- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

President Bush will not sign an Iraq funding bill that penalizes Iraqis for failing to meet political benchmarks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a series of interviews yesterday.

Miss Rice said any such benchmarks would unfairly restrain Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq and architect of the president’s surge strategy.

“That’s the problem with having so-called consequences,” Miss Rice said on ABC’s “This Week.” “To begin now to tie our own hands — and to say ‘we must do this if they don’t do that’ — doesn’t allow us the flexibility and creativity that we need to move this forward.”

Mr. Bush has said he plans to veto Congress’ $124.2 billion war supplemental bill, which includes a timeline for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. The president has said that after he vetoes the bill tomorrow, he hopes to meet soon afterward with Democratic lawmakers to discuss the next step in negotiations.

“I know that he wants to have leadership down and relevant parties down to talk about it,” Miss Rice told CBS’ “Face the Nation” moderator Bob Schieffer. “We need to come together on a way to move forward. The benchmarks that are there are benchmarks that were set by the Iraqi government.”

However, some Democratic lawmakers have argued that benchmarks backed by the threat of a U.S. withdrawal are the only way to ensure that the Iraqi government will pursue measurable progress on political reconciliation and combating terrorism.

“The benchmarks — the Iraqis agreed to it, the president agreed it,” Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We’re saying to them: Well, let’s put some teeth into the benchmarks.”

Mr. Murtha, who heads the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, has long advocated a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq to surrounding areas.

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said the Bush administration is ignoring public opinion.

“You know, I’m just stunned to listen to the secretary of state talk for all that time, and she never referred once to the will of the American people,” said Mr. Feingold, appearing on ABC after Miss Rice.

Saying that last year’s congressional election victory for Democrats was a vote by “the American people … to end this war,” Mr. Feingold said he was “just amazed that this administration has such disregard and disrespect for the will of the American people here and I don’t think [Democrats] should back down” from their insistence on a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

In a briefing with reporters last week at the Pentagon, Gen. Petraeus defended the continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq, citing what he called “incremental progress” in the effort to bring stability to Baghdad.

“We feel [there has been] incremental progress; it’s very difficult to demonstrate,” he said. “You know, all of this is actually so foreign, I think, in the minds of most people, who see the news and of course do see that day’s explosion or something like that. And actually there is a city of 7 million in which life goes on, and again, citizens are determined to carry on with their life.”

A poll released yesterday finds that a majority of the public opposes a presidential veto. According to the survey, 52 percent of respondents oppose a veto, with 35 percent supporting such action. According to the polling data, 77 percent of Democrats oppose a veto, while 64 percent of Republicans favor a veto. Independents were more closely divided, with a plurality, 49 percent, favoring a veto, and 35 percent opposed. Rasmussen Reports conducted the survey, which was released yesterday.

Senate Democrats have acknowledged they do not have the votes necessary to override a presidential veto.

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