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Bush Ponders Moves on Iraq, Prepares for Talks With Shi'ite Leader


White House officials say U.S. President Bush is open to considering all sorts of options in Iraq, including those put forward in a newly-disclosed memo from outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports, the Bush administration is also preparing to receive a list of recommendations for policy changes from a bipartisan panel of foreign policy experts authorized by Congress.

In a memo to the White House, drafted just before the November 7 election in the United States and days before his resignation, Secretary Rumsfeld called for a major readjustment in U.S. policy in Iraq.

Rumsfeld, long considered a major proponent of the president's Iraq strategy, struck a different tone in the memo, suggesting it was time for a change of course.

The secret memo - first reported by The New York Times, and then confirmed by the Pentagon - lists a series of options, including several ideas for troop redeployments or withdrawals.

President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, says the memo should be seen in the context of a broad review of policy options.

He spoke on the ABC television program, This Week.

"The president had, as you know, asked agencies to begin a review of our policy in Iraq, and what Secretary Rumsfeld did, and I think very helpfully, was put together a sort of laundry list of ideas that ought to be considered as part of that review," said Stephen Hadley.

Hadley stressed that the president has often stated his willingness to adapt to developments in Iraq. He said, in addition to studying ideas put forward by members of his administration, Mr. Bush is ready to give consideration to those advanced by Iraqi officials, and individual members of the U.S. Congress, as well as the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a high-level panel of advisors authorized by the legislature that is to present its findings this week.

"He has said publicly what Secretary Rumsfeld said, that some things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough," he said. "We have to make some changes. We need a new way forward in Iraq, and that is what this policy review is all about."

Public dissatisfaction with the situation in Iraq was, in part, responsible for large Democratic Party gains in the November election. The man who will chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Democrats formally take control in January is Joseph Biden of Delaware. He told the Fox News Sunday program that the Rumsfeld memo only reinforces his view that the administration's handling of Iraq has been severely flawed.

"The bottom line is, there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense," said Joseph Biden.

Appearing on the same program, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina agreed on the need for a policy shift in Iraq. But he said, even setting a timetable now for phased conditional withdrawals would be a mistake, adding a military victory is crucial to the war on terror.

"This is, to me, the central battle front in the war on terror," said Lindsey Graham. "We need more troops, not less. The Iraqi people need some breathing space from this violence."

During talks last week in Jordan, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to speed up the training and deployment of Iraqi security forces to deal with the bloodshed, and hopefully bring it to an end. The president meets Monday with a top leader of the country's Shi'ite majority, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.

On CNN's Late Edition program, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad stressed the importance of these meetings.

"This will be an opportunity for the president to encourage Iraqis to come together, to unite, to reconcile and to confront extremists," said Zalmay Khalilzad.

President Bush will also confer next month with a leader of Iraq's Sunni faction, Vice-President Tareq al Hashemi.