of this meeting?
GREENE: That's certainly going to be the big focus, I think. The White House says Mr. Bush wants to press other NATO countries to increase their defense spending for operations in Afghanistan and other operations. But NATO is in the lead in Afghanistan. It's the first major operation the alliance has led outside Europe, and there are some real challenges.
The Taliban is back in Afghanistan. They're standing up to NATO troops there. There are areas of the country that are really unstable. And the effort to secure Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks, it used to seem like a real success story, but I don't think that's certain anymore. And some countries have seemed hesitant to send their troops down to the southern part of the country where a lot of the violence has been. So redeploying troops in the country, the possibility of having more troops in Afghanistan I think is all to sure to come up.
SEABROOK: I assume Iraq will come up as well at the NATO summit.
GREENE: Of course, and actually Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey just had meetings in Jordan, and Turkey and Jordan border Iraq. And both countries have said they're really worried about the possibility of partitioning Iraq as a solution to the violence. That's an idea that's been bouncing around Washington. Erdogan says he wants to make that message clear to President Bush, that Turkey and Jordan believe breaking up Iraq would mean sectarian violence would just explode. So I think you can expect Mr. Bush to get an earful about Iraq from Turkey and from other leaders.
Mr. Bush hasn't had the friendliest relationship with some NATO countries, and they know he's about to hold this very important meeting in Amman, Jordan with Iraq's prime minister. And they'll probably want to get their views across to him before he goes.
SEABROOK: They added that meeting at the last minute. Why meet with Nouri al-Maliki now?
GREENE: Well, when the White House announced this stop last week, the situation in Iraq was pretty bleak. October was a very deadly month for civilians in Iraq. There's been a major push in Washington from Democrats, from the military, from the White House, to start looking at some new strategies. But as you know, in the last day or so the situation has gotten even worse, with a lot of violence, a lot of sectarian reprisal killings. And many Shiite leaders in parliament who are loyal to the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have said they'll boycott the government if Mr. Bush sits down with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That could be a major problem for Maliki and his ability to hold the government together.
But the White House says Mr. Bush is not canceling his visit. And with all these ideas floating around Washington, I think this is the president's opportunity to sit down with Maliki. When he visited Baghdad over the summer, he said he looked into Maliki's eyes and confidence in him. Since then, there's been a lot of tension between the Unite States and Maliki's government. So this is a chance for the two men to take a new measure of each other, a face-to-face at a really critical moment, I think.
SEABROOK: David, this is the first time the president is really putting public focus back on Iraq since the mid-term elections in which he essentially lost Congress. Do we expect anything different out of him?
GREENE: It's hard to say, Andrea. Certainly since his party lost, Mr. Bush has shown some new flexibility in looking at ways to change the course in Iraq. He removed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary. And with the elections gone, it's no longer hanging there as the context to any decisions that Mr. Bush makes.
You know, it's one of those meetings, Andrea, where we might not get any major announcements. But as we look ahead in future months, and if we see a change in course for Mr. Bush or from Maliki, we'll probably be able to point back to this meeting and say that's where they really charted out the new course that we're seeing.
SEABROOK: NPR's David Greene. Thanks, David.
GREENE: Thanks, Andrea.
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