WASHINGTON – President Bush called interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search) Wednesday to "reiterate his commitment to the Iraqi people," the White House said.
Bush's phone call was scheduled to take place before an assassination threat against Allawai, but didn't, press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters.
Speaking aboard Air Force One as he accompanied Bush on a trip to Philadelphia, McClellan did not provide Bush's response. But he did say the president "is determined to confront these terrorist threats."
A recording purportedly made by the mastermind of bombings and beheadings in Iraq threatened to kill Allawi and fight Americans "until Islamic rule is back on Earth." The audio, found Wednesday on an Islamic Web site, is supposedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), a Jordanian-born terrorist.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., who also flew with Bush to Pennsylvania, told reporters he planned to press the president to support a resolution that the senator planned to introduce on Iraq. It would urge Baghdad's interim government to "try Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity and war crimes as soon as possible following the June 30, 2004 transfer of power."
Specter said he had previously urged Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to seek a speedy trial of Saddam. Their response, he said, was "just listening." The senator said he was concerned about polls showing many Iraqis believe their country would be better off under Saddam than under the U.S. occupation.
Earlier, John Negroponte (search), the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq said the situation there won't be turned around overnight when sovereignty is handed over. But he also said that he hopes for substantial improvement very soon.
"I think we had expected that during this transition period that the enemies of democracy in Iraq were going to make a major push to try to prevent this transition from happening," said Negroponte, a career Foreign Service officer who was being sworn in later Wednesday.
"Our objective here and the whole purpose of our programs going forward is going to be to enable, to empower the Iraqis to take more and more responsibility," he said during a televised interview.
"Even those who might have qualms about how we got into the situation in Iraq would agree that we have to have a solid plan going forward, that we can't just up and leave and leave the country in chaos," he said.
Negroponte, who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, "I'm not arguing or suggesting that the situation be turned around completely overnight, nor that every problem can be solved right away. Sometimes as Americans we tend to be a bit impatient, but I think it's possible to get the trend moving in the right direction."
He said neither he nor his wife and children were oblivious to the dangers of a post in Baghdad, but felt it his duty to take the job when asked by President Bush.
"You think about it, you think about what's prudent and you don't take silly chances," he said.
His wife, Diana, said, "I thought it was the craziest idea that had ever come after Santa Claus. Gradually, I came to see that somebody had to represent the United States and that if John was ready to serve our country, I was going to support him fully."
"There'll be days when my chin wobbles and the tears will pour out of my eyes," she added. "There'll be days when I will be so angry. But that's what you've got to learn to mature and cope with."
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who visited Baghdad last week, said he believes it is still possible for the transitional government to cooperate with U.S. authorities in spite of the Abu Ghraib prison (search) scandal.
"Enough Iraqis realized we had to be there in order for them to get up on their feet," he said during a televised interview.
Yet, the senator said, the United States needs to develop a more rational and focused way of training the Iraqi security forces, including police that he contended are not properly equipped. Biden said he believes U.S. forces will remain in Iraq with 140,000 troops at least through December 2005.
"We have to get real about this and tell the American people, look, we're there at least for the next year solid, full-blown like we are now, and we have to get the international community and us to get in there and be more serious about enabling them to take over their own government," he said.
Biden, one of three U.S. senators who met Saturday in Baghdad with Allawi, said threats of assassination from Zarqawi would not intimidate Allawi.