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Bush Discusses Security,  Economy with Top US Official in Iraq - 2003-11-12

President Bush has held urgent talks with his national security team about speeding up Iraq's return to self-rule and improving security for coalition troops.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says President Bush met for consultations on accelerating efforts to restore security, political activity, and economic growth in Iraq.

Mr. Bush met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer.

Ambassador Bremer says there are difficult days ahead in Iraq, but he is confident peace will be restored.

"The stakes are very high," said Mr. Bremer. "The stakes are very high for the war on terrorism and the stakes are very high for moving toward a sovereign Iraqi government. It is a tough situation."

Ambassador Bremer is working with Iraq's Governing Council to meet a U.N. deadline of December 15 to come up with a timetable for drafting a new constitution.

Some in the Bush administration believe the U.S.-appointed body is moving too slowly. Officials are considering a plan for some form of elections in the next six months to choose a new group of Iraqi leaders to write a constitution and exercise some executive powers.

Ambassador Bremer would not discuss what changes might be ahead for the governing council. He defended their work so far and dismissed suggestions that the group is not performing.

"No, I don't think it's fair to say the IGC is failing," he said. "They face a very difficult situation at this time, but the Iraqis are, I think, more and more effective in their assumption of authority. We have got an extremely capable group of ministers now who are, and have been since early September, basically running the Iraqi government responsible for the budget, responsible for policies, responsible for personnel."

The urgency of this White House meeting on Iraq was underscored by Ambassador Bremer's hurried summons from Baghdad and Secretary Rumsfeld's delaying the start of a trip to Asia.

Mr. McClellan and Ambassador Bremer both refused to respond directly to reports that the Central Intelligence Agency says growing numbers of Iraqis are joining the armed opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper says the CIA report suggests U.S. policy in Iraq has reached a turning point, and that efforts to establish democracy there could collapse unless changes are made.

Without citing sources, Mr. McClellan said there are lots of indications that the Iraqi people want the coalition to stay and finish the job because, he says, they realize a better future is coming.

Ambassador Bremer says it is not easy to figure out what the Iraqi public is thinking, but he believes Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists responsible for the violence are alienating Iraqi civilians.

"Obviously the terrorists are trying to encourage the Iraqi people to believe that the United States is not going to stay the course," said Mr. Bremer. "They've killed mostly Iraqis. That's who has been killed by these terrorist attacks. They've tried to target people who cooperate with us.

"They kill judges. They try to kill policemen," he continued. "I don't think that is going to work. I don't think the Iraqis are going to be intimidated. We are certainly not going to be intimidated."

Ambassador Bremer says the security situation should improve as more and more Iraqis take more responsibility for political developments.

He says it is up to Iraq's Governing Council to decide how to move the process forward. He will meet with council members on his return to Baghdad to present President Bush's views on transferring more authority to Iraqis themselves.