- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WHITE HOUSE

Bush regrets aircraft banner

President Bush on Tuesday said he regrets having spoken in front of a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner on a U.S. aircraft carrier in 2003, six weeks after the invasion of Iraq, which became a haunting moment as the war stretched on for years.

“I regret that that sign was there,” Mr. Bush said, during an interview with CNN in New York after his speech marking Veterans Day.

Mr. Bush was interviewed aboard a refurbished aircraft carrier, the Intrepid, which is now a museum in New York, and said being on the ship reminded him of his speech more than five years ago.

It was the first time that Mr. Bush expressed remorse over the sign, according to an informal review by The Washington Times.

The White House has maintained that the sign referred to the sailors and pilots on board the USS Lincoln, who were returning home from their tour in the Middle East.

Mr. Bush repeated that explanation Tuesday, saying that “it was a sign aimed at the sailors on that ship.”

“However, it conveyed a broader knowledge,” he said. “To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. But nevertheless it conveyed the wrong message.”

RUNOFF

Obama team rushes to Georgia

ATLANTA | Aides who worked in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign are heading to Georgia to help Jim Martin in his Senate seat runoff, two Democrats close to Mr. Martin’s campaign said Tuesday.

The sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity on a matter of campaign strategy, said about 100 Obama field operatives will help with Mr. Martin’s grass-roots turnout in the three weeks left before a Dec. 2 runoff against incumbent Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. They stressed that the campaign is still staffed primarily with Georgia volunteers. The Obama ground troops are coming mostly from other Southern states.

Mr. Obama’s vaunted grass-roots operation is credited with playing a pivotal role in his winning the White House, although he did not win Georgia.

Mr. Martin’s campaign has asked Mr. Obama to make a visit but hasn’t received any commitment yet.

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain will be in Georgia on Thursday stumping for Mr. Chambliss.

SENATE

GOP to vote on ousting Stevens

Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican convicted of seven felony counts last month, faces a vote by his Republican colleagues next week on whether to oust him from the Senate’s Republican conference and strip him of plum committee assignments.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, has served notice that he will seek to expel Stevens from the Republican conference at a Tuesday meeting to elect party leaders for the session that begins in January.

Stevens is leading narrowly in his re-election bid but has not officially been declared the winner of a seventh full Senate term. He faces potential expulsion proceedings after being found guilty in federal court of seven counts of lying on his financial disclosure reports to conceal more than $250,000 in free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has called on Stevens to resign and said he will support expelling him if his felony convictions stand. But Mr. McConnell also suggested it would be appropriate to permit Stevens to appeal his case before ousting him from the full Senate. Stevens has said he plans to appeal.

PENTAGON

Gates sends signal to Eastern Europe

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was traveling to Eastern Europe on Tuesday in a deliberate show of support for Ukraine and the Baltics that also will serve to strike back at escalating Russian threats in the region.

Mr. Gates’ attendance at a NATO meeting of defense ministers in Estonia also will draw attention to an international imbroglio that got little notice during the presidential campaign but could prove to be a vexing issue for the incoming Obama administration.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Mr. Gates’ trip was, in part, a symbolic gesture.

“I’m not so sure this is a meeting the secretary would have attended had the Russians chosen not to invade Georgia,” Mr. Morrell said. “But in the aftermath of that, the secretary wanted to send a very strong signal of his support for Ukraine and the Baltic states and our other NATO allies from Eastern Europe that the United States stands firmly behind them.”

MEETING

Six nations to focus on Iran sanctions

Senior diplomats from six world powers are to meet this week to discuss stalled efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Thursday’s meeting in Paris will bring together high-level foreign ministry officials from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. - and Germany, the officials said. The U.S. will be represented by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns.

Mr. Burns, the third-ranking official in the State Department, is in Moscow for talks with senior Russian officials on Iran and other matters, including Russia’s war with Georgia and U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe that have seriously damaged ties between the former Cold War foes, the officials said.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither Mr. Burns’ travel nor the meeting in Paris has been formally announced.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama wanted to see girls’ rooms

After wrangling over world issues, President-elect Barack Obama wanted to check out his daughters’ future bedrooms in the White House, President Bush said Tuesday, recounting the tour he gave his successor Monday.

“One of the things President-elect Obama was interested in - after we had our policy discussions - was his little girls. How would they like the White House?” Mr. Bush told CNN about Mr. Obama’s visit to the Executive Mansion.

“It was interesting to watch him go upstairs, and he wanted to see where his little girls were going to sleep.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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