- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

2:04 p.m.

President Bush today praised a bipartisan commission on Iraq for asking him good questions but said, “I’m not going to prejudge” the report the panel will issue soon.

Mr. Bush also pledged to search next year with victorious Democrats in Congress for common objectives in dealing with the conflict.

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“I’m not sure what the report is going to say. I look forward to seeing it,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office at the conclusion of a separate meeting he had with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Mr. Bush said the goal in Iraq is still “a government that can sustain, govern and defend itself and serve as an ally in this war on terror” and that “the best military options depend on conditions on the ground.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow earlier described the meeting as a conversation in which both sides shared views. “This is not a deposition,” he said. Further, Mr. Snow said there was not a presentation of alternatives but rather an assessment of the current situation on the ground.

Mr. Bush talked in the Oval Office with members of the Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The group is to release its findings before the end of the year.

“I was impressed by the questions they asked. They want us to succeed in Iraq, just like I want us to succeed. So we had a really good discussion,” Mr. Bush said.

Speaking of congressional Democrats who soon will govern Congress, Mr. Bush said, “What’s interesting is they’re beginning to understand that with victory comes responsibility, and I’m looking forward to working with the Democrats to achieve common objectives.”

Also today, the Democrat in line to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee offered a grim assessment on the situation, accusing the administration of ignoring the reality that “we’re getting deeper and deeper into a hole — that we should stop digging and that we should look for alternatives in order to promote the chances of success in Iraq.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said the study group’s report “is going to have an impact on whatever action might be possible in this Congress and in the next Congress,” when Democrats take control. Mr. Levin said earlier that U.S. troops should begin coming home in phases within four to six months, a loose timetable that other Democratic leaders have not endorsed.

The study group was spending the day at the White House speaking with members of Mr. Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, CIA Director Michael Hayden, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Even before it is finished, the study group’s report is seen by many as having huge stakes. It could give the Democratic and Republican parties a chance at consensus — or at least a tenable framework for agreement — after an election that gave Democrats congressional control and reshaped Mr. Bush’s final two years in office.

Meanwhile, Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, met today with the Iraqi prime minister to “reaffirm President Bush’s commitment” to success in Iraq, the government said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Gen. Abizaid, who commands all U.S. forces in the Middle East, discussed “the effect neighboring countries are having on the security situation in Iraq,” the government statement said in a clear reference to Iran and Syria.

Mr. Baker has indicated that the recommendations will fall somewhere between the troop-withdrawal strategy that Republicans like to say Democrats favor and the stay-the-course policy used until recently by Mr. Bush and widely ridiculed by Democrats.

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