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U.S. Marks Policy Shifts in Iraq, Iran Nuclear Talks

The Bush administration signaled policy shifts Friday by agreeing to set a "time horizon" for Iraq troop reductions and sending a top U.S. envoy to Iranian nuclear talks. Analyst Michael Rubin and columnist Trudy Rubin examine the moves.

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    Over the past five years, the president has drawn clear red lines on two Mideast issues, the first, no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington. Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a signal to our enemies that, if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends.


    The second, the U.S. won't negotiate directly with Iran over its nuclear program until Iran stops enriching uranium.


    The United States has offered to come to the table with our partners and meet with Iran's representatives as soon as the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.


    But this week saw changes on both fronts. President Bush hinted at one on Iraq at a news conference Tuesday, when he suggested a new flexibility in the face of Iraqi government demands for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.


    I believe that, you know, they want to have an aspirational goal as to how quickly the transition to what we have called overwatch takes place. Overwatch will mean that the U.S. will be in a training mission, logistical support, as well as special ops.

    You know, the Iraqis have invited us to be there. But they share a goal with us, which is to get our combat troops out, as conditions permit. As a matter of fact, that's what we're doing.


    The White House statement issued today said Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had agreed that a security pact now under negotiation would include a — quote — "general time horizon" for meeting aspirational goals, such as the further withdrawal of U.S. forces.

    The shift on Iran came earlier in the week, with the announcement that Undersecretary of State Bill Burns would join negotiations in Geneva tomorrow between Iran and the European Union. The talks will focus on the incentive package the Europeans have offered Iran to give up its nuclear program.

    The Bush administration also let it be known that it's considering establishing a diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy there.

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