- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2007

President Bush yesterday invited congressional leaders to the White House to discuss redrafting a new war-spending bill next week, and warned Democrats he is willing to wield his veto power repeatedly to block troop-withdrawal deadlines for Iraq.

“I’m optimistic we can get a bill, a good bill, a bill that satisfies all our objectives, and that is to get the money to the troops as quickly as possible,” Mr. Bush said during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Camp David retreat.

Speaking a day after the Democrat-led Congress passed a war bill with troop-pullout dates, Mr. Bush said he has enough support to sustain his veto as Democrats began looking for a resolution to the impasse that would appease its anti-war wing.

“If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether I’ll accept a timetable, I won’t accept one,” said Mr. Bush, who is awaiting the bill to formally veto it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thinks the president is open to negotiations based on his recent statements, and called on the president to “carefully” read the bill, “stop swaggering” and sign it.

“He will see it fully provides for our troops and gives them a strategy worthy of their sacrifices,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Failing to sign this bill would deny our troops the resources and strategy they need.”

Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to meet with Mr. Bush Wednesday, and Mr. Reid has talked to Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, the minority leader, about how to move forward.

Senior House leadership aides have held “very preliminary” discussions with White House staffers about post-veto negotiations, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has not yet reached out to Republican leaders on the issue, one official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks were not public.

Mr. Bush opposes both the troop-pullout deadline, which Republicans have begun to call the “surrender date,” and the more than $30 billion in nonmilitary, domestic spending in the $124 billion measure for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress’ current bill calls for pulling troops out of Iraq as early as July 1, if the president can certify the Iraq government has made progress, or by Oct. 1.

Republican leaders say they would consider including benchmarks for the Iraqi government as part of the war-funding measure, although they have not said how they would be enforced.

Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 Republican, said he is open to the idea of blocking further reconstruction or other aid funding to Iraq — though not military spending — if the government does not meet such requirements.

Democrats are “going to have to pull out the surrender dates — clearly those are the most unacceptable items — as well as the strings on our troops,” Mr. Putnam said. “Democrats and Republicans alike would like to see accountability, particularly on the Iraq government, and that can come in the form of benchmarks.”

At Camp David, Mr. Bush and Mr. Abe, meeting for the second time since the prime minister’s November election, voiced dissatisfaction with North Korea’s commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Abe said the state of negotiations among North Korea and five other countries, including the United States and Japan, is “regrettable.”

North Korea missed a mid-April deadline to start shutting its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in exchange for energy aid and security assurances.

The United States has been seen by some in Japan as softening its stance toward North Korea by beginning talks about removing the country from its state sponsors of terrorism list.

But Mr. Bush, while emphasizing the need for a diplomatic solution, said that the agreement reached in February gives the United States “a capability of more sanctions.”

“Our patience is not unlimited,” Mr. Bush said. “There is still time for the North Korean leader to make the right choice.”

Mr. Abe said that he and Mr. Bush “completely see eye-to-eye on this issue.”

“George and our American friends, I’m sure, are fully aware and they understand our thinking and they support our position,” Mr. Abe said.

Mr. Abe and his wife, Akie, left the United States for the Middle East last night, after spending the night in Washington on Thursday.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that a short private meeting between the two leaders at Camp David, scheduled to last only five minutes, stretched into a 40-minute powwow in the president’s private study.

“Our talks were very relaxed, but they were strategic,” Mr. Bush said. “The alliance between Japan and the United States has never been stronger.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bush also served a lunch that included American beef hamburgers to the Japanese delegation at Camp David yesterday.

Mr. Bush made reference to the hamburgers in his opening remarks at the press conference, pressing Mr. Abe to allow American beef producers to export to Japan.

“I’m absolutely convinced that the Japanese people will be better off if they eat American beef,” Mr. Bush said, smiling.

Mr. Abe’s face betrayed nothing.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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