WASHINGTON – President Bush's national security advisers met with the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer (search), to vent their frustrations with the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council (search) and the stagnant pace of political progress in Baghdad.
Bremer was summoned unexpectedly from Iraq to a White House meeting on Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other key officials.
A senior administration official told Fox News that Bremer met with Bush and Rice and in another meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney (search), Rumsfeld, Powell and others as part of intensified consultations both with the White House and with the Governing Council.
There have been concerns about the performance of the Governing Council, a senior administration official said, particularly the lack of progress toward a Dec. 15 deadline to set a timetable for writing a new constitution and holding democratic elections. Bremer has expressed frustration to members of Congress that council officials are not working hard enough.
There is a full National Security Council meeting early Wednesday morning on the Iraqi Governing Council, about how they can expedite the transfer of power, and come up with a plan before the Dec. 15 deadline.
One option under consideration: naming a new interim Iraqi leader with authority to govern the country until a constitution can be written and elections held, a Bush administration official said. That would be patterned after the model of Afghanistan.
The urgency of the visit Tuesday by Bremer was underscored when Bremer abruptly canceled a planned meeting in Baghdad with the visiting Polish prime minister before heading to Washington.
The talks came at a time when attacks have been stepped up -- resulting in the bloodiest week for American soldiers since the end of major combat operations -- and as U.S. and Iraqi leaders struggle over how to draft a new constitution, a key step in handing over power to the Iraqis.
With a re-election battle ahead, Bush faces a rising casualty toll in Iraq and criticism that he lacks a strategy for postwar Iraq. As of Monday, the U.S. death toll was 394.
Bremer has expressed frustration to members of Congress that council officials are not working hard enough.
One idea being considered is the creation of an interim Iraqi leader with authority to govern until a new constitution is in place and elections are held, the senior administration official said, on condition of anonymity. In Afghanistan, the government of President Hamid Karzai was installed by the U.S.-led coalition that ousted the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. Elections are planned next June.
No decisions were made Tuesday, several Bush administration officials said.
The talks also focused on security issues, said another Bush administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Some critics have proposed the recall of Iraq's army, disbanded shortly after the war. Pentagon officials and Bremer's aides have called that unworkable.
Even as they expressed disappointment in the council's work, administration officials said Bush was not about to disband it.
"The notion that we are about to throw the council to the wolves is exaggerated," said a third senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But there is a need to put some energy into the political transition. It is true they are not as together as we had hoped."
Many members of the U.S.-picked governing council have complained, in turn, that they cannot move quickly and have no real power because Bremer rules the country. The council has not even decided how to choose delegates to draft the constitution, U.S. officials noted in frustration.
Some U.S. officials believe that key members of the 25-member Iraqi council are stalling in hopes of winning concessions from American leaders under political pressure to turn over power to the Iraqis.
In a Veterans Day speech as the White House meetings occurred, Bush gave a broad defense of his postwar strategy in Iraq.
"The long-term security of Iraq will be assured by the Iraqis themselves," Bush said. He said 118,000 Iraqis were serving as police officers and in other security positions and predicted that 35,000 Iraqi troops would be in the field by the end of next year.
"Under our strategy," Bush said, "increasing authority is being transferred to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Government Council has appointed ministers who are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Iraqi government."
Fox News' Jim Angle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.