Bush Challenges Congress to Fund Iraqi Mission In his first news conference of the year, President Bush again makes his case for increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The president put the emphasis in the Iraq debate on an upcoming vote by Congress for funding of U.S. operations in the country.
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Bush Challenges Congress to Fund Iraqi Mission

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Bush Challenges Congress to Fund Iraqi Mission

Bush Challenges Congress to Fund Iraqi Mission

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush is speaking at this hour at the White House. It's his first news conference of the year, and it comes amid a fierce debate in Congress over the president's decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq.

In his opening remarks, President Bush had this message for lawmakers.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission. We have a responsibility, all of us here in Washington, to make sure that our men and women in uniform had the resources and the flexibility they need to prevail.

MONTAGNE: President Bush speaking this morning at the White House. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been listening in and she joins us now. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So President Bush is making his case again for his troop buildup in Iraq. Anything new to report?

LIASSON: Well in that clip you just played, he's clearly shifting his focus, not so much to the debate that's going on right now in the House of Representatives over a nonbinding resolution disapproving of his plan to increase troops there, but to the next step. He said the - what came right before that statement, he said soon there's going to be legislation that is binding before the Congress. And that's a bill providing emergency funding for our troops and he said, in not so many words, to the Congress - you better not cut that funding because our troops are counting on you.

That clearly is where the debate is heading in Washington beyond these nonbinding symbolic resolutions of disapprovals and to a debate about funding and he is already laying down his marker on that.

MONTAGNE: Well the president said the new security plan for Baghdad is meant to give the Iraqis what he called political breathing space. But lawmakers here in Washington seem pretty impatient.

LIASSON: Well they do. And I think the only thing that the president can count on to recapture some support, particularly among Republicans, is that if his policy actually shows some results on the ground. Now I think he was very candid this morning. He said just talked to General Petraeus before he came to this press conference. He got a report from him, including the news that wasn't good - that the Iraqi government has failed to follow through on its commitment to provide three additional brigades.

And so he is trying to meet Congress' demand, especially, the Democratic - the new Democratic Congress' demand for more information, more briefing, something they felt was completely lacking when the Republicans were in Congress. But I do think that lawmakers are impatient, especially, Republicans who are up in 2008 and the president's policy, I think, have to show some results on the ground, or else he's in danger of losing even more support.

MONTAGNE: And turning to an issue involving Iraq's neighbor, Iran, the president was asked about U.S. allegations that the Iranian government is arming Shia insurgents in Iraq. Let's listen to a bit of what he had to say.

President BUSH: I can say, with certainty, that the Qods Force a part of the Iranian government has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops. And I'd like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Qods Force was ordered from the top echelons of government.

MONTAGNE: Now, of course, that charge itself had been made by officials - U.S. officials. His talking about the elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard there, but what is this a back off on this?

LIASSON: I don't think so. I think he said, look they're weapons in Iraq because of the Qods Force, the Qods Force is part of the Iranian government. Whether or not, the Qods Force is freelancing or they were ordered by Ahmadinejad , he said he didn't know that. But I think he was saying is what's the difference? They're still coming from the Iranian government and hurting our troops, and we're going to do everything to protect the troops. But he also said the idea that we're looking for some kind of a pretext for war is just not the case.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson on today's White House news conference. The news conference is still in progress. President Bush has been speaking about the war in Iraq, Iran, and also, about North Korea.

This is NPR News.

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