- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

12:14 p.m.

President Bush will meet on Thursday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his closest ally in the Iraq war. The meeting is scheduled a day after Mr. Bush is expected to receive recommendations from a blue-ribbon commission exploring different approaches for Iraq.

The Bush-Blair meeting was announced today — the same day Mr. Bush was to meet at the White House with Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament. Not taking sides in the bloody sectarian battle, Mr. Bush plans to meet next month with Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi.

“I don’t think anybody thinks the level of violence is acceptable,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said today.

Mr. Bush will talk with Mr. al-Hakim about political reconciliation in Iraq within the framework of the Iraqi constitution, Mr. Snow said. Their talks also will address Iraq’s relations with Iran and ways that moderates within the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities can help build more strength in the unity government in Baghdad.

These developments come amid an atmosphere of rising expectations about a new U.S. policy in Iraq and an acknowledgment by Mr. Bush’s national security adviser that the president accepts that a new approach is warranted.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said yesterday that though Mr. Bush recognizes that something different needs to be done, the president won’t use the recommendations due this week from the Iraq Study Group as political cover for bringing troops home.

“We have not failed in Iraq,” Mr. Hadley said as he made the talk-show rounds yesterday. “We will fail in Iraq if we pull out our troops before we’re in a position to help the Iraqis succeed.”

He added: “The president understands that we need to have a way forward in Iraq that is more successful.”

However, with the leak of another insider’s secret memo, the second in a week, the administration found itself on the defensive.

The latest, first reported in yesterday’s New York Times, showed that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called for a “major adjustment” in U.S. tactics on Nov. 6 — the day before an election that cost Republicans the Congress and Rumsfeld his Cabinet position.

Mr. Hadley played down the memo as a laundry list of ideas rather than a call for a new course of action.

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