WASHINGTON – President Bush pledged on Friday to consider the ideas of congressional leaders as he searches for a new strategy for the unpopular Iraq war. The president is expected to announce his decisions in a speech before Christmas.
"The president admitted that some new tactics might be needed," incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after Bush met at the White House with top Democrats and Republicans from Congress.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said no one expects the president to endorse all 79 recommendations of a blue ribbon commission that explored options in Iraq. But he said he hopes Bush's ideas track with the themes of the report, released Wednesday, which issued a scathing assessment of U.S. involvement in the war.
"We have got to start moving American troops, redeploying them out of Iraq and start bringing them home," Durbin said. "And second, we're not going to ask the Iraqis for permission. In fact, we're going to let them know we hold them to standards of performance in terms of making their country safer, their government stronger and securing their own future. And finally, that we open up a new line of diplomacy in the Mideast."
Summing up the discussions, Bush said, "We talked about Iraq. We talked about the need for a new way forward in Iraq. And we talked about the need to work together on this important subject."
The leaders were part of a parade of senior lawmakers making their way through the West Wing this week.
Next week, Bush will hold three days of meetings with senior members of his national security team to discuss ideas about Iraq.
On Monday, Bush will go to the State Department for talks, and then later in the day meet in the Oval Office with outside experts on Iraq. On Tuesday, the president will hold a video conference with senior military commanders and Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq. And on Wednesday he will go to the Pentagon to meet with senior defense officials.
"We are driving toward conclusion," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Pelosi said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid recommended forming a bipartisan House and Senate group that would meet on a regular basis with the administration to consider many of the Iraq recommendations so the American people can see there is a consensus in the nation about a way forward.
Pelosi said she felt the president was "positively inclined toward it." Durbin said he would like to see it expanded beyond the Iraq issue.
"The time for change is now," Pelosi said.
"I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed," the president said Thursday. "I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped."
Bush, at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, distanced himself from some main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group's proposals for reshaping his policy. The president objected to talks with Iran and Syria and refused to endorse a major troop withdrawal.
Blair wholeheartedly supported Bush's determination to fight to victory in Iraq and spread democracy across the Middle East.
"The vision is absolutely correct," Blair said at a news conference where the two leaders agreed, nevertheless, on a need for new approaches in Iraq.
When a British reporter suggested Bush was denying even to himself how bad things are, the president tartly replied, "It's bad in Iraq. That help?"
Under intense pressure to take a new direction, Bush is expected to make a major speech about Iraq before Christmas. He said his decisions will be based on the recommendations of separate studies from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council as well as the Iraq Study Group.