- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

President Bush yesterday said he is “not going to be rushed” into making changes in Iraq.

After meeting with civilian and uniformed military leaders at the Pentagon, the president, in combative language similar to his rhetoric during the recent congressional campaign, said some of the ideas being floated in Washington could cause the U.S. to lose the battle for Iraq.

“I’ve heard some ideas that would lead to defeat,” he said. “I reject those ideas, ideas such as leaving before the job is done, ideas such as not helping [the Iraqi] government take the necessary and hard steps to be able to do its job.”

Yesterday’s meeting was the final big consultation he has scheduled as he ponders how to change course in Iraq. The White House said earlier this week that he would not be ready to announce those changes until next year — a delay that caused some criticism from political opponents.

The president is also trying to navigate the politics of Iraq here at home in the wake of last week’s Iraq Study Group report. The bipartisan panel recommended a goal of ending the U.S. combat mission by early 2008, and also said the United States should engage Iraq’s neighbors, including Syria and Iran, in diplomacy to try to isolate the insurgents in Iraq.

The administration has balked at that idea, and yesterday criticized Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, who held his own meeting during the day with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Mr. Nelson said Mr. Assad indicated he is willing to help control his nation’s border with Iraq.

But the White House said the senator’s meeting, which came on the same day the president issued a statement harshly criticizing Syria’s human rights record, was not a good idea.

“We don’t think members of Congress ought to be going there,” White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters, though he would not say what the administration’s specific objection was.

But Mr. Nelson won’t be the last senator. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said he is also planning a visit to Syria during his upcoming trip to the Middle East.

“When you’ve got governments like Syria which have influence on the course of events, it’s important to engage with them,” he said.

Meanwhile, two other prominent Democrats, Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, called on Mr. Bush to declare that the U.S. engagement in Iraq is not open-ended. They said that would put pressure on Iraqis to find a political solution to the current insurgency.

“The most important thing is that he send the message to the Iraqi leaders that it’s not an open-ended commitment,” Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Snow said Mr. Bush has heard that idea, but said Iraqis themselves don’t want an open-ended commitment. Still, Mr. Snow said Mr. Bush is trying to send a different message right now.

“The president has considered everything, but I think the most important thing to do is to send signals to the Iraqis that we’re going to support them,” he said.

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