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Bush Holds Consultations on Iraq Strategy

President Bush has begun three days of intense consultations on his Iraq policy. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, he began with a trip to the State Department to hear the views of top diplomats and officials working on Iraqi reconstruction.

President Bush began by reviewing diplomatic and political options with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and members of her team both in Washington and Baghdad.

Their discussions, with participants in Iraq taking part by teleconference, took place behind closed doors. Afterwards, the president spoke briefly to reporters.

"I appreciate the advice I got from those folks in the field," he said. "And that advice is an important part, an important component of putting together a new way forward in Iraq."

Mr. Bush spoke in general terms, and did not reveal specifics of his consultations at the State Department. He simply thanked the department staff for its work on Iraq, and said he would meld their recommendations with those he receives from military officials and outside experts. He stressed they all share a common goal: an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself.

"There is no question we got to make sure that the State Department and the Defense Department's efforts and recommendations are closely coordinated, so that when I do speak to the American people they will know that I have listened to all aspects of government and that the way forward is a way forward to achieve our objective, to succeed," noted Mr. Bush.

The president noted the discussions on Iraq at the State Department also focused on "the neighborhood." He said the countries that surround Iraq also have a stake in its success.

"We believe that most of the countries understand that a mainstream society, a society that is a functioning democracy is in their interest," he continued. "And it is up to us to help focus their attentions and focus their efforts on helping the Iraqis succeed."

Last week, Mr. Bush received the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The panel called for the administration to engage directly with Iran and Syria. But the White House says it will not agree to direct talks with Tehran until Iran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities.

The Iraq Study Group also urged the president to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq by early 2008, leaving behind advisors and military trainers. That recommendation has also received a cool reception from the Bush administration.

White House officials originally suggested the administration's own review of Iraq policy would be complete in time for the president to announce possible changes in strategy before Christmas. But now they say there is still work to be done and while they would like to make the announcement next week, there are not making any promises.