WASHINGTON – President Bush will meet next week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, amid rising violence in Iraq and unsettling developments elsewhere in the Middle East.
In the Nov. 29-30 meeting the two leaders will discuss efforts to tackle the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, but they are "not looking for a big, bold announcement," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said late Tuesday.
The meeting was planned a week or more ago, and the plans accelerated in the last few days, Hadley said. Bush and al-Maliki last met July 25 in Washington, D.C.
The discussion will follow a scheduled weekend summit between Iran, Iraq and Syria that some some have suggested is an attempt to upstage U.S. efforts to draw Damascus and Tehran into international efforts to curb violence in Iraq.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani accepted the summit initiation from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday. The meeting will take place on Saturday.
Asked about what role Iran and Syria should be playing in Iraq, Hadley told reporters on the flight home from Honolulu, Hawaii: "We think it is important that Iraq be speaking directly to these countries and making it clear to them that they need to play a positive role in seeking security, stability and democracy in Iraq. ... We are supportive of Iraqi government officials as they deliver that message."
House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich. added that it's no surprise that Iraq, Iran and Syria would try to build ties.
"I think the engagement between Iraq with Syria and Iran can, you know, form a foundation to move forward," Hoekstra told FOX News on Wednesday. "It is a logical step for neighbors in that part of the region to be communicating with each other. I'm sure that they've been talking over the last number of months. This is now a more formal step in that process and hopefully it can lead to some breakthroughs."
Bush's meeting with al-Maliki also comes on the heels of the U.S. president's attendance at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Riga, Latvia on Nov. 28-29.
"This is obviously an important time for both Iraqis and Americans in developing a way ahead. And since the president was going to be in the region, we thought it was a good opportunity for the two of them to get together and talk face to face," Hadley said.
White House press secretary Tony Snow distributed the formal statement of the meeting while returning to Washington, D.C., after Bush's eight-day trip to Asia.
"We will focus our discussions on current developments in Iraq, progress made to date in the deliberations of a high-level joint committee on transferring security responsibilities and the role of the region in supporting Iraq," the statement reads.
"We reiterate our commitment to building the foundations of a peaceful, democratic and secure Iraq and to strengthening the partnership between our two nations," the statement continues.
The meeting will happen before other high-profile reviews of U.S. efforts in Iraq are complete. A Pentagon review of military efforts in Iraq as well as an independent review by a commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton — who also was co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission — are not expected to be wrapped up until December.
Nonetheless, Hadley said, "It will also be an opportunity for the president and the prime minister to review the situation in Iraq more generally and talk about the way ahead in order to do things, accomplish — move toward our objectives in a more effective and expeditious way."
"There are many voices the president will want to listen to. He will want to obviously talk with the congressional leadership. He'll want to hear what the Baker-Hamilton commission has to say. He'll want to hear what Prime Minister Maliki wants to say," Hadley said.
Currently, the U.S. military is in charge of the bulk of security operations in Iraq. The Joint Committee on Transferring Security and Responsibility, which is a group of U.S. and Iraqi officials, is tasked with reviewing security and finding ways to accelerate the transition of security responsibility to Iraqi security forces. Formed several weeks ago, the presidents will be listening to a progress report from the committee.
"This is an opportunity for the president and Prime Minister Maliki to get together, to get a report from this commission they have adopted," Hadley said.
Hadley said Jordan was chosen as the site of the meeting because of its support for the unity government in Iraq and the fact that Bush would be in the region. In their statement, the two leaders said they looked forward to meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Bush is to arrive in Jordan in the late afternoon or early evening, conduct some business that evening and the next morning and then return to Washington, D.C., Hadley said.
Jordan is also in the neighborhood of Lebanon, which the United States is eyeing closely after the apparent political assassination Tuesday of a Christian Lebanese leader
On Tuesday, Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was shot and killed in the streets of Beirut. Gamayel was known for his strong stances against Syria, a country which has long meddled in Lebanese politics.
That meddling includes Syria's patronage of and suspected involvement in the month-long armed conflict over the summer between Hezbollah terrorists based in Lebanon and Israeli Defense Forces. During that fight, Syria reportedly allowed the pass-through of weapons across its borders to Hezbollah guerrillas.
On Tuesday, the United Nations agreed to establish a special tribunal concerning the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last year. Syria's ties to that murder are being probed.
Bush on Tuesday denounced the assassination of Gemayel and called for a full investigation.
"We support the [Prime Minister Fuad] Saniora government and its democracy, and we support the Lebanese people's desire to live in peace. And we support their efforts to defend their democracy against attempts by Syria, Iran and allies, to foment instability and violence in that important country," Bush said after having breakfast with U.S. troops in Hawaii.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations denied accusations his country was involved.
"Syria has nothing to to do with this, Syria is affected directly or indirectly from such crimes, horrible crimes committed and perpetrated on the Lebanese scene," said Amb. Bashar Ja'afari.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.