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Bush Meets With Talabani, Cites Progress in Iraq


U.S. President George Bush has met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at the White House. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the outlook for an agreement on the future nature of the American presence in Iraq was among the many issues discussed.

The focus was on the positive as the two men met briefly with reporters at the end of their formal talks.

President Bush cited progress in Iraq.

"I complimented the president on the fact that as security has improved he and his fellow officials are reaching out to all aspects of society to help people realize the blessings of a free life," he said.

Mr. Bush acknowledged there is still a lot of work to be done. He made specific mention of ongoing negotiations on a strategic framework agreement between the United States and Baghdad that will allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after the end of the year, when their United Nations mandate expires.

He said the agreement must "suit" the Iraqi government.

President Talabani said he hopes a deal can be reached soon.

"We are doing our best for this strategic agreement with the United States of America. I think we have very good important steps towards reaching and finalizing this agreement," he said.

The Iraqi president said the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is also focusing on getting important laws dealing with oil and elections through the legislature. He stressed fostering national unity remains a priority.

"I can say we are proud to achieve good successes in Iraq. Our economy is growing and we have also big steps forward for national reconciliation," he added.

President Talabani also mentioned Iraq's efforts to improve relations with all its neighbors, including Iran and Syria. The Bush administration has cautioned that Tehran and Damascus foster terrorism in the region, but has said repeatedly it will not stand in the way of regional diplomacy by Iraq.

The meeting with Jalal Talabani was a late addition to President Bush's schedule, and was only announced on the eve of the session at the White House. President Talabani has reportedly been in the United States undergoing medical treatment.

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