- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush said today he’s optimistic compromise will be reached with Congress on an Iraq spending bill.

“I think we’ll get a deal. We’ll work through something we can all live with,” Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

For his part, Blair, the staunchest of U.S. allies on Iraq, predicted that Britain would continue to stand side by side with the United States after he leaves office. He said he did not regret his decision to join Bush in supporting the war in Iraq and “I believe that we will remain a staunch and steadfast ally in the fight against terrorism.”

Blair, once enormously popular in his country, saw his popularity tumble largely over his alliance with Bush on Iraq.

The president praised Blair, calling him extremely effective as a leader and “dogged” when he gets on a subject. “I appreciate the fact that he can see beyond the horizon. And that’s the kind of leadership the world needs,” Bush said.

Asked by a British reporter if Blair was the right person for Bush to be dealing with now, given that he will leave office on June 27, Bush said absolutely. “You’re trying to do a tap dance on his political grave,” the president said.

Blair said he was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside the U.S. since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks: “I admire him as a president and I regard him as a friend.”

Bush voiced optimism that he could reach a deal with Congress on a stalled $124.2 billion spending bill to help pay for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress and the White House have been at loggerheads over war spending since earlier this month when Bush vetoed the measure after the Democratic-controlled Congress added provisions for troop withdrawals to begin Oct. 1.

Bush said he had instructed Joshua Bolten, his chief of staff, to stay in close touch with congressional leaders. He said he agrees with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that time is of the essence. And he said he respected the desire of members to include benchmarks in the bill that the Iraqi government should meet.

“I’m optimistic we can do so,” Bush said.

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