U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he expects the United States to be able to reduce its troop strength in Iraq once the new government takes office. The secretary spoke after briefing members of Congress on his visit to Iraq last week.
Senior U.S. officials are being asked almost daily about possible troop reductions because the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said he might make such a recommendation around this time. On Wednesday, standing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, Secretary Rumsfeld said he does not expect any recommendation on troop levels immediately, but he does expect one before too long.
"Until the ministers have been appointed and General Casey and [U.S.] Ambassador Zal Khalilzad are able to begin discussions with them and talk about the conditions on the ground and the responsibility being passed over to the Iraqis, I doubt that I would be getting any recommendations from General Casey or General Abizaid on that," said Donald Rumsfeld. "But I do expect that after that happens they will be having those discussions and that as we pass over more responsibility we ought to be able to reduce our forces."
The Iraqi cabinet is to be appointed within the next few weeks.
During Secretary Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq last week, General Casey said his plan to recommend a troop reduction is basically on track, but he also said he wants to see the new government establish its authority first.
The final decision on troop levels will be made by President Bush, but he has said he will follow his commanders' recommendations.
Also at the capitol building Wednesday, Senator Warner, who has been involved in defense issues for decades as a senior Pentagon official and senator, answered a question about reports that Secretaries Rumsfeld and Rice do not get along.
"There's always been rather an interesting relationship between the secretary of defense and the secretary of state," said John Warner. "And having witnessed it first-hand myself, I'd say this team is managing that marvelously."
The secretaries were asked to respond to the senator's comment.
Rumsfeld: "I agree."
Rice: "I agree. I like him. I think he likes me."
Secretary Rumsfeld responded, "Indeed," and as they walked away from the microphones he put his hand on her shoulder.
Reports of a rift between them were fueled by a comment Rice made at the end of March, saying that thousands of "tactical" errors have been made in Iraq. Many observers took the word "tactical" to refer to military operations, but Secretary Rice later explained she was using the word in a general sense. She repeated that explanation sitting alongside Secretary Rumsfeld at a news conference in Baghdad last week.