President Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad Tuesday to meet with the Iraqi prime minister and discuss ways to bring stability to the troubled nation.
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The White House originally said President Bush and his top aides would be at Camp David again today, holding a video conference with officials of the new Iraqi government. Instead, after a secret overnight flight to Baghdad, the president was taking a helicopter from Baghdad Airport to the heavily-secured Green Zone to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki face-to-face.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Thanks for having me.
The president's five-hour visit came less than a week after a U.S. air strike killed insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Maliki succeeded in filling the all-important security posts in his cabinet.
White House aides said the president had been planning such a surprise visit for a month, to be taken as soon as Maliki completed his cabinet.
After meeting privately, the two men and senior members of the new Iraqi government held the scheduled video conference between Baghdad and Camp David. After that, they met with reporters.
GEORGE W. BUSH:
Mr. Prime minister, thank you for this opportunity to visit with your cabinet. I have expressed our country's desire to work with you, but I appreciate you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands.
The decisions you and your cabinet make will be determinant as to whether or not a country succeeds, that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.
I'm impressed by the cabinet that you've assembled; you've assembled people from all parts of your country, representing different religions, and different histories, and traditions. And yet, the cabinet here represents the entire Iraqi people.
And I appreciate your commitment to representing the people of Iraq. I'm impressed by the strength of your character and your desire to succeed.
The president told reporters about the meeting they'd just held and assured the prime minister of continued American support.
GEORGE W. BUSH:
We discussed — I discussed earlier with the prime minister, and here with his cabinet, and with members of my cabinet, the strategy necessary to have a country that is capable of answering to the needs of the people.
We discussed the security strategy. We discussed an economic strategy and a reconstruction strategy, and all of it makes sense to me.
And so I've come to not only look you in the eye; I've also come to tell you that, when America gives its word, it will keep its word. And it's in our interest that Iraq succeed. It's not only in the interest of the Iraqi people; it's in the interest of the American people and for people who love freedom.
Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a central front on that war. And when Iraqi succeeds in having a government that — of and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness, who don't believe in liberty, who are willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective.
And so, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for giving me and my cabinet a chance to hear from you personally and a chance to meet the members of this team you've assembled. It's an impressive group of men and women and, if given the right help, I'm convinced you will succeed and so will the world.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through translator):
Thank you, Mr. President. We emphasize that our meeting and discussions was constructive and fruitful, and it's the basis of a good and everlasting relationship.
Our success in forming this diverse cabinet (inaudible) national unity government, we hope that it's the beginning of a most (inaudible) that we hope will be achieved as a result of involving all the elements of the Iraqi people, the Shia, the Sunni, Arabs, Kurds, Turkey, the Syrians and Christians.
We insist on succeeding, and we must win over terror. I would like to say and offer an official (inaudible) to all those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Iraqi people, to the families in the United States and British, and all the countries that have participated in rescuing Iraq from dictatorship. And I'm very grateful.