WASHINGTON – Eager to capitalize on Iraq's elections, President Bush on Tuesday continued to press fellow world leaders to support the new Baghdad government being formed after Sunday's voting.
In phone calls with four foreign leaders, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush talked up the importance of "maintaining this momentum" created by the elections, which occurred without the catastrophic rebel attacks that many had feared would mar the milestone in Iraq's transition to a stable democracy.
The president spoke by phone Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin (search), NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (search) and Mexican President Vicente Fox (search).
The elections raised hopes at the White House that Iraqis could take over more of their country's security, allowing U.S. troops to begin going home, and Bush has been holding a series of conversations in recent days with world leaders in hopes of boosting foreign aid to the new Iraqi government. He also will use part of his State of the Union address Wednesday night to urge other nations to support Iraqis in any way they can.
Bush and Putin, who are meeting in Slovakia at the end of the month, "agreed that the elections marked an important step forward for the Iraqi people in building their country," McClellan said. In December, Putin had warned that elections could not be fair under a U.S.-led occupation.
Bush and De Hoop Scheffer discussed the possibility of NATO stepping up its training efforts for the Iraqi military. To Barroso, Bush offered thanks for the European Union's pledge of $260 million in assistance to Iraq, McClellan said.
Bush told both men, whom he also will meet during his late February trip to Europe, that he hoped the strong statements of support from European leaders since the elections will turn into tangible commitments.
Fox, who reached out in congratulations to Bush on his inauguration to a second term last month, also spoke about Iraq and "the courage shown by the Iraqi people" with the president, McClellan said.
Sunday's election elected a 275-member National Assembly and lawmakers in 18 provincial legislatures. Results are expected to be available in about 10 days. Once installed, the assembly will pick a prime minister and government.