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The number of dead from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is rising. Louisiana's Health Department announced that the death toll in that state has climbed from 279 to 423 since yesterday.
At the White House, President Bush said today that he is ultimately responsible for the federal government's failings in response to Hurricane Katrina. President Bush's comments at the White House marked a shift in tone. He and his allies had sought to deflect the sharp criticism of federal recovery efforts. Mr. Bush's remarks came as he stood next to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The two met today, as NPR's David Greene reports.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
At the White House, the subject of Iraq has been overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina for two weeks. Even a visit from the president of Iraq could not change that. Mr. Bush and Jalal Talabani walked down a hallway lined with American and Iraqi flags and took their place behind podiums.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: For President Talabani and his fellow citizens, the day Saddam was removed from power was a day of deliverance, and America will always be proud that we led the armies of liberation.
GREENE: Talabani had a broad smile on his face as Mr. Bush spoke. When his own turn came, Talabani offered a 12-minute opening statement full of emotion.
President JALAL TALABANI (Iraq): To those in America and other countries still ask of war of liberation in Iraq if it was the right decision, I say, `Please, please come to Iraq to visit the mass graves, to see what happened to the Iraqi people and to see what now going on in Iraq.'
GREENE: Mr. Bush then invited reporter Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press to ask the first question.
Ms. NEDRA PICKLER (The Associated Press): Mr. President, given what happened with Katrina, shouldn't Americans be concerned that their government isn't prepared to respond to another disaster or even a terrorist attack?
Pres. BUSH: You know, Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.
GREENE: Mr. Bush did make clear that he only takes responsibility for what the federal government did wrong, and he has said he's still waiting to learn more about that. The president's statement comes at a time when his approval rating in most national polls has hit an all-time low. The White House announced he'll be in Louisiana again on Thursday to deliver a prime-time speech.
In the East Room today, the two leaders did talk about foreign policy. Talabani brought up his country's draft constitution, which faces opposition among Sunni Arabs.
Pres. TALABANI: We have agreed a draft constitution. Of course, it is not perfect document, but, you see, I think it is one of the best constitutions in the Middle East. Of course, we didn't solve all problems; we have some problems.
GREENE: Talabani had told The Washington Post he could see as many as 50,000 American military personnel withdrawing this year, but today he said setting timetables only serves to help terrorists.
This afternoon, the president left for New York to join other world leaders at a plenary summit at the United Nations. While he's there, he plans to thank nations that have sent help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. David Greene, NPR News, the White House.
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