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White House Says No Ultimatums For Iraq

The Bush administration says it is working with Iraqi officials to draft a series of benchmarks for meeting specific security, economic and political goals. But, officials deny they are issuing any ultimatums.

President Bush has held a number of meetings recently with his top military and national security advisors. But officials caution against reading too much into the flurry of consultations.

White House spokesman Tony Snow says no dramatic announcement is imminent, though he notes there are constant adjustments to reflect changing realities on the ground.

"Are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," said Tony Snow.

During a briefing for reporters, Snow said top Iraqi, coalition and U.S. officials in Baghdad have been meeting for some months to assess the situation, and come up with a list of benchmarks, or objectives. The New York Times reported Sunday that the American participants are drafting a set of specific timetables, and hinting at possible penalties, if targets are not met. Snow said that part of the report goes too far, adding, the United States is not in the business of issuing ultimatums.

"I think it is important to realize that, this is really both sides rolling up their sleeves, taking a practical look at all levels," he said. "The Iraqis also have very publicly been setting up benchmarks for their own political and economic progress."

Snow was asked if the Bush administration is satisfied with the efforts of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to dismantle militia groups, and bring down the level of violence. Snow stressed the situation is difficult, and added the White House is satisfied Iraq's leaders are taking the matter seriously.

"I think you also see much more aggressive efforts on the part of the Iraqi government, because the prime minister understands the vital importance of reconciliation - the third reconciliation conference will take place the week after next on the 4th [of November]," said Tony Snow.

Talk of a possible shift in U.S. tactics in Iraq has intensified in the weeks leading up to the November 7 congressional election in the United States. Voter discontent with the war appears to have helped opposition Democrats, prompting even some Republicans to call for a change in policy.

Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware is likely to take over the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, if the Democrats regain control of the Senate. During a conference call with reporters, he said there may be hints of change from the White House, but nothing will happen, if the Republicans remain in control on Capitol Hill.

"If they have a new plan, then they should not wait before they put it out, which makes me believe, if they hold on [to their majorities] in Congress, they do not have any real intention of making a significant change in policy," said Joseph Biden.

Polls indicate Iraq is the biggest single issue cited by American voters in the days leading up to the election. In a recent poll conducted by Newsweek magazine, 34 percent of those surveyed said they trust the Republicans to do a better job in handling the Iraq issue. Forty six percent chose the Democrats.