- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — President Bush yesterday said Nouri al-Maliki’s government has underperformed, but he remained hopeful that the Iraqi prime minister can unite warring factions.

“They have made some progress but not enough,” Mr. Bush said during a White House press conference before he left town for most of the month. “We’re watching leaders learn how to be leaders. This is a new process for people to be democratic leaders.”

Mr. Bush also defended Mr. al-Maliki in response to questions about the Iraqi leader’s relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two leaders, both Shi’ites, met yesterday in Tehran.

Mr. Bush said Mr. al-Maliki shares the U.S. view of Iran as a “destabilizing factor” in Iraq.

On the Iraqi parliament, the president said it “has not passed some of the laws we expected them to pass up to now,” especially one that would mandate the sharing of oil revenue more fairly throughout Iraq’s provinces.

However, Mr. Bush said the parliament has passed about 60 laws, some oil revenue sharing is occurring, and people will judge Iraq“s progress based on whether they think it is worth it for the United States to be in Iraq.

“For those of us who believe it”s worth it, we’ll see progress, and for those who don’t believe it”s worth it, there won”t be progress,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said that “in the fifth year of war in Iraq, the president should not be asking the American people for more time on behalf of the Iraqi government.

“While saying that not enough progress has been made, the president continues to support a war without end, stand behind a policy that is clearly failing, and defend an Iraqi government that is unable or unwilling to make the political sacrifices necessary for national reconciliation,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

The Iraqi parliament began a monthlong vacation on July 30.

Mr. Bush restated his belief that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and said that is why U.S. troops need to stay there long enough for the nation’s leaders to pass key measures and for the country to stabilize.

“What has made the stakes so high is that those forces of murder and intolerance have shown they have the capacity to murder innocent people in our own country,” he said, referring to the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Bush faces another showdown with the Democratic-controlled Congress next month, when a progress report is expected from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the top U.S. military commander there.

Democrats in the spring passed an emergency war-spending bill that included a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, but Mr. Bush vetoed that bill and faced down further challenges from Congress to set a pullout date.

When asked about a picture of Mr. al-Maliki and Mr. Ahmadinejad strolling hand in hand down a hallway in Tehran, Mr. Bush said he was not “surprised that there is a picture showing people smiling.”

U.S. military and diplomatic leaders have stepped up charges in recent weeks that Iranian forces are supplying weapons and training to militia forces hostile to the United States.

“If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don’t believe they are constructive,” Mr. Bush said. “I don’t think he in his heart of hearts thinks they’re constructive, either.”

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