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Bush, Maliki Meeting Set for Thursday in Jordan


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George Bush are scheduled to meet in Jordan Thursday to discuss sectarian violence in Iraq and what America can do to help stop it. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the two leaders were to have met Wednesday, but those talks were canceled.

White House officials say Thursday's talks will go ahead, following some confusion over what happened Wednesday evening.

President Bush was to have met with the Iraqi prime minister and King Abdullah before dinner at Amman's Raghadan Palace. But White House officials say the Jordanian and Iraqi leaders decided to forego the trilateral meeting following their own talks earlier in the day.

President Bush met privately with King Abdullah instead. The two discussed Syria's involvement in Lebanon and how Jordan and the United States can strengthen the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. officials say the schedule change was in no way related to the publication of a classified White House memo raising questions about the Iraqi leader's ability to stop sectarian violence.

They say the canceled meeting was not a snub, and reporters will be able to see for themselves the relationship between the two men when they are scheduled to take questions following their meeting Thursday.

Their talks are expected to focus on stopping sectarian violence, transferring more responsibility to Iraqi authorities and getting neighboring states to better support the Maliki government in Baghdad.

Both men are under domestic political pressure as they enter these talks at a Jordanian hotel.

In Iraq, six cabinet ministers and 30 legislators loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr decided Wednesday to boycott parliament and the government to protest the prime minister's meeting with Mr. Bush.

The U.S. president, in turn, is facing opposition from leaders of the Democratic Party, which won control of both houses of Congress in this month's elections. Many Democrats want some of the more than 140-thousand U.S. troops in Iraq to start coming home.

President Bush says that is a decision for military commanders on the ground, not politicians in Washington.