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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

One member of a group giving advice on Iraq says he had no idea that advice would become a national media event.

Mr. ALAN SIMPSON (Member, Iraq Study Group; Former Republican Senator, Wyoming): We didn't ever expect this great expectation that all confluents suddenly were waiting for the Iraq Study Group to report. It all came about while we were just working in anonymity.

INSKEEP: That's former Senator Alan Simpson. What happened while they were working is that Iraq got even worse and Republicans lost an election partly because of it. Now the group has made proposals to change the American approach to the war.

AMOS: I spoke with Senator Simpson, a Republican, and with William Perry, Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, about the report. All 10 members of the panel backed its 79 recommendations. The real test will be whether President Bush signs on. The commission met with the president yesterday.

Mr. SIMPSON: It was 7:00 a.m., the sun coming through the window. It was Baker and Lee briefly describing what we were doing. The president was listening, but then he became more attached as we described the military situation and what we would do in Iraq. And the president began to write. And he kept that sheet of paper, thumbed the document, talked about his thoughts, and at the end he said this is very important.

AMOS: But in some ways in the report does it try to tamp down expectations? Is this the beginning of an exit strategy and a lessening of expectations for what will happen in Iraq?

Mr. WILLIAM PERRY (Member, Iraq Study Group; Former Secretary of Defense): The first part of the report is an assessment. And if you read it, you become disheartened. We say it's a dire situation and it could get worse, and therefore we think it's essential to change the course. We then lay out three general recommendations about what to do - one in the military, one in the political field internal to Iraq and one in the external diplomatic field - and say these have a good chance of improving the situation. No success is guaranteed.

We also say in the report that these three different recommendations tie together. There is no military solution in Iraq; it can only be done jointly with getting the reconciliation program going in Iraq as a political solution and of bringing the regional powers in to help. They all three tie together.

AMOS: One of the most interesting things about the Iraq Study Group is its bipartisan nature. I mean can you talk - even between the two of you, were there things that you had to let go?

Mr. SIMPSON: Let Bill speak, because there was one sticking point and he felt strongly. You tell them the tale.

AMOS: What was it?

Mr. PERRY: Well, there was a serious question on how explicit we could be about the need to begin a phased withdrawal of our troops. And I was very strong - we needed to have virtually all of our combat brigades out of there by the first quarter of '08. And I was not at all clear that we were going to be able to get agreement on that point. But I had sat down with Jim Baker - it was just the two of us for two hours - and we walked out of those meetings with an agreement on how to make our recommendation. The way we finally worded it was not the way I started out, but it did have the substance what I wanted to have put down.

AMOS: So you were willing to give that up?

Mr. PERRY: I was willing to give up the language but none of the substance. My original language was, we would do this, and we ended up with, we could do this. An important difference, but other than that, the phrase was as I wrote it originally.

AMOS: There's such a large part of this report on diplomacy. Big ticket items: the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the Syria-Israeli problem, the Lebanon problem, Iran, talking to Syria. Do you now see that all of these regional hot points all have to be solved together?

Mr. PERRY: We clearly believed that the Iraq problem cannot be looked at in isolation from the region. In order to deal adequately with Iraq, you have to deal with Syria. And to deal adequately with Syria, you have to look at the Syrian influence on Hezbollah, which gets you to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Mr. SIMPSON: We think that that's critical. If you can get resolved the Israeli-Palestinian issues, at least with Palestinians who recognize Israel's right to exist, and then draw Syria in - which Jim Baker thinks that we can get them to talk to Hamas - and all sorts of things could work unless people just want to suck their thumb and look off into the east and say, well, I don't think anything will work.

AMOS: Is this a cafeteria approach? Can the president say, I'll take one of those and two of those, or does he have to take the whole package?

Mr. PERRY: The three basic recommendations are all interrelated. There are 79 specific recommendations. We would never say he had to take all 79 of them. But he has to do something in each of the three major recommendations.

Mr. SIMPSON: Yeah, don't skip the entrees and go to the tapioca. You've got to bite off a lot of heavy stuff. I guess to me, at the age of 75, I always say to people, would you like to see something work? There's so much cynicism, so much these guys are crazy. Well, what have they got here? My God, I can't believe it. Talk with Iran?

Yeah, talk with Iran. We talked with the Soviet Union. We had a phone next to each other for 40 years. Anybody forgotten that? We didn't blow each other up. That's what you do with Iran. That's what you do with Syria. That's what you do with North Korea. You start talking. It's a sick idea, I know, but...

AMOS: Thank you very much.

Mr. SIMPSON: Thank you.

AMOS: Alan Simpson, William Perry; both members of the Iraq Study Group.

You can hear more from the Iraq Study Group, see the panel's recommendations and read reactions from U.S. lawmakers, on our Web site, NPR.org.

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