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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Of the several times Nancy Pelosi has gone to Iraq, her latest trip is the first time she's had the power to make a difference.

This time, Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the house - which explains why reporters jammed a room at the Capitol after she returned.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The situation in Iraq is catastrophic. The question is how many more lives will we have to lose in order to prove the point that this plan is not working.

Yes ma'am?

MONTAGNE: The plan is the president's, to send in a surge of over 20,000 troops. Pelosi says Iraqi forces should take over. She led a delegation of half a dozen members of the House, whose trip to Iraq included stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At yesterday's press conference, each added brief, pessimistic statements, then moved on.

Rep. PELOSI: We have a vote, so we're going to have to excuse ourselves. Thank you all very much.

MONTAGNE: Later we met Nancy Pelosi in her office, sitting down at a long conference table, to talk about her meeting last week with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. I asked her to sum up her impressions of Iraq in one word.

Rep. PELOSI: Chaotic. What is happening in Iraq is chaos. We don't have many good options. Everyone that we spoke to said that this escalation that the president is engaged in was the one last chance. Many did not believe it would be successful.

MONTAGNE: There is plenty of evidence that Iraq's troops are not ready to take over defending Iraq. What evidence did you find, or did Prime Minister Maliki offer to you that they are?

Rep. PELOSI: The fact is, is that the U.S. has been contending that we have been training the troops for years. I do not believe that this effort has been serious, because otherwise these troops would be trained. But the point is not until they are ready - we are telling them. The United States overthrew their dictator; gave them elections. Now it is their turn to take responsibility for their security and the safety of their people and the reconstruction of their country.

MONTAGNE: Did you learn from the Prime Minister precisely what the benchmarks are that are being discussed that the president has spoken of?

Rep. PELOSI: No, but we would like to hear them. Basically the one benchmark we heard from the prime minister was that in four to six months, with a very serious infusion of cash from the United States, that the surge, or escalation, would be successful. We told the prime minister that the funding request would be subjected to a fair hearing. I understood from him that he thought this surge would be successful only if billions of dollars... Now mind, we're talking about an escalation of a few weeks, but it was going to require billions of U.S. dollars. And I think that the gap in our thinking was made clear to each of us.

MONTAGNE: Did he also speak of the need to better equip the Iraqi army, the notion being that the U.S. has a responsibility to them to, in a sense, set them up if the U.S. backs off its commitment to defend Iraq?

Rep. PELOSI: Well, let's put it this way: Mr. Maliki is the elected leader in Iraq. He has an opportunity to amend the constitution, to relieve the civil strife and therefore the violence. No initiatives have been taken. He has a responsibility to reach out to other countries diplomatically in the region and have them help Iraq. Those initiatives are not coordinated and have not been successful.

So now Prime Minister al-Maliki is saying we want your money for our troops. They have $10 billion in the bank and they have $30 billion coming in of oil revenues. Anyway, that's what they tell us. If that is the case, when we say take responsibility for the security of their people, it means helping to pay for it as well.

MONTAGNE: If the troops - the U.S. troops - were to be redeployed and their mission transformed into training, border protection and fighting terrorism, what sort of numbers would you be talking about in terms of troops in Iraq?

Rep. PELOSI: Well Mr. Maliki said that if they had the money and they could get this done in four to six months, and at that time 50,000 troops would be able to be redeployed out of Iraq. That was his number. I believe that you'll see initiatives on the floor to this effect that we have this year in which we should be able to drastically reduce the number of troops. The Iraqis must build their own country and we have paid a big enough price.

MONTAGNE: You also visited Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, why are more troops the answer?

Rep. PELOSI: (unintelligible)

MONTAGNE: Well, why would one consider more troops going into Afghanistan and not Iraq?

Rep. PELOSI: They're two different situations. The war on terror is in Afghanistan. The fact that we weakened our commitment to Afghanistan in order to concentrate in Iraq has taken a toll. The vacuum that was created enabled the Taliban to make a comeback.

What was interesting to me in Afghanistan was that the NATO commander there told us that this could be lost. Now I did not realize that the situation was that dire in Afghanistan. And we need more troops, but we also need more NATO troops. And we made that clear to the NATO commander, that the countries of NATO had to have more troops there with more discretion, without caveats - we can't do this, we can't do that. And also, the countries of Europe have to make a stronger economic commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: This Congress has just two years and a lot of business ahead of it. Is the war in Iraq going to overshadow, in some sense, everything that you do?

Rep. PELOSI: The war in Iraq overshadows many aspects of our work here in many ways. First of all, it is the biggest ethical challenge facing our nation. Secondly, it is an enormous drain on our budget. Third, it's a hindrance in our leadership role in the community of nations. If we're going to be a leader in the war against global warming and against terrorism and all the rest, we have to command the respect of other countries, and the war in Iraq is taking its toll there.

And the war in Iraq overshadows everything because it is hurting our military readiness. So this is it. This war must come to an end. We must redeploy our troops. Our troops have performed magnificently. We owe them more.

MONTAGNE: Speaker Pelosi, thank you very much for joining us.

Rep. PELOSI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

She says the House will take up a resolution opposing the president's troop increase in mid-February, after the Senate acts.

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