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Bush Discusses Iraq With Former Cabinet Members


President Bush is reaching out beyond his usual circle of advisers for suggestions on the way forward in Iraq. He invited a group of former secretaries of state and defense to the White House to get their views.

The president sat at a long wooden table, surrounded by current and former top foreign policy and defense officials.

There were about a dozen in attendance, split evenly between members of past Republican and Democratic administrations dating back to the 1960s.

President Bush said he welcomed their suggestions on the way forward in Iraq.

"Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq, and I fully understand that," said Mr. Bush. "But these are good solid Americans, who understand that we have got to succeed now that we are there."

He said he is grateful for their ideas and promised to "take to heart" their advice. But the president made clear he does not plan any major changes in his Iraq strategy.

"We have a dual track strategy for victory," he added, "On the one hand, we will work to have a political process that says to all Iraqis: 'the future belongs to you.' On the other hand, we will continue to work on the security situation there."

His guests were briefed on that strategy and the current situation on the ground in Iraq by top military commanders and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad . Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were also present to help update their predecessors.

After the session, Harold Brown, who served as former President Jimmy Carter's secretary of defense in the 1970s, spoke with reporters. He said the situation in Iraq is difficult, but there are signs of progress.

"My own belief is that the evolution of the political situation there over the next few months is going to be crucial to how it all turns out," he said.

Others attending the meeting included President Bush's first-term secretary of state, Colin Powell, and several former Clinton administration officials. They left the White House quietly, and made no public comments after the session.

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