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Bush Rejects Criticism of Iraq Contracting Process - 2003-12-11

President Bush is rejecting criticism of his decision to bar opponents of the war in Iraq from bidding on lucrative U.S.-funded reconstruction contracts. The president says these contracts should be reserved for countries that helped free Iraq.

"In the expenditure of taxpayers' money, and that is what we are talking about now, the U.S. people, the taxpayers, understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq," he said. "It is very simple."

Mr. Bush talked about the contract controversy with reporters at the end of a meeting with his Cabinet. He said he wants to see other countries get involved in Iraq, even those which opposed the war.

The president seemed to be sending two messages: assuring the American people that their tax dollars will only go to war allies and sending a signal abroad that circumstances can change.

"If these countries want to participate in helping the world become more secure by enabling Iraq to emerge as a free and peaceful country, one way to contribute is debt restructuring," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush said debt restructuring would be a substantial contribution for which the United States would be grateful, though he went on to say there is a difference between those countries, which have sent troops to Iraq and those, which have not.

His comments came as a special presidential envoy, former Secretary of State James Baker, prepared to go to Europe to discuss the debt issue.

On Wednesday, the president discussed the Baker mission by telephone with the leaders of France, Germany and Russia, three countries that refused to take part in the war coalition. He urged them to welcome James Baker, and offered to keep talking with them about the contract controversy.

In addition to those countries, Mr. Baker will visit two war allies, Britain and Italy.