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President Bush, PM Blair Respond to Iraq Study Group’s Report

December 7, 2006 at 4:35 PM EST


GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We agree that victory in Iraq’s important. It’s important for the Iraqi people; it’s important for the security of the United States and Great Britain; it’s important for the civilized world. We agree that an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself as an ally on the war on terror is a noble goal.

TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: It’s a noble mission, and it’s the right mission. And it’s important for our world that it succeeds. And so the question is: How do we make sure that it does, indeed, succeed?

And in respect of Iraq, I, like you, welcome the Baker-Hamilton study group. It offers a strong way forward. I think it is important now we concentrate on the elements that are necessary to make sure that we succeed, because the consequences of failure are severe.

JOURNALIST: Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating.” You said that the increase in attacks is “unsettling.” That will convince many people that you’re still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq and question your sincerity about changing course.

GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s bad in Iraq. That help?

JOURNALIST: Why did it take others to say it before you’ve been willing to acknowledge it to the world?

GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, in all due respect, I’ve been saying it a lot. I understand how tough it is, and I’ve been telling the American people how tough it is. And they know how tough it is.

And the fundamental question is: Do we have a plan to achieve our objective? Are we willing to change as the enemy has changed?

And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective. Make no mistake about it: I understand how tough it is, sir.

But I want you to know, sir, that I believe we’ll prevail. I know we have to adjust to prevail, but I wouldn’t have our troops in harm’s way if I didn’t believe that, one, it was important, and, two, we’ll succeed.

Steps to get out of Iraq

JOURNALIST: You mentioned Iran and Syria as part of this regional effort. Are you willing to engage with them directly, as the report recommends? And back to the issue of the troops, is it possible to get them out of Iraq by early 2008, as the report talks about? And when do you hope to have this report? Sorry to...

GEORGE W. BUSH: How many questions you got, Steve?

You mean, when do I hope to announce the strategy, is that what you're talking about? After I get the reports. And Baker-Hamilton is a really important part of our considerations.

But we want to make sure the military gets their point of view in. After all, a lot of what we're doing is a military operation. I want to make sure the State Department is able to help us analyze the strategy to make sure that we've got the right political emphasis, not only inside Iraq, but outside Iraq.

Let me talk about engaging Iran. We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years. And that is that, if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program.

You know, it's really interesting to talk about conversations with countries, which is fine. I can understand why people speculate about it. But there should be no mistake in anybody's mind: These countries understand our position. They know what's expected of them.

There's a -- you know, if we were to have a conversation, it would be this one, to Syria: Stop destabilizing the Siniora government. We believe that the Siniora government should be supported, not weakened. Stop allowing money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don't provide safe haven for terrorist groups. We've made that position very clear.

And the truth of the matter is, is that these countries have now got the choice to make. If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy. Just make some decisions that'll lead to peace, not to conflict.

JOURNALIST: ... combat troops out by early 2008. Is that a problem?

GEORGE W. BUSH: One of the things the report did mention, and I think you've said it in your comment, that "if conditions so allow." And, you know, we want our combat troops out as quick as possible. We want the Iraqis taking the fight.

But it's very important to be, as we design programs, to be flexible and realistic. And, as the report said -- I don't know if I've got the exact words, but it was along the lines that it was depending upon conditions, I believe that's what the qualifier was. And I thought that made a lot of sense.

I've always said we'd like our troops out as fast as possible; I think that's an important goal.

Value of the report

JOURNALIST: You also have -- you're waiting to hear from the Pentagon. You're waiting to hear from the State Department. This report was prepared by a bipartisan group, the only one you'll get. Secretary Baker has a special relationship with your family. Should this report not get extra consideration? Does it not carry more weight than any of the others?

GEORGE W. BUSH: That's an interesting question. It's certainly an important part of our deliberations, and it was certainly an important part of our discussions this morning.

Some reports are issued and just gather dust. And the truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is: I read it, and our guest read it. The prime minister read, read a report prepared by a commission.

And this is important. And there are some -- I don't think Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton expect us to accept every recommendation. I expect them, I think -- I know they expect us to consider every recommendation, Jim, that we ought to pay close attention to what they advise. And I told them yesterday in our meeting that we would pay close attention.