After meeting in Washington on Thursday, the top U.S. and British defense officials again urged Iraqi leaders to form a new government. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also indicated some understanding of the difficulty Iraqi politicians are having in their effort to do that.
Secretary Rumsfeld and his guest, British Defense Minister John Reid, continued the series of high level statements urging Iraqi leaders to end their deadlock over senior posts and form a national unity government. The secretary has said in the past that the lack of such a government is contributing to the ongoing violence in the country. But on Thursday, Secretary Rumsfeld indicated that he understands some of the difficulties the Iraqi politicians are facing.
"It's easy for us here in an air conditioned room and say, 'Gee, they ought to form a government.' And they should. And it would be a help if they did. On the other hand, what they're doing is difficult. They're negotiating. They're meeting with each other. They're talking to each other, as opposed to shooting at each other. They're stepping forward and putting themselves at risk to provide leadership in that country," he said.
Minister Reid said he believes the Iraqi leaders will succeed in forming a government. He said it would be an important show of unity at a time when the insurgents in Iraq are trying to foment disunity. "As the terrorists seek, by their own barbaric methods to divide inside Iraq, and divide us outside Iraq, our response should be to hold firm and get maximum unity inside Iraq, and maximum unity outside," he said.
Minister Reid also called for better cooperation among allied countries in bringing all their powers to bear on a variety of issues, including diplomacy, the international legal system and international organizations like the United Nations.
Minister Reid said he and Secretary Rumsfeld also discussed Afghanistan, and issues related to enabling the U.S. and British militaries to work together more effectively. But, with Secretary Rumsfeld laughing alongside him, Minister Reid said they made only brief mention of the international confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program and went to some length to make clear they had not discussed military action. "If you're asking whether we touched upon, mentioned, implied, nodded to each other, in any way sent signals about military action in Iran, the answer is 'no.'," he said.
Minister Reid said he had a more extensive discussion about Iran earlier in the day with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but he did not provide any details, beyond saying international unity is also important on that issue.