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Democrats Criticize Bush Iraq Policy

Democratic U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who recently accompanied likely presidential nominee Barack Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan, is calling the Republican strategy in Iraq a "blank check" that America cannot afford. President George Bush, meanwhile, says he is eager to sign a bill to triple U.S. spending to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and worldwide. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.

In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Senator Reed said the Republicans' plan for Iraq is open-ended and too expensive.

"At a time when the war in Iraq costs $10 billion each month, Americans are paying $4 a gallon for gasoline, and our economy is struggling, we cannot continue down the path that President Bush and Senator McCain propose: writing blank check after blank check."

Reed, a Democrat from the Northeastern state of Rhode Island, said his party's alternative would carefully move U.S. combat troops out of Iraq and have them work in counter-terrorism and train Iraq's military.

"Make no mistake: This is a plan that seizes on the progress and sacrifices our troops have made in Iraq, and it recognizes the desire of the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny," he said.

Reed and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska went with Obama on a six-day trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait that ended this past week.

Obama says he will try to withdraw combat troops from Iraq over 16 months if he is elected. Iraqi leaders gave the plan conditional support when they met with Obama in Baghdad.

President Bush, in his weekly radio address, said he would be "honored" to sign a bill to provide $48 billion to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world. It would expand the current plan, called PEPFAR, which Mr. Bush said has been very successful.

"When we first launched this program five and a half years ago, the scourge of HIV/AIDS had cast a shadow over the continent of Africa. Only 50,000 people with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral treatment," he said. "Today, PEPFAR is supporting treatment for nearly 1.7 million people in the region. PEPFAR has allowed nearly 200,000 African babies to be born HIV-free."

After months of compromise, Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress have voted to approve the expanded program, which Mr. Bush says will do even more good in Africa.

"The new legislation that I will sign next week will build on this progress," he said. "We will expand access to lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs. We will help prevent millions of new HIV infections from occurring. And we will also bolster our efforts to help developing nations combat other devastating diseases like malaria and tuberculosis."

In his radio address, the President also praised the use of U.S. foreign assistance to promote democracy, free trade and human rights, and to fight hunger.