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Bush Meets with Congressional Leaders on Iraq


U.S. President George Bush says he will work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to find a new way forward in Iraq. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders to discuss this week's report on Iraq by a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts.

President Bush says it was a very constructive meeting with Republican leaders who now control Congress and Democratic leaders who will take charge in January.

"We talked about Iraq," he said. "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 president assured Democrats that the "White House door will be open" when they become the majority party in the next Congress, and said he hopes they can meet regularly.

"The reason you meet on a regular basis is so that the American people can know that we are working hard to find common ground. That is what they expect us to do. They expect us to work on big problems and solve them," he said.

Mr. Bush thanked outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert who lost their leadership positions in last month's electoral defeat for Republicans. With Democrats set to take charge of Congress in January, the president said he looks forward to working with incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Bipartisanship is central to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which said the United States deserves a debate on Iraq that prizes substance over rhetoric.

Among the study group's recommendations are talks with Iran and Syria and the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops by early 2008.

But, following talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Thursday, President Bush said there will be no direct talks with Iran until it gives up what he says is its nuclear weapons program. Iran has long denied that is seeking to make nuclear weapons. It says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Mr. Bush also said there would be no dialogue with Syria until it stops interfering in Lebanon.

As for troop levels, Mr. Bush said he needs to be "flexible and realistic" about U.S. withdrawals from Iraq.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president will also consider pending reports on Iraq from the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council with the goal of making an address to the nation on the issue sometime before Christmas.

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