President Bush on Tuesday put off until early next month announcing a new approach to the Iraq war. "It only makes sense for the president to take whatever time he needs to have confidence in the course that he will put forward before the American people," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The White House initially indicated Bush would deliver the speech before Christmas.

While administration officials said Bush had largely decided on where he wants to go in terms of a new policy, he gave no public hint of his plan at a meeting with the country's Sunni vice president.

"Our objective is to help the Iraqi government deal with the extremists and the killers, and support the vast majority of Iraqis who are reasonable, who want peace," Bush said after an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Tariq al-Hashemi.

Taking questions after a State Department meeting with Australia's foreign minister, Rice said there were several factors behind the delay — including a desire to allow incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates to settle in and help in developing the new policy. Gates starts the job on Dec. 18.

"The president's goal and indeed his responsibility is to do precisely what he said he would do," Rice said. She said that was to present to the American people "a new way forward."

Rice's Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said it may be necessary to make changes to U.S. policy "here and there" but expressed general support for Bush's policy to keep troops in Iraq until that government can better defend itself.

"We believe that if the United States were to withdraw too quickly and inappropriately, the consequences would not only be disastrous for the Iraqi people" but neighboring countries could be drawn into the conflict, he said.

Australia is a staunch U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, with troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.