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Bush Arrives to a Warm Welcome in the Baltics
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Bush Arrives to a Warm Welcome in the Baltics

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Bush Arrives to a Warm Welcome in the Baltics
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

In Europe today, President Bush said the United States will not leave Iraq before it completes its mission.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We will continue to be flexible and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do - I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.

YDSTIE: The president spoke in Latvia, where he's attending a NATO summit. It's his second stop on a three-nation tour that also takes him to Jordan tomorrow for talks with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

NPR White House Correspondent David Greene is traveling with President Bush and joins us now from Riga, the capital of Latvia. David, the president's statements suggest flexibility but also continuing the mission. Do we know what options he's going to discuss with Iraq's prime minister tomorrow?

DAVID GREENE: Well, John, we know there are a lot of options out there. We know the Iraq Study Group back in the United States is considering a lot of different choices, such as engaging other countries in the region, such as partitioning Iraq. And the president has made clear that he wants to listen to Prime Minister Maliki when they're in Jordan. And he said he's going to listen to what ideas he has, what ideas the prime minister has for quelling the violence in his country. So we don't know specifics yet, but it's the kind of meeting that, even if we don't get a big announcement out of Jordan this week, I think we'll be able to look back later on when we do see some changes in policy and say that's when Maliki and Mr. Bush sat down and really fleshed things out.

YDSTIE: Earlier today, the president was asked whether the sectarian violence in Iraq is a civil war. How did he respond?

GREENE: Well, he did not outright deny that this is a civil war, as many analysts, some news organizations, are now saying. But he suggested that this is part of a wave of sectarian violence that started back in February, when a major Shiite shrine was bombed in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and said that this is just continuing the trend. He also pointed to al-Qaida and terrorist groups as the ones to blame, saying that it was their goal from the beginning to set off sectarian violence. So really a shift away from the idea of a civil war. I think there's some concern that if this is really called a civil war, and that's generally the term, that U.S. support for the war could drop even further. So there's still a push from the president to argue that this is linked to terrorism.

YDSTIE: The president also talked about the possibility of engaging Iran and Syria and finding a solution in Iraq. Did he have anything new to say there?

GREENE: It was interesting. He said that the - he suggested that the U.S. certainly has no plans to engage Iran or Syria directly, and he repeated his call for Iran to end its enrichment of uranium for its nuclear program before Iran could ever come to the table. But he said that Iraq's government is basically free to pursue its foreign policy on its own. And he said that if Iraq wants to talk to those countries, they are certainly welcome to do so. He did seem a little skeptical about whether there will be progress. And he said that one thing that Iraq should want is for a Iran to, as he put it, leave them alone and not try to stir more violence in Iraq, and that Iran should basically help and try to make peace.

YDSTIE: As we said, the president is now at the NATO summit in Latvia, where he praised the military alliance for its efforts in Afghanistan. Let's hear a little bit from his speech.

President BUSH: Because of our efforts, Afghanistan has gone from a totalitarian nightmare to a free nation with an elected president, a democratic constitution, and brave soldiers and police fighting for their country.

YDSTIE: David, what more does the president want out of NATO, and is he likely to get it?

GREENE: Well, a couple things. The president's coming here to Riga to ask for other countries to take more of the burden in defense spending. The White House really believes that the U.S. has shared too much of the burden and should really be passing some of the spending to other countries for missions like Afghanistan. And the president did say today that Afghanistan is NATO's most important mission, and they've run into a lot of trouble with the Taliban.

The other thing the president wants - there have been some complaints from countries such as Britain, such as the U.S., that other nations are not being flexible; they're keeping their forces up in the northern part of Afghanistan, where it's relatively peaceful. The president said today NATO commanders need flexibility, they need to have countries freeing up their soldiers to be in the south. And we've heard from Poland; they're going to send some troops in to be more flexible. We'll see what more the president can get.

YDSTIE: NPR's White House correspondent David Greene at the NATO summit in Latvia.

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