U.S. Officials Search For Ways to Break Wartime Deadlock
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GWEN IFILL: From Washington to the hills of Afghanistan, U.S. officials today searched for ways to break through wartime deadlocks on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the stakes on the diplomatic front, announcing the U.S. will join with leaders from Iraq and the region for a meeting in Baghdad.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region.
GWEN IFILL: It remained unclear whether U.S. officials will meet face to face with representatives from Iran and Syria. If that happens, it will represent a new approach for an administration that, as recently as last December, has resisted direct negotiations with either nation.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: If people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.
And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.
GWEN IFILL: But today, Rice stressed that the Iraqis are the ones taking the lead in the new effort.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I’m pleased that the government of Iraq is launching this new diplomatic initiative and that we will be able to support it and participate in it.
The violence occurring within the country has a decided impact on Iraq’s neighbors, and Iraq’s neighbors, as well as the international community, have a clear role to play in supporting the Iraqi government’s efforts to promote peace and national reconciliation within the country.
Democratic support for diplomacy
GWEN IFILL: Democrats on Capitol Hill endorsed the idea.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: We're years behind having done that. It's so important that we understand the war will be won diplomatically, not militarily.
There's no question in my mind that the president can read what's going on in the minds of the American public as well as we can.
GWEN IFILL: The Rice announcement came on a day when Vice President Cheney met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, hours after a suicide bomber killed 23 people at the gate of the military base where Cheney spent the night.
And the vice president's visit unfolded, as Democrats on Capitol Hill searched for a way to slow, if not stop, future deployments to Iraq.
The effort centered on a Senate proposal to repeal the 2002 resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq. Democrats said the measure, which would have limited U.S. military operations in Iraq and brought troops home by next March, is still under consideration, but agreement appears elusive.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), Illinois: We may set aside the Iraq debate for a few days, but not indefinitely. This debate needs to take place for the very simple reason that, as we debate on the floor of the Senate, unfortunately our sons and daughters are still in peril in Iraq. They are still caught in the crossfire of this civil war.
GWEN IFILL: Republicans have staunchly opposed the plan, arguing that it would undercut the president's ability to manage the war.
SEN. JON KYL (R), Arizona: While the Democrats are in somewhat of disarray about what they intend to do next with regard to Iraq, and we may not get to a specific resolution to be debated until next week, I took home from the comments that our military commanders made to me a very strong sense that it would be wrong for Congress to try to micromanage the war from here in Washington, specifically to get into the specific details of the deployment of troops and equipment in theater and the funding of those matters.
GWEN IFILL: Instead, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, Democrats should be forced to vote up or down on whether to pay for the war.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: It is the view of the overwhelming majority of the Republican conference that we will want to vote on funding for the troops.
A 'pivotal year ahead'
GWEN IFILL: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released today showed the war more unpopular than ever. More than half of those polled supported setting a deadline for troop withdrawal, this as new Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell offered senators a bleak assessment of the state of affairs on the ground.
VICE ADM. MIKE MCCONNELL (Ret.), Director of National Intelligence: The current security and political trends in Iraq are moving in a negative direction. Particularly after the February 2006 bombing of the mosque at Samarra, sectarian violence has become self-sustaining.
Unless efforts to reverse these conditions gain real traction during the 12- to 18-month time frame of this estimate, we assess that the security situation will continue to deteriorate at a rate comparable to the latter half of 2006.
GWEN IFILL: And McConnell said spring will bring more fighting in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still a threat and al-Qaida is regrouping and active.
VICE ADM. MIKE MCCONNELL: Afghanistan's leaders face a pivotal year ahead. They must build central and provincial government capacity, confront perverse drug cultivation and trafficking, and, with NATO and the United States, arrest the resurgence of the Taliban.
GWEN IFILL: At an afternoon budget hearing, senators quizzed Rice, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace about the cost of the war.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), West Virginia: We need to know that the funds that you are requesting will do more than merely continue the status quo.
GWEN IFILL: Gates acknowledged there has been some sticker shock associated with the war effort, but that the combined $700 billion price tag is worth the investment.