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President Bush Meets with Vital Ally, Tony Blair

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President Bush Meets with Vital Ally, Tony Blair

Iraq

President Bush Meets with Vital Ally, Tony Blair

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Among the conclusions contained in the Iraq Study Group report released yesterday: the international community has not done enough to support Iraq.

MIKE PESCA, host:

So let's check in on troop levels. Remember the coalition of the willing? Well, here's how things look today. The vast majority of troops in the multinational force in Iraq are from the U.S. There are about 140,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq. Twenty-five other countries have military personnel. They're accounting for 16,500 troops.

BRAND: Just this week, Italy pulled the last of its troops from Iraq. At one point it had 3,000 there on the ground. Other nations who've dropped out of the coalition include Denmark, Norway, Portugal and Ukraine.

PESCA: But Albania's defense minister recently said his country's troops, numbering 120, would remain until U.S. forces withdraw. The former Soviet republic Georgia has about 850 soldiers in Iraq; Latvia, 150; Estonia, 40; and Kazakhstan provides a contingent of about 30 specialists in mine clearing.

BRAND: Britain, with a force of about 7,100, is second to the U.S. in troops. Third, with some 2,300, is South Korea. And so overall, right now about 90 percent of all coalition troops in Iraq are United States forces.

At the White House today, President Bush met with his strongest international ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair said he welcomed the report from the Iraq Study Group.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): I think it's important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed, because the consequences of failure are severe.

BRAND: NPR's White House correspondent David Greene joins me now. And David, the Iraq Study Group report was pretty critical of the war policy these two leaders have followed. So how did they respond today?

DAVID GREENE: Well, I'll tell you what they didn't do. They did not say we were wrong, our policies have been wrong. There was no acknowledgement of failure. Both of them talked a lot about their general vision. The president talked about his desire to spread democracy in the Middle East. Tony Blair said that our vision is right, even if we have to change some things that are practical on the ground. So both of them sticking with the broad policy that they've followed, but admitting perhaps some practical problems on the ground in Iraq.

And you know, it was really interesting because the president was very testy at a few minutes, and there was one exchange he had with a British reporter. I think we have some tape here in a second. The president was responding to some criticism from a British reporter who was suggesting he hasn't been very honest about the situation. Let's listen to it.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Unidentified Man (Reporter): Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. You said that the increase in attacks is unsettling. That will convince many people that you're still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq, and question your sincerity about changing course.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's bad in Iraq. That help? Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to the families who die. I understand there's sectarian violence. I also understand that we're hunting down al-Qaida on a regular basis, and we're bringing them to justice.

BRAND: David, this report wasn't expressly written for Prime Minister Blair. But did he indicate today a willingness to adopt any of these recommendations?

GREENE: Both leaders, you know, suggested that they were going to read it closely. There's been a lot of talk of the prime minister pulling some troops out of Iraq soon. As for the president, he was asked about Iran and Syria, and whether he would engage those countries, and he stuck to the very inflexible line that he has stuck to before the report came out, which was Iran has to verifiably end its enrichment of uranium; Syria has to stop trying to destabilize the young Siniora government in Lebanon. And before those things happen, the United States is not going to engage them.

Now, when it comes to troop levels, the president said he wants American troops out as quickly as possible, but it will depend on conditions on the ground, which is basically what the Iraq Study Group had said. But the president made no mention of some of the rough deadlines that the Iraq Study Group had, such as having combat forces out of Iraq by 2008. No mention of that at all from the president.

BRAND: Well, when is he going to announce his new strategy?

GREENE: Well, it's interesting. At one point the president perhaps upstaged some of his, some of his people who would announce events coming up at the White House. He said once I read the other reports, I'm going to give a speech. He didn't say when, he didn't say where, but, you know, in a White House that's very tight-lipped that we're covering, it's good to get at least a little tiny nugget of information like that. Here in a speech.

BRAND: A glimmer. And thank you for more than a glimmer. NPR's David Greene.

GREENE: My pleasure.

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